About a year ago, our entire country lost its collective damn mind. I mean, everyone basically went bananas over the presidential election. I did, you did. My mostly conservative family also did, but in a very different way. I could not grasp how they could support 45, and to be honest, I still don’t fully get it. I still feel a pang in my chest when I think about some of the most loving and generous people I know proudly casting their vote for Trump. So, how do I reconcile their support of him and my love for them?
Well, I don’t.
Family is family and long after this president is out of office, they will still be my family. We will still celebrate holidays, birthdays, graduations, and anniversaries together. We will never celebrate them with any sitting president. So, here is how I intend to keep my relationship with my family, even though I am confounded by their choice.
1. Keep Facebook out of it.
I don’t know how else to say this, and I definitely don’t know how to say this gently. But UNFOLLOW your family members. I know they have unfollowed (and in some cases have unfriended) me, and I get it. It’s hard to be confronted constantly with opposition and especially by the people you love. People say awful things on the internet and especially in the comments section of Facebook posts that they would never ever say to your face in real life.
Is that how they feel? Yes.
Is it revealing about their inner unresolved anger at the world and probably their own parents? Yes.
But remember that they are probably having the same experience of you. I know it’s disorienting for my immediate family to know that I am not in the conservative camp. It’s okay. I can leave them in that confusion without trying to clear it up over social media, and hopefully they can, too. (Pro Tip: NOTHING ever gets cleared up over social media.)
2. Remember that they want the same things.
I read an essay about how we can build compassion for those who are not like us by finding the things that are indeed like us. For example, my conservative family wants what is best for our nation, just like I do. They want people to be cared for well, just like I do. They want our family to be safe, just like I do. They want to see change happen, just like I do. They want to champion their core beliefs, just like I do.
Yes, we are on opposite ends of the spectrum. This doesn't mean I don’t challenge them when they voice opinions that I find deeply troubling. I do. But I do it in a way that keeps me connected to our shared desires, i.e. I leave my pious condescension at the door because I have been in their position and could not fathom another way of thinking or believing. This is called compassion.
3. Prepare for your time together.
Gather questions and conversation topics that have exactly zero to do with Trump. Focus on the interests that bring you together, like wine or a good game of dominoes or national parks. We are more than our political beliefs and for the love of our family, we can find those things that bind us together. Ask your mom to give her input on that scarf you're knitting, or ask your brother to tell you everything he knows about that barrel aged whiskey you’ve had your eye on that he enjoys.
4. Do a family project.
Last spring, we visited my parents in northern California. My dad had a box of old things that he wanted to go through, and had been asking me for years. We sorted through each little art project and creative writing piece and laughed the whole time. In fact, I don’t know the last time I saw my dad laugh until he cried. In that moment, I needed that more than anything else. We need more of those moments, more of what makes us laugh together.
5. Limit family time.
We live far away from my conservative family, so it’s naturally limited. However, in times when I feel really sad about Drumpf, I pull back. I don’t go silent because it’s not a punishment for them and I don’t want to hurt anyone without very good reason. (Spoiler alert: politics aren't a very good reason.) So, if I feel like I can’t keep a good grasp on my disbelief that is just now settling in after a year of shock, then I might skip the regular call or opt for texting instead.
6. Hug it out.
These are still your people, even if you are still completely angry, shocked, sad, or otherwise enraged. When I hug my parents, I am reminded of how well they have loved and cared for me. They have loved and cared for my husband, our babies, countless friends and families who were in hopeless situations. They brought comfort and real help. They feel familiar and we still belong to each other, even though I can’t wrap my brain around what brought them to the conclusion that Donnie would be in our best interests.
Give yourself permission not to talk about politics, especially at family gatherings, and especially at Christmas. This might be hard, especially with extended family. Don’t give in. Save political conversations for one on-one. If you don’t have a one-on-one relationship, don’t even consider going there.
If you must talk about it, ask and listen. Sarah Silverman created a new show called I Love You, America. And while I can only hand SS in very limited doses, the first two episodes of her show were fantastic in regards to listening to and interacting with people who have opposing beliefs. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but watch and learn. Seriously.
We will survive the Trumpocalypse and every family gathering hereafter. Let’s hope we can survive with compassion and our integrity intact.