A Personal Story: A Divided Family in a Divided America.
written by Susana (with help from Eric Prince)
Editor's Note: Susana first reached out to me after reading "How to talk to people who won't listen to data, facts, or basic common sense". In her message, Susana discussed the impact the recent political environment has had on her family. Her story was so touching that I asked her to write a longer piece so I could share it with readers. She told me she wants to remain anonymous, but I am SO thankful to her for writing this piece. If you're reading this, Susana: thank you!!!!
Both of my parents were born and raised in conservative and Catholic households in Mexico.
Despite being raised in a conservative and Catholic home, my father was a bit of a rebel. He smoked and partied with friends. He aspired to become a professional boxer (he competed in local competitions as a teen). And, to this day, his attitudes and beliefs reflect this upbringing.
My mother, on the other hand, has remained committed to her conservative, Christian beliefs. A lot of this has to do with the gender roles she experienced as a child. She married as a virgin (she loves reminding us of this). She never ventured outside at night for fear of being inappropriately labeled. There was so much pressure on women at this time (I hear very little scrutiny about all my philandering uncles, ha).
My mother never had a chance to be her own person or have any sort of dreams. Based on her stories, it seems like she only had two options: either stay with parents or marry and be taken care of.
My parents met in Mexico in the 1970s, and, after getting married, they decided to move to Texas (keep in mind this was a different time: many Mexicans crossed back and forth between Texas and Mexico without too much concern. In fact, some people would work in Texas and be back in Mexico for dinner).
Once my parents finally became U.S. citizens (and able to vote in presidential elections) they both tended to vote for Democrat politicians. It was just the general mentality at the time; if you were a person of color you vote Democrat. It wasn’t until Obama ran for president that my father considered voting for McCain. This wasn’t because my father was racist – he simply identified with McCain’s personal values. However, my father (and mother) ultimately voted for Obama (due to the POC mentality) and that was that.
Trump, Politics, and the Diverging Family
Since then, however, my mother and father have diverged on their political beliefs.
My father has become more left-leaning since Trump became president and has continued to vote Democrat. He despises Trump and believes the man has created more chaos than success for the world.
My mother, on the other hand, has become much more conservative. When Trump became the frontrunner for the Republican party, he placed religion front and center and caught the attention of many evangelists, including my mother.
I was living in Hawaii at the time and had just given birth (we are a military family stationed at Hickam AFB). I asked my mother to stay with me to help with the newborn, and, while living with me, she became infatuated with everything Trump stood for. “He’s going to bring Christianity back to the White House!”, she’d proclaim with such enthusiasm.
When Trump was elected president, my mother became convinced that Trump was the “evangelical savior”. He was going to condemn homosexuals because “we know” they do not deserve to be parents. They will only abuse and molest children. To be gay was to be condemned and live a life of sin. My mother also believed that Democrats supported late-term abortions and believed killing babies was on their secret agenda. I believe most of her news was from Facebook as I was not aware of her visiting websites (she was not website savvy but could navigate the heck out of Facebook).
Down the Rabbit Hole...and into a Pandemic
As the years went by, her obsession with Trump increased. While my mother was staying with me in Hawaii, Trump flew down to our base to meet with military officials. My mother relished at the idea that Trump was so close to her.
She thought that Melania Trump was the most beautiful woman in the world (not that this was a terrible thing, but it was tiresome hearing about the typical features of white beauty – something neither myself nor my daughter resemble).
She was convinced the media blasted Trump unfairly and was convinced that Trump was trying to save the world while the left and the media were out to ruin him.
My mother was also part of several, extremely religious Facebook groups. These groups were unhealthy and spread unreliable information, which was often in the form of low-budget YouTube videos. And this was the worst part, because YouTube’s algorithms would then send my mother into a spiral of videos that further confirmed her beliefs about Trump, the leftist agenda, Biden, and COVID.
One day, my mother shared a video about Nobel Peace Prize Winner, Dr. Tasuku Honjo, who, as the video states, “caused sensation in the media when he said the coronavirus was not natural.” He also claimed that ventilators and respiratory machines were not necessary, that Ecuador found the cure for the coronavirus, and that leaders from countries around the world were being murdered in secret (yes, you read that correctly).
Another video she shared included a “virologist” who claimed the vaccine from Pfizer was bad and had many long-term consequences. The “virologist” said it was better to just take care of yourself holistically (with natural and herbal medicine) and to pray to God. I attempted to Google this individual but could not locate who this man was, what his credentials were, or any other details that might quality him.
