How To Change the World Even if Your Family Disapproves

In a previous article, I told the story of a woman who saw my Liberal Patriot T-Shirt and told me how brave I was to wear it in public. She would not wear that kind of shirt because her family disapproves of her liberal views.

If you choose to support your cause, your relationships with family may change. But they don’t have to be confrontational. And do not let it hold you back from making the world a better place.

I understand the concern, though. My family disapproves, too.

My Story

I love my family, but they disapprove of my views. Challenging them on social issues is never productive. It has always been more comfortable to be an ostrich, hiding my head in the sand.

The 2016 Presidential election was a wake-up call for me, and that day I became an unexpected activist. Although I’d been active in causes, these were not experiences I shared with my extended family. After that election result, I could no longer hide.

It is clear that where you stood on the 2016, and now, 2020 election results divided people terribly. Several of my friends got divorced over divided politics. My family neatly divided itself as you’d expect, with me and a few cousins and nieces on one side (you know who you are — thank you!) and most on the Trump side.

But I spoke out anyway. I’m not going to lie, I was scared. My family has made it quite clear what they support, and there is minimal overlap in our opinions. Their general reaction to anything they consider liberal is disgust. A few family members were terribly ugly to me. I treasure the one time my brother and I laughed over our differing opinions of Trump.

But then I published my book.

My Opinions In Black And White

After my wake-up call, this ostrich pulled her head out of the sand. When I didn’t find what I was looking for — easy-to-use, evidence-based methods for effective activism — I decided to write What’s on Your Sign? I used what I learned from my research to outline a process for new activists.

Warning my family that I was publishing my book and that I would be sharing about it, I asked them to avoid posting nasty stuff on my social media. In their defense, most complied with this request. But others only got worse. I was mocked, belittled, and, in one case, cut off completely.

I know I’m not alone in getting bullied by people I love, who I thought loved me. It is hard, and I try to focus on my nuclear family’s support.

But even as brutal as this has been, I’m glad I spoke out. I’m happy I put the book into the world.

Tips For Navigating a Family Who Disapproves

Stick with your values, your North Star, because it will never steer you wrong. Keep making the world a better place.

The Privilege Issue

My family is privileged in most ways. I am, too. And I recognize that my privilege allows me to step to the sidelines whenever I am uncomfortable, fearful, or anxious.

It might be easy for you to say that “I don’t want to upset my family.” I certainly would not condone any confrontations or in-your-face arguments, anyway.

But if you have taken time to recognize your privilege and feel a calling to make a difference in the world, don’t let people who hide behind their privilege stop you.

Your Nuclear Family

My friends who got Trump-era divorces no doubt wish they had understood their spouse better before they tied the knot. Because partnership this close requires a significant overlap of values. When things become challenging, these differences in values can cause much strife.

But if you are in a mixed-politics relationship, weigh the impact of championing a cause in direct opposition to your spouse carefully. How will that impact you as a couple?

Hillary Rettig, the author of The Lifelong Activist, writes

“If you are already partnered with someone who doesn’t support your progressive values and this situation is causing you pain, consult a therapist or other professional. If it’s not causing you pain, but is merely an annoyance, then you should probably treat it like all the other minor annoyances of couplehood and “live and let live.”

Kids Come First

But what if you have children?

When kids are involved in family political dynamics, you must prioritize behaving in ways that won’t negatively impact them. They come first.

There are two issues related to children and political differences. One is the impact on kids of parents fighting about politics. Sending different messages about important issues will not help your children.

The second issue is when your kids disagree with you about politics.

Raising your child to be an activist means they are likely to hold similar values as you.

Helping your children incorporate compassion into their life in a tangible way is a gift. Guide them in learning the values you hold dear and help them find the cause closest to their heart.

But at some point, they may disagree with your views. You’ll have to let go, here, too.

People evolve in their political views. You may find that a child allowed to explore and form their own opinions will be savvy and well-rounded.

If you don’t try to bully them, but instead model for them the joyous progressive life, there’s a good chance they will eventually return “home” to your values. If not — well, rejoice in their independence, and base your relationship not on your differences but on your areas of commonality.” ~ Hillary Rettig

In our progressive family, we still have ‘discussions’ about politics because our kids landed to the left of us!

Your Extended Family

Even if you don’t see your extended family regularly, social media has ensured that we know of political differences. It also provides an easy way to get digs in, or worse, without being in the same room.

Social media doesn’t always allow us to convey our actual views well, and there is much room for misinterpretation. We need to start with giving our family the benefit of the doubt. (I bet when you read that sentence, you thought of that extended family member who has made their far-right views crystal clear!)

Try to avoid arguing about contentious subjects unless you are with the person. If you expect them to get angry or abusive, don’t have the conversation at all. You might end up ruining your nephew’s graduation party.

Back in the days when I was hiding my head in the sand, I told myself that disagreeing with family would upset my mother. But that kind of fake peace isn’t healthy for you or your family.

But it is healthy to recognize when further discussion is productive and when it is time to give up the fight.

“Give up on your efforts to sell to them, and try to influence them by joyful example, instead.” ~Hillary Rettig

“Lead by Joyful Example” Even If Your Family Disapproves

I love Hillary Rettig’s recommendation to lead by joyful example. If you follow your life vision, live your values, and do the best you can for your cause, you are doing that. People who experience your passion and compassion may be open to finding out more about your goals. However, some people will always disapprove, and that is okay. Let it go and continue living your joyful life.



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Terri Lyon

Terri Lyon

The Activist For Activists. Author. Teacher. Psychologist. Animal Lover.