Dear Carolyn: My daughter (she is 30) and I have polar political views. I say political because that is how it manifests itself; however, to me it comes down to core values of compassion and empathy, or lack thereof. I do not proselytize, nor do I say anything to her — it is in her occasional opinions of this or that, and in random comments.
As a person separate from me, I respect her having her own opinions, but as her mother I am so saddened and, well, disappointed. She doesn't rant vile propaganda (overt racism, etc.), yet her lack of even attempting to understand others' circumstances and disadvantages is so disheartening, I have difficulty engaging with her.
Of course I don't want to end our relationship, but when we engage, almost daily, it is so painful to recognize that she is not someone I would choose to have in my life if we were not related. I wonder where I went wrong.
How do I reconcile this and maintain a working relationship with my daughter, continuing to keep this disappointment to myself/at bay, without feeling like a hypocrite or fraud?
Disappointed: A couple of things, starting with sympathy. Regardless of the reason, this — "it is so painful to recognize that she is not someone I would choose to have in my life if we were not related" — is a reckoning more people will identify with than not.
If you think about it, it makes sense that most parents and kids love each other but maybe don't always like each other's personalities. But this isn't stuff we think — we feel it, and there's a dull ache at best where the "like" ought to be.
I think the path to reconciliation for you might lie in an odd place: science. Or, maybe more fittingly said for this column, in detaching her outcome — your daughter's values and worldview — from your input — the actions you took and the choices you made as a parent.
One (possibly the only? Discuss) benefit of the yawning political divide in society of late is a lot of accessible, published work on the brain science of such views. Read HERE ( bit.ly/PolBrain1 ), HERE ( bit.ly/PolBrain2 ) and HERE ( bit.ly/PolBrain3 ) for analyses of varying nerdiness of the brain differences of people with different politics. I post them with the usual caveats with studies and etc.: I'm not a scientist, just a layman who reads a lot; we're just at the beginning of any real understanding of the brain; "studies" can be anything from bankable to laughable, depending on many factors; and maybe there are far better or more comprehensive writings out there than these.
But all that said, there might be some comfort in seeing your differences not as your letting her down or her letting you down, but instead as being wired differently in important ways.
There also might be some relief for you, and ideally even a better sense of connection, if you can find an area of interest that you share with her. The arts, cooking, sports, design, anything? Activity can be extremely effective at nurturing bonds and crowding opinion out.