Take the 2-minute tour ×
Parenting Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for parents, grandparents, nannies and others with a parenting role. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Problem Space: My mother holds an extremely polarized political view that I do not agree with.

My Specific Issue: My mother has recently gotten to the point where she literally personally blames Obama for everything. e.g. My sister works as a paralegal for the state, and she mentioned a recent influx of some 2,000+ cases to review, and had to spend 15 minutes to convince my mother that it wasn't Obama's fault.

The Question: I do not wish my daughter to be subjected to such blatantly polarized political views throughout her upbringing. We visit pretty often (they live about 3 - 3.5 hours away), and often stay with my family. However, my mother always finds it necessary to bring up controversial issues or make blatantly incorrect claims at inappropriate times. My daughter is my mother's first (and only) granddaughter, and she very much loves our visits, as she can spend a few hours with my daughter.

How do I deal with my mother's extreme political views and their effect on my daughter? I don't want my this exposure to lead my daughter to believing that this is an acceptable mindset.

Talking with my mother does not yield useful results, as it ends up with her making more outrageous claims, or blanket threats to all members of specific other religions. At that point, I just walk away from the conversation.

The only thing I can really hold over her to silence her is the threat of not visiting, and I'd REALLY hate to pull visitation like that (though it would save me a pretty penny on gas).


Update 1: My daughter is currently 1, but the issue will become increasingly critical as she continues to grow and develop

Update 2: Updated the "Problem Space: and "Question" sections to be more general. Details in the "Specific Issue" section remain, as they're directly relevant to my personal issue.


Update 3: Okay, so this has managed to draw a lot of attention and controversy, and some of the self-edited and suggested edits have prevented me from making the core of the issue clear:

I'm not the least bit concerned about shielding my daughter from politics, or even extreme views (it's always good to at least attempt to understand why someone believes what they do). When she's old enough to understand that different people have different views on things, I hope she'll be able to reason and make her own decisions, or at least ask me questions about it.

The issue is that my daughter is (or will be) extremely impressionable, and is beginning to mimic sounds that she hears, even now. Given that my 2.5-year-old nephew learned how to exclaim "Oh fuck!" when something fell off of the table within 3 hours of spending time with his other uncle, I know just how quickly kids can parrot undesirable sentiments.

It's a similar issue to swearing around kids, except blindly repeating swear words doesn't carry the same ideological implications as blindly repeating politically-charged, anti-religion, or racially denigrating sentiments.

share|improve this question
4  
Perhaps the question could even be generalized to say that your mother discusses topics and expresses prejudices that you would prefer your daughter not be exposed to. –  Chad May 29 at 19:56
3  
@DVK, it seems like you're the one who is making this political. –  jwg May 30 at 9:56
1  
@DVK, yes I did. I think it is fair enough for the OP to post some details (so that we are able to judge how 'extreme' her mother's views are). Your comment about public school teachers was quite gratuitous and provocative I thought. –  jwg May 30 at 11:43
1  
I rather appreciated the other-side-of-the-aisle insights that DVK provided in his answer, particularly because one case was in Philly, which is very close to me. I had a few teachers throughout my public schooling experience that also made mild political comments (from both sides), but kept things light-hearted and unoffensive, and largely as a joke between teachers (sending students to the next teacher's room to mention a comment about Bush). –  Noah May 30 at 13:55
1  
@DVK I'm sure there exist at least 4 grandparents in the United States with views more extreme than the 4 teachers you cited. –  jwg May 30 at 14:06

9 Answers 9

up vote 20 down vote accepted

You don't say how old your daughter is, so this depends somewhat on age. I'll assume she's at least 8 or 9 years old; younger than that it seems unlikely for this to matter too much (as she won't have enough understanding of politics to care about her grandmother's views).

To me, this is a great opportunity to teach your daughter about opposing viewpoints, and about keeping an open mind. It's also a good opportunity to show how otherwise good people can sometimes be wrong - particularly if she's on the younger end of this age range, it can often be a big thing to learn that Respected Adults are not always right (except when it comes to toys or dessert or bedtime, anyway) - and learning this, plus learning that it doesn't take away from the respect due nor does it make them Bad People, is helpful.

Especially on the older end of the spectrum, Debate is a very useful skill to acquire, and it's what helps with this the most. Being able to argue any topic from any side - including a topic you vehemently disagree with - is not only helpful in teaching public speaking and how to convince people of things, it's also extremely helpful in teaching someone to understand all sides of an issue and come to intelligent conclusions on their own.

Of course, you don't want her debating with grandma, as it sounds like that wouldn't end well; but you could use these topics as conversation starters for debates between you and her. You could alternate sides, so half the time you were arguing on behalf of Fox News and half the time you were arguing against. In both cases, take it very seriously - when you're arguing for the Fox News side, do so to the best of your ability, and not sarcastically, and expect her to do the same.

