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Help! My Bleeding Heart In-Laws Insist on Arguing About Politics

But there are ways to deal with it gracefully.

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Fatherly Advice” is a weekly parenting advice column by the experts at Fatherly. Need hard-won insights and scientific facts to resolve a parenting dilemma or family dispute? Email advice@fatherly.com. Need justifications for parenting decisions you’ve already made? Ask someone else. We’re far too busy for that nonsense.

 

Fatherly,

We’re having all of my wife’s family over for dinner Easter Sunday. I’m a conservative guy and proud Trump voter but I don’t like talking politics really. On the other hand, they’re very, very liberal and love talking about politics.

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I don’t like getting into with them, but sometimes I do because I don’t like sitting there while my father-in-law or sister-in-law tear down America. They never asked me what my views are but they know I’m conservative. So they just treat me like the enemy — and they do it in front of the kids. hate that.

All I want is to have a nice Easter with the family but with the release of the Mueller Report, it’s probably going to be a shit show. Do I just sit there and take it? How can I keep them from going off about politics in front of the kids? How do I keep from taking the bait?

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Redacted
Charleston, South Carolina

 

I’m probably more politically aligned with your in-laws but I hope you don’t hold it against me, because I want you to know that I feel your pain. Frankly, if they are trying to get your goat by talking politics, they’re being straight up jerks, regardless of their ideology. But the fact remains that those jerks are family members and they’re going to be around long after the current political moment is over. You have to find common ground in that connection. Nothing else should matter.

Shortly after the election in 2016, I was in quite a state wasn’t being particularly quiet about it. Soon enough, I was receiving angry push backs via text and direct messages from in-laws and relatives. It felt, very much, like my family ties were crumbling. That was particularly true for one of my cousins and after some intense back and forth, I took a breath and floated an offer to just give him a call and catch up. After all, we hadn’t seen or spoken with each other in forever. We were making huge assumptions about one another’s lives. Maybe, I suggested, we should start over.

I did call him a few days later. We were on the phone for nearly two hours and we barely touched on politics. Instead, I told him about my family and my career and my struggles. He told me about his family and career and struggles. We reminisced. And in the last 15 minutes when our conversation did happen to turn towards politics, we learned that we had much more in common than not. We were finally able to hear each other.

What does this mean for you? Well, you may need to start over. The fact is that you and your in-laws happen to love some of the very same people, namely your wife and kids. That’s some extraordinary common ground. And you should stand in that ground as much as you can. Try steering the conversation back to personal family matters as much as possible. Ask them about their lives. Talk about your own. Remember that what’s important is that you and your in-laws are family and, as such, you need each other.

Still, the conversation may inevitably turn political. Take a breath. You don’t need to necessarily shut these conversations down. You don’t necessarily need to rise to the challenge, either. But you do need to remember that your children are watching the way you react. The fact is that these conversations offer you an excellent opportunity to model calm and considered political conversation. Default to phrases like, “we simply disagree on this topic and that’s okay,” or “let’s agree to disagree and address this issue at the ballot box.” Or, alternatively, you can move the conversation away from the kids and attempt to debate your political points in a calm and considered way.

No matter what you do, just please keep in mind that people are far more complex than their political ideologies. And while you may not agree on what’s happening in Washington, you should be able to agree that family is crucial and those relationships need to be protected above all else.

 

Fatherly

My 13-year-old daughter went on her first “date” a couple of weeks ago. They went to the movies with this kid’s parents. My husband thought it would be funny to joke with the poor kid that he better not do anything because he’d be at home “cleaning his guns”. The boy told his parents about it and they weren’t happy at all. Also, our daughter was mortified and said that he basically ruined their time at the movies.

My husband says he was joking and refuses to take me seriously or talk to me about why I think it’s a bad idea to joke like this. How can I talk to him about this and why he doesn’t need to do it without him rolling his eyes and telling me I just don’t understand?

Kimberly
The Internet

 

Your husband seems to be playing into a masculine trope that has worked wonders for driving daughters into the arms of dangerous dudes. Look, I get that he’s feeling protective. That makes a ton of sense. His little girl is growing up and as a man, he likely understands that men will attempt to take advantage of her. And that is crazy frightening. So, what does he do? Turns to those tools used for protection: firearms.

I’m not going to go off on some anti-gun rant here. His right to keep and use firearms is well established and, besides, that’s not the point. The reason his behavior is regrettable has less to do with guns than it has to do with the emotional relationship with his daughter.

A joke about “gun cleaning” before a debate says one thing to your daughter: “I do not trust this boy and I do not trust you to be with this boy.” Moreover, it objectifies your daughter. She is no longer a person who might be able to make her own decisions and protect herself, she is a fragile and precious object to either be coveted or protected.

These kinds of phrases aren’t great for your daughter’s self-esteem. She would be much better served by conversations about her self-worth and strength. She’d be far better served by being taught about consent and how to protect herself. Being given some amount of trust would help her feel empowered.

In terms of how to help your husband understand all of this, I would suggest approaching him with compassion. Acknowledge that what he did was done in love. Hopefully, he’ll be brave enough to listen. But if all else fails you can warn him that his attitude towards his daughter may be counterproductive to his interests in the long run. The sad fact is over-protective fathers often prompt daughters to become rebellious. Teen girls who feel as if their fathers don’t trust them will often push against the boundaries and do things that they know their fathers would disapprove of.

Unfortunately, talking about guns might drive your daughter to make irresponsible choices. Maybe that’s exactly what he needs to hear.