Shania Turner is a Braver Angels media intern. In this essay she reflects on her tense political relationship with her mother — and why she decided to join Braver Angels.
I think it’s safe to say most of us have been involved in heated political discussions with family or friends, whether we initiated them or not. But what flipped the switch from polite family discussions about whose turn is it to go pick up groceries to tense discussions about politics?
Personally, arguments began in my house after the election of Joe Biden. After that, my mom and I became a part of the 32 percent of Americans who said in one survey that political divisiveness has made it tough to get along with relatives.
Before the election, I had never particularly cared about politics, and I had never voted in any previous elections because I was not of age until 2017. When the time came to vote in the 2020 election, I, and many other people my age, hit the polls for the first time ever with our primary goal being to get Trump out of office.
But when I told my mother that I was against Trump, she shocked me by disagreeing.
I had never heard her take a stance on anything political. At the time, like many other Americans, I took her position as an attack on my own values. Americans today are still at war with each other for this very reason. The New Public Agenda/USA Today/Ipsos poll above tells us that political divisiveness has negatively impacted personal relationships with loved ones.
My mom and I have always been very close because I’m her only child, and my dad is out of the picture. Before the 2020 election, she and I never argued, and we rarely got annoyed with each other. But, during the election process—from when I registered to vote to the final announcement of the winner—we could become very hostile towards each other if politics came up. I remember my mom pulling up articles of everything “wrong” Biden had ever done while holding any kind of office, and telling me every piece of bad news about him immediately after she’d heard it on TV.
One particular evening after a stressful day of classes, I walked into our kitchen to hear her ranting about the election, and I simply had enough. I walked to the doorway leading to the living room, turned around, and shouted at her for the first time in my life. I told her that I was tired of the bickering and that my mental health was suffering severely between the tension with her and all my responsibilities with college. She went silent and I left quietly to lock myself in my room for some peace.
After everything was said and done and Biden became president, the two of us had to agree to basically never bring up politics at all in the future because the act was detrimental to our relationship. But politics weaseled its way in anyway. Because we’re all human, right?
So, my mom and I had to adjust a little. If politics was going to come up regardless, we made the mutual decision to make those conversations as calm as possible. We did not, and still do not, allow ourselves to get angry and take things personally. It felt to me like we were succeeding in that goal (fingers crossed).
Then one day, my mom said she wanted to talk. She told me she wasn’t comfortable with the political conversations we were having, even though—at least from my point of view—we were managing to stay calm. So once again, she asked if we could stop talking about politics altogether.
Of course, I agreed with her again. I wouldn’t bring anything up if she wouldn’t.
But politics still came up! As it turned out, it was unavoidable despite our best efforts.
In the end, I realized that constantly arguing with each other was not worth damaging our relationship. Was my mom less satisfied with how things were going because she needed that second discussion about avoiding politics?
Despite my not knowing what she was feeling beyond what she was telling me, I can tell from my end that our communication has already greatly improved, and that’s all a daughter can hope for.
Even though I am confident that we are improving every day, sometimes, when I get home from errands or visiting a friend, I’m still a little nervous to walk in and face what my mom has to say that day about the political climate. After everything we’ve been through, that’s still an obstacle I’m having trouble overcoming, but I choose to remain optimistic based on the progress in communication we’ve made.
This is what draws me to Braver Angels. Ordinary people need to learn how to have difficult conversations, and Braver Angels is trying to teach us the skills to do it everyday.
Thank you for reading.