This is something very, very hard to learn - imagine asking a devout Christian mother who is as pro-life as you get to argue for legalizing abortion, for example. As such it will probably take a long time for her to learn it - and it might take you some time as well to be comfortable (if you're not already skilled at this). But it's worth it, given the value it brings both to logical reasoning and to personal development. And at the end of the day, your daughter will hopefully learn enough to develop her own mindset rather than parroting anyone else's. It's not just your mother - when she goes to college there will be plenty of similar opportunities to be brainwashed in many different directions.

share|improve this answer
1  
My daughter is 1, but this political disparity is probably an issue others come across. I proofread out a section of the question titled "My Background" where I note that I was on the county Republican Committee for 2 years, and I do practice debating by swapping sides mid-debate. (Less often now, since my wife doesn't enjoy it as much as my old roommate did) –  Noah May 29 at 16:47
1  
Then it sounds like you're definitely going to be able to handle this when it becomes an issue in the future :) –  Joe May 29 at 16:49
2  
The only thing I'd quibble about is that below the age of 8 or so it's not relevant. My kids (who are much younger than that) have heard their cousins (who are just now around that age) parroting some of the nasty things said, and have asked questions. (Our rule is, old enough to ask, old enough for an (appropriate) answer.) –  Valkyrie May 29 at 18:08
4  
@DVK This isn't necessarily bad. Children should be taught the justification for rules, and be empowered to help change ill-considered rules. The questioning of authority and ability to think critically is the most important thing any child can learn. If she understands rules better, or helps create them, she'll be more likely to follow them. And this can help parents vet poor rules. I continually tell my daughters: "Always question authority; even mine." One is a teenager now, and I'm not sorry in the least. –  Nicholas May 29 at 19:29
2  
@DVK Good point. However, proper methodologies need put in place and encouraged. If I yell "stop" my children stop immediately, then they will ask why. It is important, also, to discuss the difference between 'argue' and 'debate'. It's possible to still maintain a sort of command hierarchy while allowing for discussion. I maintain that this encourages critical thinking, improves decision quality, and increases happiness all round. –  Nicholas May 29 at 19:37

The question ought not be be about politics or religion or... well anything else specific. The question is fundamentally about views which are either 1) different than yours or 2) expressed in a manner which you, as the parent, find inappropriate.

As a parent I live by a one-goal rule: To teach my child to think for herself and be the best "her" she can be.

I am not religious (any order, sect, belief, etc.) One day, however, she asked me if I would be mad if she read the Bible. Not only did I tell her I would not be mad, I called my father, an elder, and arranged for her to receive whatever help she could possibly desire in investigating her interest.

Later on she asked me why I wasn't mad and had grandpa help. I replied that it is not my place to tell her what she can or cannot learn, nor my place to force my thinking upon her. She is 14 now and I am not sure that she understands those words as they are stated, but through consistent parenting, she understands it intuitively.

Other times she has seen someone vociferously promulgating their point of view and later asked me why I didn't tell them the truth. I answered that it would have served no useful purpose, but caused an unproductive argument and that such a conversation is not something I choose to engage in.

My point in sharing my own parenting is multi-fold:

  1. Our first goal as parents ought to be to train our children to be critically-thinking, well-balanced adults.

  2. Leading by example is fundamental.

  3. Allowing (and sometimes even facilitating) a growth in knowledge is very important.

  4. Our children will not always agree with us.

  5. At some point every person is exposed to an inappropriate means of expressing a view -- knowing how to handle it appropriately is fundamental.

Yes, there are techniques for turning your mother's expression into something you can use to promote another view -- they are unethical in my view.

Yes, you can hide that expression by denying "visitation", but it serves no useful purpose while simultaneously denying educational opportunities -- one day she will either agree, disagree, or a mix of agree/disagree with your mother, but perhaps the lesson learned will be to express herself without vitriole... and a lesson I have learned from the honor of being able to meet and speak with 2 of my great grandmothers (I miss them!) is that there is so much we can learn from those who have come before us -- don't deny your child those learning opportunities.

Nor is it necessary to fully explain your own views or counterarguments (during or after visits). In time, she will ask. Then, you, as the liker of debates, can proffer both points of view and encourage her to research on her own so that she can make up her own mind.

As a final thought, my music history professor in college asked us to learn only one thing from his class: We are all snobs. Whether it's politics, religion, music, or anything else, we are all to varying degree snobs about our preferences and perceive the alternative views as extreme, but they see us the same way.

share|improve this answer
    
Filing this under "Useful for teenage years" =). I did update my question (Update 3) to specify the reason I'm asking, in the first place (relevant to a very small age range, long before teenage years) –  Noah May 30 at 17:56

If your end goal is to have your mother NOT discuss these issues around your daughter, I'd suggest using a one-two approach:

  1. Redirect the conversation. "Gee, Mom, what did you think about the meatloaf we had at that restaurant? Wasn't it delicious?"
  2. Leave.

