For families deeply divided, a summer of hot buttons begins

Jun 16, 2022, 12:03 AM | Updated: Jun 17, 2022, 2:58 am
Reda Hicks appears with her husband Jake Hicks, left, daughter Katie and son Howard in Houston on N...

Reda Hicks appears with her husband Jake Hicks, left, daughter Katie and son Howard in Houston on Nov. 21, 2021. 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. Her move to Austin for college was an eye opener. She has watched friction among friends and family from her two very different worlds devolve on her social media feeds. (Alicia Verdier via AP)

(Alicia Verdier via AP)

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

Then came the pandemic, the chaotic 2020 election and more conflict over masks and vaccinations. Yet she hung in there to keep 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 began a gender transition, and Leyendecker’s brother, his wife and her sister cut off contact with her family. Their mother was caught in the middle.

“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 you were lying. We were a very close family. We did all holidays together. I’ve been through all of the stages of grief multiple times,” says the 49-year-old Leyendecker, a high school teacher.

Since, there have been no family picnics or group vacations. There were no mass gatherings for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Heading into summer, nothing has changed.

For families fractured along red house-blue house lines, summer’s slate of reunions, trips and weddings poses another exhausting round of tension at a time of heavy fatigue. Pandemic restrictions have melted away but gun control, the fight for reproductive rights, the Jan. 6 insurrection hearings, who’s to blame for soaring inflation and a range of other issues continue to simmer.

Sarah Stewart Holland and Beth Silvers, co-hosts of the popular Pantsuit Politics podcast, have been hosting small group conversations with listeners about family, friendships, church, community, work and partners as they’ve launched their second book, “Now What? How to Move Forward When We’re Divided (About Basically Everything).”

What they’ve heard is relatively consistent.

“Everyone is still really hurt by some of the fallout in their relationships over COVID,” Stewart Holland says. “People are still brokenhearted about some friendships that fell apart, partnerships that are now strained, family relationships that are estranged. As people start to come back together again, that pain is right on the surface, about the last fight or the last disagreement or the last blowup.”

She called this moment in a nation still greatly polarized as a “bingo card 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’s the oldest of four siblings and the senior of 24 first cousins. Her move to Austin for college was an eye-opener. Her move to ultra-progressive Berkeley, California, for law school was an even bigger one.

She’s been in Houston since 2005 and has watched friction among friends and family from her two very different worlds devolve on her social media feeds, emboldened by the distance the internet affords.

“There’s been a horrific caricaturing on both ends of that spectrum. Like, `I’m going to talk to you like you are 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 roughneck,’ which means you’re an idiot either way and you have no idea what you’re talking about,” says Hicks, a business consultant and the mother of two young children.

“It all feels so personal now.”

Immigration and border security pop up regularly. So does abortion and access to health care for women. Religion, particularly the separation of church and state, is a third hot button. And there’s gun reform in light of the recent mass school shooting in Uvalde at home 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 tense but do remain civil, with regular get-togethers that include 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 living just across the street, that would be difficult to pull off. As a couple, Hicks and her husband have made a conscious decision to openly discuss their opposing views in the presence of their children, ages 11 and 5.

It’s a humbling of sorts, making space for them to agree to disagree. “And we disagree a lot. But our ground rules are no name calling. If something gets extra heated, we take a timeout.”

No real ground rules are set when it comes to the rest of their families, other than a change of topic when things appear headed for a boil over.

Daryl Van Tongeren, an associate professor of psychology at Hope College in Holland, Michigan, is out with a new book on the quiet power of restraint, “Humble: Free Yourself from the Traps of a Narcissistic World.” In his eyes, the Hickses have got it right, though cultural humility is a big ask for some divided families.

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

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

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

“Having a heated conversation during a picnic or over the barbecue isn’t going to change anyone’s mind. It only creates tensions and hurt feelings as a rule,” Plante says.

Carla Bevins, an assistant teaching professor of communication at Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business, focuses on interpersonal communication, etiquette and conflict management. The wells of emotional reserves have fallen even lower at the start of summer’s closeness, she says, compared to the stressful family times of, say, Thanksgiving and Christmas.

“We’re so worn out,” she says. “And so often we’re framing our own response before we really even hear what the other person is trying to say. It needs to be about finding that commonality. Ask yourself, how much energy do I have in a day? And remember, there’s always the option to just not go.”

___

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

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Associated Press

4 bears killed in Alaska campground reserved for homeless

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Alaska wildlife officials have killed four black bears in a campground recently reserved for people in Anchorage who are homeless after the city’s largest shelter was closed. Employees from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game on Tuesday killed a sow and her two cubs and another adult bear that was […]
18 hours ago
Yesenia Hernandez, granddaughter to Nicolas Toledo, who was killed during Monday's Highland Park., ...
Associated Press

‘Taken too soon’: Remembering Highland Park shooting victims

CHICAGO (AP) — Two of the victims of a July 4 parade massacre in a Chicago suburb left behind a 2-year-old son. Another was staying with family in Illinois after he was injured in car wreck about two months earlier. For some, it was a tradition. They were avid travelers, members of their synagogue and […]
18 hours ago
Associated Press

Ex-‘Cheer’ star Harris gets 12 years for seeking photos, sex

CHICAGO (AP) — A federal judge Wednesday sentenced Jerry Harris, a former star of the Netflix documentary series “Cheer,” to 12 years in prison for coercing teenage boys to send him obscene photos and videos of themselves and soliciting sex from minors at cheerleading competitions. U.S. District Judge Manish Shah also ordered that the sentence […]
18 hours ago
Associated Press

California woman fakes cancer, forges notes to avoid prison

SAN DIEGO (AP) — One note submitted to the federal judge sentencing a 38-year-old California woman for embezzlement claimed that a biopsy had revealed “cancerous cells” in her uterus. Another indicated that she was undergoing a surgical procedure, and her cancer had spread to the cervix. Yet another letter warned she “cannot be exposed to […]
18 hours ago
Associated Press

Virgin Galactic taps Boeing subsidiary to build motherships

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Virgin Galactic announced Wednesday that it is partnering with a Boeing subsidiary to manufacture the next generation of the twin-fuselage aircraft used to carry aloft the space tourism company’s rocket ship. Aurora Flight Sciences will build two of the special carrier planes at its facilities in Mississippi and West Virginia. Final […]
18 hours ago
Helena Kavanaugh, right, stands with friends Addison Schwan, center, and Charlie Shookman after Kav...
Associated Press

Police: Parade shooting suspect contemplated 2nd shooting

HIGHLAND PARK, Ill. (AP) — The man charged with killing seven people at an Independence Day parade confessed to police that he unleashed a hail of bullets from a rooftop in suburban Chicago and then fled to the Madison, Wisconsin, area, where he contemplated shooting up an event there, authorities said Wednesday. The suspect turned […]
18 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

(Courtesy Condor)...
Condor Airlines

Condor Airlines shows passion for destinations from Sky Harbor with new-look aircraft

Condor Airlines brings passion to each flight and connects people to their dream destinations throughout the world.
...
Carla Berg, MHS, Deputy Director, Public Health Services, Arizona Department of Health Services

Vaccines are safe if you are pregnant or breastfeeding

Are you pregnant? Do you have a friend or loved one who’s expecting?
...
Carla Berg, MHS, Deputy Director, Public Health Services, Arizona Department of Health Services

Update your child’s vaccines before kindergarten

So, your little one starts kindergarten soon. How exciting! You still have a few months before the school year starts, so now’s the time to make sure students-to-be have the vaccines needed to stay safe as they head into a new chapter of life.
For families deeply divided, a summer of hot buttons begins