There are two things you don’t talk about: religion and politics.” I’ve heard that phrase since childhood. Seems like useful advice, but is the best way to address politics with your family not addressing it? Maybe it is, especially if your family disagrees about politics. Still, I don’t think it has to be the only choice.

As families come together for the holidays during a presidential election year, politics can be a sticky subject. If your family disagrees about politics, you have two choices. Either you don’t talk about it or establish some ground rules for how you’ll address the disagreements. Remember, first and foremost, your family’s relationships are more valuable than being right about a political dispute. 

Here are some ideas for how to keep the conversations civil when family members disagree:

(If you decide to engage in politics.)

Be respectful.

We don’t always agree with our family, whether that’s lifestyle choices, parenting styles, politics, the list goes on, and it’s okay. We’re humans, not robots. We should have opinions and passions, but just because I disagree with you doesn’t mean I should disrespect you. If you embark on a political discussion and the encounter gets heated, put on the brakes. Before the conversation begins, lay some ground rules. A few rules could be no raising voices, no profanity, and no personal insults. The relationship is more important than voicing your opinions. 

Be open to learning.

Our political beliefs are often influenced by our individual situations. It’s okay to ask someone who disagrees with you politically why they believe what they believe. Don’t ask to respond but ask to understand. When we know the why behind someone’s political beliefs, we are often more compassionate toward that belief. This isn’t about swaying them to your side but genuinely understanding their point of view. There is nothing wrong with saying, “I disagree but understand and respect your viewpoint.” Being right should not be the goal; maintaining the relationship should be.

Be prepared to stop the conversation.

Politics bring on passion. When our heart rate increases and we get very passionate about what we’re discussing, we have a greater chance of speaking before we think. Be careful not to let your passion lead you to say something that will negatively impact the relationship. Remember, our goal here, if you choose to approach the subject of politics, is to have a civil discussion without damaging our family. A great way to pause a conversation is to say, “Thanks! You’ve given me something to think about. Can we come back to this topic at a later time?” Both parties feel heard.

Parents, this is for you… lean in. Be cautious about how you engage in political disagreements with kids around. Politics is an alien world to young children and can be very nasty. It’s not fair for kids to feel like they have to choose sides when family disagrees. They are watching what you say and how you react to those who disagree with you. Do take the opportunity to talk to them about the political process. Maybe have that discussion at your home. Check out this resource: How to Guide My Child Through Election Season.

So when your family disagrees about politics, remember this… relationships are more important than politics. As you prepare to gather for the holidays, this year may look a little different. It may be a little more stressful. But be diligent not to let political opinions damage the relationships you have with your loved ones.

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