If you have the time, go through the threads at the HiveMind (ask.metafilter.com) about dealing with toxic relatives. You can't change their minds (usually), but you can help them moderate their behavior. If you've tried redirecting the conversation, and it's not helping, just say, "Mom, we're going to have to leave now." You can TRY telling her why, but likely it will just devolve into another discussion.

I have family very much like this, and the only thing that helps is leaving as soon as the offense begins. I do not wish my children to be around to hear some of the nasty, bigoted things that come out of my loved one's mouths.

share|improve this answer
    
Often, my trips to my hometown are simply for family visits, and because I'm not terribly communicative outside of in-person visits, the only time I really talk to my mom is when I visit. I don't often call, and texts are very minimal and direct (e.g. "I transferred $__ to your account for x bill). I'd rather not visit than drive 3 hours, and leave after 15 minutes. –  Noah May 30 at 17:49

Your question poses a common predicament - what to do with upsetting adult behavior around your child. What are your rights and responsibilities as a parent in this specific situation and future similar interactions with extended family members? How will you respond to issues of boundaries with your parents (and other adults) when it comes to your children?

All sorts of family dynamics come in to play! If you usually try to avoid conflict, and always let your parents make the decisions, this may be a more difficult problem to resolve. On the other hand, if you are fairly assertive and used to standing on your own two feet, then things become easier.

Having been on both sides of this parent/grandparent fence, I have some experience to bring to the subject. The boundary has to be set by you, the parent. Whether the difficulty is confrontational political or religious views, foul language, ugly gossip, loud arguments...it doesn't matter. You are there to have a nice family visit and enjoy yourselves, not subject your young children to an unpleasant situation. Making your point in a humorous way, suggesting a more pleasurable activity that everyone can get involved in or, as a last resort, simply leaving the house if your boundaries for your children are not respected, in any event, it is up to you to set the tone. and no time like the present while your child is still young!

With an older child, it's important to have a conversation later about Grandma or Grandpa's behavior or views. While we love them, we don't always agree about everything and explain why, answering any questions the child may have. People can, and do, disagree about many things. That's okay, as long as it does not cross the line - and it's up to you to draw that line where your children are concerned.

share|improve this answer
    
My wife brought up a good point when we read this answer: The only time I actually talk to my mom is when we visit. That's when we talk about EVERYTHING. From reminiscing on earlier years, to home improvement techniques and tools, to her boyfriend giving advice on how to avoid paying taxes. I am usually the one to bring up politics, because I enjoy informed discussions and debate, but she seems to have skipped the informed part. –  Noah May 30 at 17:53

If you continue to teach your daughter about the world, explaining and demonstrating good behaviour (such as humility, open-mindedness and healthy scepticism), she will be very well equipped to decide for herself that her grandmother's blaming is nonsense.

This will actually be more effective than anything you can do to try and directly control this situation (and has the added bonus of helping her deal with every other situation in her life).

(So don't worry too much about it. A child who is taught to think for themselves is less vulnerable to this sort of thing than you might think).

share|improve this answer
    
Added "Update 3" to the question to more narrowly define the concern. Leaving her to decide for herself (when she has the capacity to do so) is the goal, for sure. –  Noah May 30 at 17:54

The solution consists of several parts.

  1. First of all, you do not need to guard your daughter from extreme political Views. Views are not facts. They are opinions. Moreover, preventing her from being able to know that there are diversity of views is more likely to turn her into one of those hyper-polarized political people who wish people death just for being a conservative.

    • Explain to your daughter that everyone has opinions. Some are more backed up by facts than others. Some are more popular than others. Give examples of opposing opinions (not necessarily political).

    • Explain that she is not required to believe any specific person's opinions, even her Grandmother (or, to balance the political concern, her public school teachers who will teach her that Obama is the greatest and Romney sucks - example from HuffPost to avoid right wing sources :). Another Example with Romney. Another example. And another). Or college professors. My own kids' kindergarten teacher gave them (at age 5) a lecture on how Government is Great and Does Everything for Us.

    • Explain the difference between respecting a person and respecting their opinion.

  2. Second, explain that FACTS rule. If someone has an opinion, her first duty is to verify if the opinion is backed up by facts.

    If someone says that 2000+ cases are the fault of Obama, do you have clear proof that they are not? Show her the proof. BAM. The person stating the opinion lost more than if they not spoke at all.

