In these times of polarization, it should be no surprise that it extends to families, even parents and children. Especially as teenagers and young adults, parents and children can have fractious relationships, but apparently the situation has gotten worse.
An article on the BBC website recently cited the case of a man in his 30s who ended his relationship with his parents because he discovered they espoused white supremacy. He belongs to a support group of other young adults who find their parents’ political views abhorrent.
The article also cited a psychologist, author of a book about parent-child estrangement, who views this as a new phenomenon, a result of people “pursuing happiness and personal growth, and less on emphasizing duty, obligation or responsibility.”
It was a surprising twist to my own coming of age, when a whole generation of Baby Boomers alienated our parents with our political and cultural views. They didn’t understand our opposition to the Vietnam War or our support of black and women’s rights. They were upset at our street protests, the flag being burned, men’s long hair and our embrace of drugs and “free” sex.
Now we’re the old ones apparently alienating a younger generation. Prevailing wisdom is that we get more conservative as we get older, which makes some sense, because we’ve gone through so much change in our lives that we don’t want any more. We’re tired and would like things to stay the same, thank you very much.
Yet when I was a young adult, I could never have imagined ending my relationship with my parents. My father was anti-Semitic, among other prejudices, and we had some very heated arguments, sometimes ending with me storming off into my room and slamming the door. Yet my father was also a nature lover; he could be thoughtful, creative and emotional. Like me, he was an avid reader of newspapers. When our conversations were civil, they were enriching.
I hated his political views, but he was my father, the man who taught me how to ride a bike, to swim, to sail a boat and grow a garden. It never occurred to me that I should end our relationship because of his political views, which were so very different from mine and, yes, abhorrent.
Was that because the times were different then? That people, even generations, were less polarized? That we accepted the good with the bad? I feel we live in a black and white world now; you’re either a good person or a bad one. Judgments are harsh: If you don’t believe what I do, we need to discontinue our relationship.
I have friends whose children have cut them out of their lives, not over political issues but because of some perceived trauma—something their parents did to them or something they failed to do. Because I know my friends to be good people, I have to wonder if their children overreacted or blamed everything that went wrong in their lives on parents who weren’t good enough.
When communication is cut off between parents and children, that means there is no possibility of healing, no chance of people finding agreement on anything. If we can’t find common ground among families, where can we find it?