A hot summer begins for families deeply divided

NEW YORK — Kristia Leyendecker has navigated a series of conflicting views of her two siblings and other loved ones since 2016, when Donald Trump’s election put a sharp, painful point on her political divisions, as she migrated from what is now the Republican Party and they didn’t.

Then came the pandemic, the chaotic 2020 elections, and more conflict over masks and vaccines. Still, she stuck by it to keep the relationships intact. That all changed in February 2021 during the devastating freeze in the Dallas area where they all live, she with her husband and two of their three children. Leyendecker’s middle child underwent sex reassignment surgery, and Leyendecker’s brother, wife, and sister cut ties with their family. Your mother was caught in the middle.

“I was devastated. If you had told me 10 years ago, even five years ago, that I was now estranged from my family, I would have told you that you were lying. We were a very close family. We have made all the holidays together. I went through all the phases of mourning several times, “says the 49-year-old high school teacher Leyendecker.

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Since then there have been no more family picnics or group vacations. There were no mass gatherings on Thanksgiving and Christmas. Nothing has changed on the way into summer.

For families fragmented along red house-blue house lines, the summer’s list of reunions, trips and weddings represents another grueling round of tension at a time of severe fatigue. Pandemic restrictions have melted away, but gun control, the struggle for reproductive rights , the Jan. 6 insurrection hearings on who is to blame for rising inflation, and a host of other issues simmer.

Sarah Stewart Holland and Beth Silvers, co-hosts of the popular podcast Pantsuit Politics, announced on the release of their second book, Now What? How we move forward when we’re divided (about basically everything).”

What they’ve heard is relatively consistent.

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“Everyone is still very hurt from some of the consequences in their relationships because of COVID,” says Stewart Holland. “People are still heartbroken over some broken friendships, partnerships now strained, family relationships that have become estranged. When people start getting back together, that pain is right on the surface, about the last argument or disagreement or the last explosion.”

She referred to this moment in a still highly polarized nation as “a political conflict bingo card for certain families right now.”

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

Based in Houston since 2005, she has witnessed friction between friends and family develop on her social media feeds from their two very different worlds, encouraged by the distance the internet offers.

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“There was terrible caricature on both ends of that spectrum. For example, “I’ll talk to you like you’re a caricature of a hippie in my head” or “I’ll talk to you like you’re a caricature of a roughneck in my head,” meaning you’re either way Idiot and have no idea what you’re talking about,” said Hicks, a management consultant and mother of two young children.

“It all feels so personal now.”

Immigration and border security come up regularly. Abortion and access to health care for women too. Religion, particularly the separation of church and state, is a third hot button. And there is gun reform in the face of the recent mass school shooting in Uvalde, back in Texas, 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 strained but remain civilized, with regular get-togethers including a recent group weekend at her second home in the Pineywoods of east Texas.

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

It’s a kind of humiliation that gives them space to agree, to disagree. “And we often disagree. But our ground rules are no attribution. If something gets particularly hot, we take a break.”

When it comes to the rest of their families, no real ground rules are laid, other than changing the subject when things seem to be heating up.

Daryl Van Tongeren, associate professor of psychology at Hope College in Holland, Michigan, has published a new book on the silent power of restraint, Humble: Free Yourself from the Traps of a Narcissistic World. In his eyes, the Hiccups did everything right, although cultural humility is a big demand for some fractured families.

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“Cultural humility is when we recognize that our cultural perspective is not superior, and we show curiosity to learn from others and see the variety 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 don’t agree with is important.”

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

In the camp of humility he is not alone. Thomas Plante, who teaches psychology at California’s Santa Clara University, a liberal Jesuit school, demands the same.

“A heated conversation at a picnic or at a barbecue will not change anyone’s mind. That usually only creates tension and hurt feelings,” says Plante.

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

“We’re so exhausted,” she says. “And so often we formulate our own response before we actually hear what the other person is trying to say. It has to be about finding this common ground. Are you wondering how much energy do I have in a day? And remember, there’s always the option of just not going.”

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

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https://www.local10.com/health/2022/06/16/for-families-deeply-divided-a-summer-of-hot-buttons-begins/ A hot summer begins for families deeply divided

Sarah Y. Kim

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