    Of course, conversely, if you don't have any proof that they are NOT the fault of Obama, you should refrain from phrasing an opinion that they are not (or at least pushing that opinion as more valid than that of her grandmother). Explain that the correct answer is "We don't know because there's no evidence either way".

  3. Use the political points as excellent jumping point for education.

    Grandma says "Obama is Socialist"? Fine, explain to her exactly what socialism is, what communism and capitalism is. Explain WHY some people consider Obama Socialist (poor definition knowledge? Very close familiarity with Socialism AND with Obamas lifelong views? Imprecise wording/sloppy labeling? Effective political tactics?)

  4. Apply the same to her Grandmother. Make it a rule - don't propose a political opinion without either honestly admitting it's an opinion OR backing it up with facts.

share|improve this answer
1  
Your cited articles and personal experience are strongly encouraging me to home-school my daughter, lol. –  Noah May 29 at 18:11
3  
@Noah - welcome to the club. I had less anti-capitalist and pro-statist brainwashing in school than what I observe lately in USA - and my school was in USSR –  user3143 May 29 at 18:12
    
The problem isn't that I don't want to expose her to differing political views, it's that I don't want her exposed to being politically indoctrinated before she can investigate and make up her own mind. We're shooting for a "question everything" approach. –  Noah May 29 at 18:13
    
@SteveJessop - By the time she's old enough, the truth will be self evident. And considering Russia Anschlussing a chunk of Ukraine already, the direction of evidence seems obvoius. –  user3143 May 29 at 19:18
1  
There is an issue with number (2). The burden of proof is on the one claiming the fault does lie with [accused]. In absence of evidence the null hypothesis, that blame is unknown, actually is the correct answer. So (2) should be rephrased from "do you have clear proof that they are not? Show her the proof." to something like "then ask [claimant] what evidence they have to support this hypothesis." –  Nicholas May 29 at 19:33

It sounds like you want to avoid exposing your daughter to the worst of your mother's views, but you also want to spend time with your mother and don't want to end your visit altogether when she starts to discuss politics. Is it possible to compromise?

When your mother starts discussing politics, take your daughter for a walk around the block. If she starts talking about politics when you get back, go again. This might help show your mother that you are serious about not wanting her to talk about politics, without ruining your whole visit.

share|improve this answer

As a 46 year old woman who has to deal with parents whose political views differ quite radically from my own, I agree whole heartedly with the answer above, which recommends you help your daughter discern between facts and views as she gets older, so that that she can more objectively assess any issues that come up.

I wouldn't ever underestimate the influence you have on your daughter, it's far more powerful than that of her grandmother, that's just the way it is. Unless you were to abandon her, which obviously is not going to happen!

I imagine your mum has complex reasons for antagonising you with her beliefs. Otherwise why does she not just accept your differences and focus on enjoying quality time with her grand daughter? I suspect she has emotional reasons for expressing her political differences from you, which stem from some sort of inner conflict.

Just reading your question, and having a think about it all has actually helped me analyse my own parent's behaviour, and it's much clearer to me now why they behave like this. (Too tedious to go into!).

I reckon you'll feel better once you question the reasons why your mum feels the need to express so much anger about politics when she knows you disagree. Begin by asking yourself why your political difference is threatening to her identity or emotional safety. Could it be it threatens her in some way to be similar to you? Why would that be? Or that she feels you don't love her because you don't agree with her? Maybe your dad's influence comes into it. Did your dad take your side over hers ever? Or vice versa? I hope thinking through that makes more sense of her attitude.

Best of luck to you, you sound like a very loving and devoted mother

share|improve this answer
    
Much appreciated, but father* :) –  Noah Oct 13 at 2:44

Since your daughter is only 1, I don't think this is much of a problem for her at this time. My actual concern is with your mother. I get the impression from your post that her political views have recently become more extreme than they were in the past, with a heavy focus on assigning blame. None of this is healthy. It sounds as if your mother is actually quite unhappy and is projecting her unhappiness upon the state of the Union. When you think about it, it's odd that politics even arises during the visit of your one-year old. Why aren't you talking about the baby? That's what normal grandmothers do.

So maybe the conversation that needs to take place is about what's going on with her at the moment. Perhaps she needs to see a therapist, or simply get out more.

share|improve this answer
    
Not sure where you're from, but in the United States (where the President is currently Obama), there are many people who have very strong feelings... the same was true of his predecessor. Strong feelings about politics, regardless of the side you take, is very common in our country. –  Jeremy Miller May 30 at 2:23
    
Because I don't often to phone calls or extended text message conversations with my mom, the only time we talk for a reasonable amount of time is when we visit, and we discuss everything. I brought up politics, specifically, after a discussion about the ethics of their claimed tax deductions. –  Noah May 30 at 17:55

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.