Dear Dr. Gramma Karen,
Please help! Political discussions are tearing my family apart.
We raised Seth, our only son, outside of Boston, where he did his undergraduate work. He decided to go law school in the South, and that is where he met his wife, Roberta, who grew up in a prominent family that is very proud of their Southern traditions. Upon graduation 12 years ago, Seth joined Roberta’s father’s law firm in Atlanta, GA. Seth and Roberta got married and they have two children, Marc, 11, and Deborah, 5.
My husband, known to the grandchildren as Gramps, and I, known as Grams, still live outside of Boston, and up until recently, we would get together with Seth and Roberta and our grandchildren in Atlanta a few times a year [pre-coronavirus]. In between we would chat weekly.
Recently, things have gotten tense. With the upcoming presidential election, Gramps and Seth, who support different candidates, are yelling at each other during the weekly calls. Roberta and I try to calm things down, but to no avail. Things have gotten so bad that Marc won’t speak to Gramps anymore. He said, “You upset my dad and you’re always criticizing our flag.” He is referring to the Confederate flag they have mounted on a wall in their living room. My husband voices his disapproval every time we visit.
My husband keeps wondering how we did such a bad job of raising Seth that he would hold such values. Now he wants to write to Marc and explain his position. He reads your column and said he is open to your opinion. He also said he bets you’ll support him in writing Marc a letter.
Dr. Gramma Karen’s Response
Your husband wins the bet: I do urge him to write Marc a letter expressing whatever he wants to express. However, after he writes his letter, I suggest he read it to you, take a deep breath, and file it away. Perhaps in seven years when Marc is 18 and legally becomes an adult, then he might consider sharing it with him.
Since you said your husband reads my column, I want to direct some advice directly to him.
Advice for Gramps
Gramps, do you want to have a relationship with your grandchildren? Yes or no? If your answer is yes, I urge you to contact Seth and Roberta immediately and apologize – apologize not for the views you hold, but for upsetting them and your grandchildren. Tell them how much you love them and how sorry you are for bringing up the topic of politics over and over again and that you promise not to do so again. Ask if you can resume your weekly family chats sans any references to anything with political intimations. If you start to stray from your commitment, ask Seth, Roberta, and your wife to stop you by saying, “Remember, nothing political.”
Granted, reaching out to Seth and Roberta in this way is a tall order. Are you up to the task? If you are, you stand a chance to repair your relationships with Seth, Roberta, and your grandchildren. If not, I remind you that Seth and Roberta are the gatekeepers to your access to your grandchildren. If they decide you are not a good influence within their family, they could deny you the privilege of being in your grandchildren’s lives.
I must point out that over the years I have heard from many an estranged grandparent who would advise you to put aside your pride and values and to do whatever it takes to maintain your relationship with your grandchildren. I also suggest that you to stop commenting on choices and decisions Seth and Roberta have made. For example, they know how you feel about that flag on the wall in their living room. There is nothing to be gained by you making judgmental comments about it, but there is much to be lost.
Advice for Grams
Grams, I can imagine how upsetting this situation is for you. If your husband does not apologize and try to make amends, I am going to suggest that you do what you need to do to maintain your own relationships with Seth, Roberta, and your grandchildren. Let your husband know your intent: that is, that you are going to let your family know that you disagree with Gramps about his making contentious political comments in their chats, and that you plan to have your own calls with Seth, Roberta, and the grandchildren.
I do not usually recommend a “break-away” action like this, but in your case, I do not think it is fair for you to pay the price for your husband’s choices, especially when he has the opportunity to try to fix the behaviors that are jeopardizing relationships.
Advice for Everyone
It is an understatement to say that political discussions are emotionally charged these days. In those interactions where there are political differences, especially among family members, if you want to preserve these relationships, the wisest move is probably to shut down all political discussion. The fact is that no amount of discussion and arguing is likely to change anyone’s mind at this point. Have stock phrases ready and use them: “Hey, let’s agree to drop all political discussion,” or “This is a politics-free zone,” or “Let’s leave our politicking to the ballot box.”
There are several benefits to family members and good friends avoiding contentious political exchanges. The most obvious is that after the political landscape changes, and then changes again and again, important relationships will be sustained without hard feelings and rancor.
Equally important, our children and grandchildren are always observing us. Let them see that it is okay to have differences of opinion, that once expressed, can be put aside so that relationships can continue. When voices rise in anger, listening goes by the wayside, often taking any hope of reconciliation with it. Some topics of discussion, for example, current politics, can be, and should be, avoided if pursuing them can damage cherished relationships.
Ask Dr. Gramma Karen is published every other Tuesday.
Email queries to [email protected]
Dr. Rancourt’s most recent book is,
Hire a Nanny in the New York Metropolitan Area
Like what you read? JOIN the Mommybites community to get the latest on FREE online classes, parenting advice, events, childcare listings, casting calls & raffles, and our Parents With Nannies Facebook group. SIGN UP NOW!