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Navigating a Conflicted Relationship With My Parents

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at App State chapter.

I decided to go visit my parents this past weekend to catch up with them. I had just finished a work-filled week and figured that my exhaustion would keep me from getting into an argument with my parents.

Oh, was I wrong.

My visit quickly descended into a disagreement over the Honduras immigrant crisis, which predictably caused a heated debate.

This argument was not unusual, but rather one of many long spats that I have with my conservative parents on a regular basis. Many of these arguments come down to differing worldviews, which means we can never seem to agree on a baseline of ideals.

I consider myself to be a politically left-leaning non-Christian who feels affinity with ancient earth-centered spiritual beliefs. My parents, however, are religious conservatives who tend to reject other beliefs as “misguided” or “evil.” From my parents’ point of view, it is not a religion, but a relationship with God, that underpins all that they do. 

It is my personal belief that Christianity is a sexually-repressive paradigm that maintains its influence by use of instilling fear and guilt in the population.

Both me and my parents are stubborn and will not back down from our positions in an argument. Instead, we get more and more angry at each other. When it becomes clear that they are not engaging with my words anymore I quickly change to sarcastic, mockery and insults. Although, when the whole thing becomes an insult-shouting competition, I inevitably reanalyze the conversation to see where I went wrong. I am never quite sure how to end the disagreement without letting my parents think that I have accepted defeat or changed my opinions.

It’s necessary for me to be on speaking terms with my parents because they have supported me and continue to support me through college, but I never can make myself pretend to agree just to maintain the peace. It always seems too distasteful and cowardly to just back down. I want to be able to depend on my parents for advice and support, but their conservative Christian beliefs and adherence to conspiracy theories make it difficult for me to open up to them.

Is it too much to ask for my parents to act normal and adopt a few liberal beliefs?

I am always torn by two conflicting feelings; one being that I don’t know what I would do without my parents and the other being wanting to cut this toxic relationship out of my life completely. After thinking about it a bit, I have come to the conclusion that I need to handle this in a mature manner and get past the stage of being offended by their insults. I need to recognize, however hard a task it may be, that my parents are ambivalent in all respects — not only about me but that they are a mix of pure and impure intentions, well-informed and misinformed ideas. I should not make them choose between their beliefs, however much I disagree with them, and having a relationship with me.

While in my weekly group therapy session, we workshopped with an interpersonal effectiveness skill check sheet. The acronym D.E.A.R.M.A.N. is a way to help one effectively work toward having positive interactions with others. It stands for describe your goals, express your feelings, assert your opinions, reinforce the desired outcome, be mindful of the objective, appear confident with your body language, and negotiate the bargain.

It is easy to position problematic relationship as being caused entirely by the other person and that person as a villain in the narrative of our life; unfortunately(or perhaps fortunately), the world is far too complex and chaotic to slip into the narrow categories of good/evil or villain/hero. My parents are not pure evil but rather a mix of pure and impure intentions making them irreducibly complex human beings. It is doubtful if I can build rapport with them again, because of lack of effort on their part, but I do think that for it to work I will need to give up trying to prove things to them.

If you, like me, grew up more liberal than your parents I would encourage you to try for a more constructive interactions with family when you go home to see them for Thanksgiving this year and the conversation drifts toward politics or religion. Try steering the conversation from unproductive subjects and toward interests and both of you share an appreciation for. For me that’s technology/jobs with my dad and dancing/food with my mom. Hopefully this will help you feel like you are giving them a chance to mend the relationship. In the case that they disregard your diplomacy, you may have to just cut that toxic relationship out of your life, building supportive relationships into your life with other more considerate people you know to replace that place your parents took up.