Let me, as they say, cut straight to the chase. Many parents with voting-age children have seen their family unity unwind at a disturbing rate over the past year. Political positions entrenched, motives were assigned, things were said—then repeated, then reiterated—followed by each party walking away, genuinely astonished that repetition did not inspire agreement. A recent Pew Research survey found that the most partisan politically active Americans have wildly distorted perceptions of folks in the other political party. That’s hardly breaking news, but we need to pay closer attention to its effect upon families. When caricatures are created and debated among kinfolk, the absurdities we assign to each other drive us apart.
Things are messy.
I’m not interested in assigning blame. I just want to say that it’s time to heal. And parents, the proverbial ball is in your court. The humility that triggers healing starts with you.
How do we get there? Here are a few thoughts to consider.
First, ask your kid how the election has affected them. Maybe they’re delighted, or perhaps feverish with fear; either way, ask them. Ask so that you can hear their answer, not dispute their feelings or diagnose their flaws. This is not a call to start a debate. Listen to them in order to discover whether the election rhetoric has ruptured your relationship. Sure, it may be hard, but unity starts with humility and with parents who possess the courage to model it.
Just look around. Our nation is littered with disillusioned people who need to talk. Some of them feel disenfranchised. Many of them have parents. Assume you should act to help. Allow James to provide the pathway, “let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1: 19). Say through your actions, not just your words, “It’s time to heal.”
Secondly, consider your tolerance. If we’re listing casualties of this election, tolerance of other viewpoints may be near the top of the list. The absence of humility and the presence of self-righteousness has virtually eviscerated the practice of tolerance. We may see ourselves as supremely tolerant, that is until one of our voting-age kids expresses a dissenting perspective on a policy or politician we cherish. Then we unsheathe the truth saber, forgetting that inherent to the idea of tolerance is something which must be tolerated. The point is a tolerance that brooks no disagreement is simply well-marketed intolerance.
Tolerance is not a root but a fruit. We achieve it by cultivating the fruit of the Spirit, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Gal. 5: 22-23). As we seek to sincerely follow the embodiment of these fruits—Jesus Christ—we become more like him around people who disagree with us. Gentleness replaces outrage. Faith tamps down fanaticism. True tolerance—the kind that displays a gospel-enriched soul to our family—guides our conduct towards our voting-age kids.
Lastly, consider your media consumption. When an election is tucked within a pandemic, social media and news outlets can become our closest companions. What’s the effect? In the study I mentioned above, they found the more media people consumed, the more they misunderstood their political opponents. Ironic, isn’t it? Bingeing on political media did not make people more informed; it engorged them with misinformation. Remember, ratings are raised by stoking drama, not enhancing relationships. Our hearts are fertile ground for fear. Disagreement threatens our security and we become suspicious of family members who don’t agree. Polarizing perspectives abound, driving apart parents and their voting-age. The news cycle moves on, but family unity does not.
I wish I could find a way to explain to every parent I know that parents with dogmatic political opinions live at a relational disadvantage. What is gained by political dogmatism is never worth what it costs in relational peace. In the long run, feeling right is far less enriching than remaining connected to your voting-age kids.
It’s time to pray. Ask God to reveal any rifts between you and your children. Remember, “The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing” (Prov.12:18). Have there been reckless words? If so, ask God to grant you a gracious approach and the tongue of the wise to bring healing. Get help, seek counsel, consult a wise friend, and ask someone to hold you accountable. Don’t be passive. It’s time to lower the volume on our media and raise it on our love. Don’t forget: the effects of this election will pass, but your kids remain. For some parents, it’s time to remind your voting-age kids that they are more important than who sits in the Oval Office.