For families deeply divided, a summer of hot buttons begins

For families deeply divided, a summer of hot buttons begins

For families deeply divided, a summer of hot buttons begins

NEW YORK (AP) — Kristia Leyendecker has embraced a range of opposing views from her two siblings and other loved ones since 2016, when the election of Donald Trump put a sharp, sore point on their political divisions as she drifted from the Republican Party of China. today and they didn’t.

Then came the pandemic, the chaotic 2020 elections and more conflict over masks and vaccinations. Still, she insisted on keeping relationships intact. That all changed in February 2021 during the devastating frost in the Dallas area where they all live, she with her husband and two of their three children. Leyendecker’s middle child started a gender reassignment and Leyendecker’s brother, his wife and her sister broke off contact with her family. Their mother was in between.

“I was devastated. If you had told me 10 years ago, even five years ago that I would now be estranged from my family, I would have told you that you were lying. We were a very close family. We did all the holidays together I’ve been through all stages of grief multiple times,” says 49-year-old Leyendecker, a high school teacher.

Since then, there have been no more family picnics or group vacations. There were no mass gatherings for Thanksgiving and Christmas. On the road to summer nothing has changed.

For families broken along red house-blue house lines, the summer series of reunions, travels and weddings represents another exhausting round of tension in a time of deep fatigue. Pandemic restrictions have melted away, but gun control, the fight for reproductive rights, the January 6 uprising hearings, who is responsible for soaring inflation, and a host of other issues continue to simmer.

Sarah Stewart Holland and Beth Silvers, co-hosts of the popular Pantsuit Politics podcast, hosted small-group conversations with listeners about family, friendships, church, community, work and partners as they launched their second book, “Now What?” How we can move on when we are divided (about everything really).”

What they’ve heard is relatively consistent.

“Everyone is still very hurt by some of the fallout in their relationships because of COVID,” says Stewart Holland. “People are still inconsolable about some friendships that have fallen apart, partnerships that are now strained, family relationships that have become estranged. When people get back together, that pain is on the surface, about the last fight or the last disagreement or the last explosion.”

She referred to this moment in a country that is still highly polarized as a “bingo map of political conflict for certain families right now.”

Reda Hicks, 41, was born and raised in Odessa, the epicenter of the West Texas oil industry. Her family is large, conservative and deeply evangelical. She is the oldest of four siblings and the oldest of 24 cousins. Her move to Austin for college was an eye opener. Her move to ultra-progressive Berkeley, California, to study law was an even bigger one.

She’s been in Houston since 2005 and has seen friction between friends and family from her two very different worlds arise on her social media feeds, encouraged by the distance the internet offers.

“There’s a horrific caricature on both ends of that spectrum. Like, ‘I’m going to talk to you like you’re the caricature in my mind of a hippie’ or ‘I’m going to talk to you like you’re the caricature in my mind of a rul’, which means you’re an idiot anyway and you have no idea what you’re talking about,” says Hicks, a business consultant and mother of two young children.

“It all feels so personal now.”

Immigration and border security crop up regularly. The same goes for abortion and access to health care for women. Religion, especially the separation of church and state, is a third hot button. And there is gun reform in light of the recent mass school shootings in Uvalde’s Texas home and other massacres. She has relatives – including her retired military and conservative husband – who own and carry guns.

In offline life, Hicks’ family interactions can be tense but remain civilized, with regular gatherings, including a recent group weekend at her second home in the Pineywoods of East Texas.

She has never considered a transition to no contact with conservative loved ones. With a brother who lives across the street, that would be difficult. As a couple, Hicks and her husband made a conscious decision to openly discuss their opposing views in front of their children aged 11 and 5.

It’s a kind of humility, making room for them to agree to disagree. “And we often disagree. But our ground rules are not swear words. If something gets extra warm, we take a time-out.”

There are no real ground rules when it comes to the rest of their families, except for a change of subject when things seem to be at a boiling point.

Daryl Van Tongeren, associate professor of psychology at Hope College in Holland, Michigan, is out with a new book on the silent power of restraint: “Humble: Free Yourself from the Traps of a Narcissistic World.” In his view, the Hickses are right, although cultural humility is a big demand for some divided families.

“Cultural humility is when we realize that our cultural perspective is not superior, and we show a curiosity to learn from others, seeing the multitude of different approaches as a strength,” says Van Tongeren. “This humility does not come at the expense of fighting for the oppressed, nor does it require people to shy away from upholding their personal values. But how we deal with people we disagree with matters.”

Van Tongeren is an optimist. “Humility,” he says, “has the potential to transform our relationships, our communities and nations. It helps bridge divides and centers the humanity of each of us. And that’s exactly what we need right now.”

He is not alone in the humility camp. Thomas Plante, who teaches psychology at Santa Clara University in California, a liberal Jesuit school, calls the same.

“Having a heated conversation over a picnic or at the barbeque won’t change anyone’s mind. As a rule, it only creates tension and hurt feelings,” says Plante.

Carla Bevins, assistant professor of communications at Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business, focuses on interpersonal communication, etiquette, and conflict management. Sources of emotional reserves have dropped even lower at the start of the summer, she says, compared to the stressful family times of Thanksgiving and Christmas, for example.

“We are so exhausted,” she says. “And so often we formulate our own response before we really hear what the other person is trying to say. It has to be about finding that commonality. Ask yourself, how much energy do I have in a day? And remember, there’s always the option of just not going.”

Follow Associated Press journalist Leanne Italy on Twitter at http://twitter.com/litalie