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Are You Struggling with Differences in Values Among Your Family?

Matthew Cuddeback LCSW

If there is one thing 2020 has taught us, it is that we need to do more work on how to navigate differences in opinions and especially differences in values. As we get older, we often see our perspectives or opinions have evolved and may not match up with our families of origin. This is of course nothing new, but in 2020 it does feel more potent. Let’s talk about the ways in which this often comes up, the deeper reasons for how difficult this can be, and how to navigate these scenarios.

More and more a lot of people are struggling with how to talk to their families of origin about issues that have become more prominent in discourse as of late. This often includes topics such as COVID-19 safety, race relations, police brutality, the state of our education systems, immigration, gender and sexual identity, etc. This probably already feels uncomfortable where I am going with this. It can be a deeply troubling experience for a few reasons.

A lot of times this is difficult because the people who helped you develop core beliefs and values suddenly have a different opinion than you, that can be highly destabilizing when it happens. It can also be difficult because you are having to take on the weight of feeling as though you are now trying to help them learn and grow. Let’s take the example of COVID-19 and how your parents, for example, may have reacted in regard to how politicized this topic has become or how your personal feelings of safety may clash. Why is it so difficult to navigate our feelings and our relationships with our parent’s when we believe that we should all be cautious and we find out they believe COVID-19 risk is not concerning (or vice versa?) Suppose that we want to see our families but concern about safety makes this difficult. How strict should you be? How relaxed? How do you ask questions about cleanliness and safety without offending them?  

One key piece to understanding why people often become uncomfortable and defensive in these situations comes from the need to make sense of the world around us. We all develop the ways in which we see the world and our role in it and it becomes immensely uncomfortable when doubts about this grow. It can be helpful to remember this when we feel frustrated, they may not be arguing because they dislike you or believe you are completely wrong, but they may be arguing because they don’t feel comfortable when they see the world may not work the way they have always believed it does. It is very important too that there is nothing wrong with disagreeing, but you do not have to be around those who’s opinions could do you harm or disrespect who you are. You can understand, for example, that you are more cautious than your parents and be okay with how they are not practicing safety precautions as much as you are. However, this does not mean you have to allow them to push you to do things you believe are unsafe. 

So, how do you manage this? Values. Our values and basing our decisions on our values is the shortest route to happiness. If you are disagreeing about COVID safety, or police brutality, or politics, what do your values say? We need to start with understanding our values and the weight each carries. If you believe the president is fanning the flames of social discord but your dad thinks differently, how does that fit? Does your value of respectful politics carry more weight than the importance of family relationships? Then distancing yourself from them could be a healthy choice. What if your values say family is the priority? Maybe you agree not to discuss these topics but remain close. There is no one size fits all for these decisions they are entirely based on your own believes and values.

Disagreeing on deep issues and core values with those you care about is difficult, however, there are ways to manage it as mentioned above. It’s important to understand people may not mean harm, they may simply be grappling with how to understand the situation and that is uncomfortable and not everyone handles this well. Of course, this is not always the case and if it is unhealthy for you to be around them when this occurs there is nothing that says you have to remain close to those people. Understanding your values will help point you in the direction of how to manage these disagreements, even then it may still not be pleasant, but it is the surest way to come out feeling as good as you can in such a messy situation.

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