Canceling Parents

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?

14 thoughts on “Canceling Parents

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  1. Very interesting article! Thanks for posting it. Thought provoking. I’m also a baby boomer & had so many differing views from my parents, all my, life it seems. But they never did anything so terrible that I thought was worthy of ending the relationship. I honestly do not understand why someone will only have a relationship with people who have the same beliefs as themselves. How boring! I say “Vive la difference”. Another reminder that we can all get along just fine if we keep our political & religious views to ourselves.

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  2. I would never have broken off the relationship with my parents. If my views differed too much from theirs, I just didn’t say anything. We never discussed the Vietnam war. Simple accommodation. Nobody bent out of shape. (My brother was ready to go to Canada to avoid the draft; Mom denied that was possible.) Same with my son and me. I’m a moderate independent, he’s a Republican (the good kind). We just stop the conversation if it gets touchy. Our relationship is so much more important than differing political views. I’m secretly horrified that he probably voted for Trump, but I’m not going to get into that with him.

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    1. It would be hard for me to resist confronting my child, if he or she had voted for Trump. So I admire your restraint.

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    2. I have a very old (going back to Jr High School) friend who is a Republican & we had some very interesting conversations about our differing political views last year. I actually could understand her point numerous times. And we are still friends.

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  3. I have a very old (going back to Jr High School) friend who is a Republican & we had some very interesting conversations about our differing political views last year. I actually could understand her point numerous times. And we are still friends.

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  4. Like you, I could never “cancel” a parent, and I’m grateful my kids want to have me in their lives. I know people who have stopped contact with their parents for their own emotional health, and I understand that.

    My father, like yours, had all kinds of prejudices, and he was impossible to have a real conversation with, so I didn’t try. But he was my dad, and I always hoped we could connect on some other level. It never happened. But I’m glad I tried.

    Thank you for another thought-provoking post, Kath.

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  5. My father was a comunist full of conviction! None of us, his 7 daughters and sons, were! We reached a compromise: we never discussed politics when we visited, we never asked «whom did you vote for?»; as a matter of fact, we coiuldn’t care less. We had lived for many years under a fascist regime, we believed that each person should have their political beliefs, as long as they didn’t pester others with their ideas. We were a close, united family. We were fortunate, because you can neither choose your parents, nor choose your children and love and respect must be earned and merited.

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    1. I admire your family for respecting each other’s political beliefs and not thinking you had to change someone’s mind. You’re lucky to have a close family.

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