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Parents, Kids, Politics

Posted Oct 28 2008 6:16am

Parent child conflict during this political season, can be especially heightened when parents and children are close. Of course, it depends at which developmental stage the child may be. Is the offspring a young adult and a first or second-time voter? Or is he or she older and has already established his/her own lifestyle?

Younger adultchildren, 18-25 or so, may be trying to rebel in acceptable terms and define their own identity. One way of doing this is to reject parental values. Moms and dads who are close to their kids often see themselves through their children's values. Thus, if a younger child votes differently than their parent, the parent may feel rejected. Or mom or dad may feel they have not instilled a good moral, ethical or political value system in their child. The results are that the parent or parents will consciously or unconsciously feel inadequate. If that is the case and they in fact do feel inadequate or as if they have failed as a parent, the parent may try to control their adult child or lash out. This takes the form of a political argument. Conversely, the new voter may be "flexing their muscle" and trying to prove how smart they are and how little their parent knows. This dynamic easily ignites into fire and friction.

If the child is older, possibly married, and has already established a life of their own, theoretically, they have established their own values with their partner. Thus, the child's primary family and commitment is no longer their family of origin, including their parent. The child's allegiances have shifted. As a result, parents may have a hard time "letting go" and again they may feel rejected, dropped and cast aside. Hurt and angry feelings ensue.

Interestingly, one of my own daughters rejected my more liberal values, and although I voted democratic in the last election, she voted republican. As a business school graduate, she was determined to prove to me that I didn't understand business. I chose not to argue with her and to respect her process. I wasn't sure if she totally believed her own arguments, or if she was individuating and trying to stand on her own two feet. I also thought she was rebelling and let her do so.

This year she is voting the same way I am, though her stated reasons are different. So, often it is a developmental process that gets enacted through the political arena. All politics are a reflection of personal and family dynamics. Voter decisions are multi-dimensional and are rarely solely issue-based.

It stands to reason that parents who are closely intertwined with their adult kids can and will battle over political persuasions. When viewed as an interpersonal dynamic,it is easy to see how the political content becomes a vehicle for deeper emotions and changing family ties. Unfortunately, mending these rifts can be a long- term process.

This particular electionhas probably brought out more passion than any since JFK. Younger individuals tend to see the issues differently than those who have lived longer. Therefore, families have eitherforged greater solidarity or stronger bonds, or their differences have sowed deep rifts. This is certainly true between parents and kids.

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