Contrary to the videos she has shared, my mother has had a very tough and personal time during the pandemic. Many of her family members have died from COVID and other health related issues. She’s lost aunts, uncles, and even two brothers and a sister (her siblings all died in a two-month time-span).
All of these family members lived in Mexico, so it’s been hard on my Mother, especially since the pandemic made traveling unsafe (thankfully, she’s since been back to Mexico).
But even through all of the loss she’s faced this year, my mother has also struggled financially (along with my father) and continues to survive off monthly social security checks. It's been hard watching my parents struggle to afford basic things in life – things we all take for granted. I have even helped them financially (about $500 a month for recurring bills like car insurance, electricity, phone bills, etc).
Despite all her personal struggles, my mother still harbors a lot of negativity. She STILL feels compelled (if not obligated) to share all the ignorance she reads and hears online.
A Strained Relationship
Unfortunately, all of this has placed a strain on my relationship with my mother. I’ve even grown uncomfortable calling her on the phone. Before the elections (and even at the beginning of Trump’s presidency), I was able to have meaningful conversations with her on life, dreams, and stories of our childhood.
But all of our recent conversations just seem to be rants on Trump, Biden, the leftist agenda, and other political talking points.
My mother tries to push her views on me (how dare I decide for myself what I want to believe in!). It’s made me so uncomfortable that I’ve actually told her that I can’t always be myself around her. I’ve told her that I wish I could be more open and share more, but I can’t because I know she’ll blow things out of proportion.
One time, I foolishly mentioned that I’m friends with a lesbian couple here in Germany (where we’re currently stationed). My mother immediately freaked out and expressed concerned for my daughter - “they will turn her gay!”. And no matter how hard I try, I cannot make my mother see my viewpoint: that this lesbian couple is just like any of us. That they’re good people just trying to make it in this world.
As of late, I call my mother weekly to stay in touch and to “check in” on her. I continue to provide minimal details about my personal life. I only share things I know my mother can handle. I talk to her about the future - about flying her to Germany to visit us and spending time with our daughter (it’s been almost two years since my daughter has seen my mother).
And when my mother inevitably starts to discuss politics, Trump, or expresses relief that none of us turned out gay, I don’t say anything. I don’t want to strain an already strained relationship.
The last few years have just rubbed me the wrong way. But after Trump got elected, I felt like I had to keep my mouth shut on a lot of the things she discusses so freely: that I shouldn’t have gay friends, that I was taking too many vitamins, that I need to go to church, that I need to share Christian values/beliefs with my daughter…etc, etc, etc.
The Three Sisters
I have two sisters: one who is 5 years my senior and another who is 5 years my junior (I’m the middle child).
My older sister (a Gen X-er) lives next door to my parents and has a different outlook on the situation than I do. Half the time, she agrees with my parents (she can be a bit religious when she wants to be) and other times, she is not afraid to quarrel with my mother. For the most part, however, my older sister believes that honoring your parents means allowing them to say whatever they want.
My younger sister (a Millennial) is extremely liberal and isn’t as close to my family because she often doesn’t agree with a lot of things they say. At first, she tried to look the other way, but the entire situation has grown very cumbersome for her. She’s never had a great relationship with my mother (she resents my mother for certain childhood issues), but my mother’s recent behavior haven proven to be the major breaking point in their relationship.
As I write this, it’s been several weeks since my sister and mother have spoken. In many ways, I agree with my sister – her opinions are valid and it’s okay for her to feel angry. But I also recognize that my mother means well, even if she is approaching the situation poorly. I’ve tried to remain objective about it all, but it’s often easier said than done.
Personally, I find myself somewhere between my older sister and young sister – in both age and personal views (ha!).
I recognize that my mother has worked hard to give us everything she could. She worked many labor-intensive jobs in seamstress factories. She cooked all our meals. She cleaned. She did laundry for our entire family. She ran errands. She did many things that my sisters and I STILL take for granted.
When I told my parents I wanted to leave home and go to college, there was a lot of hesitation and concern about me. Will I fail? Will I get pregnant (yes, sadly this was brought up a lot)? Will I just waste all their money and retreat back home?
Despite all this, my parents still chose to support me. While I was in college, they paid for a lot of my expenses when I couldn’t afford them. They gave me a hand-me-down car that I drove through college until I was able to afford my own car (they did this for my sisters as well). And when I needed $1000 for a GRE prep course to get into graduate school, my parents somehow found the money to help. I ultimately graduated from college in 2006 with a B.S. in Health and from graduate school in 2012 with a Master's in Public Health – and I owe much of this achievement to my parents and the sacrifices they have made for me.
After giving birth to a child of my own, I find myself thinking about all the sacrifices my mother has made. I remember all the nights my mother would sing to us and recite prayers, despite her exhaustion from working all day. How she would lay with me and comfort me, just as I do with my own child.
I believe my mother comes from a good place. But it’s become increasingly more difficult to recognize my mother’s “good place” due to her social and political views.
The Culture War
Our culture is a crossroads right now. We’re growing more politically correct. We’re pushing back on those we deem harmful. We’re becoming more accepting of other people from different backgrounds.
Unfortunately, these types of principles do not align with what my mother was taught and raised on.
My mother believes that a man must take care of me (otherwise I’m doomed). She believes that my husband should be paying for everything because that’s his role. She believes that my husband should not be as involved in caring for our child because that’s the woman’s role.
She was bewildered when she saw how invested my husband is in my daughter (I still don’t know if she wished my father had done the same or if she was actually appalled that my husband was taking on a “woman’s role”).
Love, Empathy, and Motherhood
I want to see my mother again. It’s hard knowing that my daughter hasn’t seen her grandparents since 2019, and I want my daughter to feel connected with my family. But I am also worried that, if my mother does she visit, she will do and say whatever she wants. And I am not okay with that.
Unfortunately, I don’t believe my mother will EVER change. It’s like the old saying, “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks”. I’ve repeated this to myself many times (I have to give myself pep-talks before talking to my mother).
I tell myself that I’m an adult, a mother, and a wife. That I’m doing the very best I can in this life. I’ve also decided that I won’t have anyone telling me what I need to do with my life or with my religious beliefs. And when my mother begins to lecture me, I simply nod and say, “Okay, mom”.
I will love my mother until the day she dies. I won’t ever stop worrying about her and I’ll always try to help her with anything I can.
But I’ve also learned a lot from my relationship with her. I’ve learned that love is complicated. That even if I disagree with her on deeply personal issues, I will still continue to love her.
I have also learned how to better approach the relationship with my own daughter. I don’t want to burden my daughter in the same ways my mother has burdened me.
I won’t shove religion down my daughter’s throat. I will let her decide what she wants to do with religion. And while I love the idea of God and continue to pray to him silently, I will not force my daughter to partake.
I also won’t impose my political or social beliefs on my daughter. I want her to form her own opinions on things. I will listen to her opinions and views. I will try to respect those opinions and views with all my heart, even if I disagree with them. And I hope my daughter NEVER feels the need to simply nod and say, “Okay, mom”.
Thank you for allowing me to share my story.
A Brief Update to the Story
My mother has gotten the vaccine!
Here’s the story:
After finally putting all the bullshit aside, I asked my mother directly: “Why aren’t you getting the COVID vaccine? You’re in Texas…there’s an abundance of vaccines and appointments. What are you waiting for?”
My mother: “Well, I’m waiting for the Johnson & Johnson. It’s a one time shot and I feel okay with that.”
Fast forward a few weeks: “Mom, why haven’t you received your J&J shot?”
It turns out that my mother’s circle of friends is suspicious of the vaccine. They believe the vaccine is from Satan and that receiving a shot would be a sin.
When my mother told me this I finally understood her hesitation. She was mostly afraid to tell her friends that she’d received the vaccine.
But she also knew that if she ever wanted to visit us in Germany, she would need the vaccine.
I think this realization hit home for my mother.
So, I told my mother not to tell her friends about her plans to get the vaccine (and if they ask, to just lie about it).
It saddened me to say this to her, especially because I think we need to confront these incorrect beliefs about the vaccine and promote its efficacy and positive results. But, for right now, it is what it is. I’d rather have her get vaccinated now and deal with the other issues at a later time.
Long story short: She was FINALLY vaccinated last week and I am SO HAPPY for her.
Yes, her primary motivation in receiving the vaccine was to visit us in Germany. But it’s better than nothing!!!
Eric Prince is the creator and operator of howwegottonow.com, a platform designed to provide content and context on the most important events happening today. Eric enjoys the daily NYT crossword puzzle, underlining entire paragraphs in books, and drinking one-too-many cups of coffee.