The dilemma I am 52 years old, divorced, and have two adult children who live and work away. Recently, the relationship I have with my mum and dad has become very strained. They are in their mid-70s and they voted for Brexit, which has been a sticking point ever since. Each time we talk, it ends up about politics. I was embarrassed at my dad’s Ukip poster in the window – paradoxically, he had taught me, growing up, to be a socialist, not to be elitist and to treat everyone the same. The pair of them have turned into rightwing, xenophobic, fake snobs and it truly disgusts me.
Coupled with that they are Covid law-breakers – they regularly have extended family inside their house and my mother gets offended that I will only stand on the doorstep wearing a mask to visit her. She declares: “We haven’t got the plague, you know.” They are comfortably well off and I don’t ask for anything from them. My sister has also breached Covid regulations and she works in the NHS and that astounds me. I get texts from my mum and dad and wider family, all telling me that I am a disgrace for avoiding meeting them. I used to have a happy relationship with them, but now I can’t bear them because of their views.
Mariella replies That’s quite a list of transgressions. It makes the Borgias family look positively functional. That said, at this point, after a challenging 12 months, I daresay there are only a small minority left who haven’t made a Covid breach or two. And any day now, the well-off will start sheepishly returning after slipping silently away to the Tropics at the first mention of lockdown. World-class social skills will be required to navigate gatherings when we re-emerge into the world, with many families and friendships put to the test on the basis of how the country’s most recent darkest hour was navigated.
Those super-rich slinking home from their “money-can-buy escapes” offer further proof of the chasm that’s become impossible to ignore between the haves and have nots in the UK. A fair society can’t flourish when hard times only hit the already downtrodden. And that’s just the toxicity of the past 12 months – when you add it to three preceding years of polemical civil war around those who wanted to remain European and those who did not, it gets ever uglier.
Making emphatic judgments about the choices of others seems to me generally a wasted cause and, nowadays, only a way to amuse ourselves on social media. It’s a woeful mistake unless your own behaviour can honestly be judged to be without flaw. “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone” etc – unless, of course, they are hypocritically lecturing you about behaviour they don’t think twice about embracing themselves. It’s an own-goal that politicians, celebrities and those in the public eye seem to be well skilled at scoring, but in a family it’s a fool’s game to try to change the way the wind blows. Dodging it is the far better choice.
Your parents are political “swingers”, like so many of their generation, and have navigated the epic political journey from socialism through the middle ground and now find themselves finally resting in their unrequited dream of a Britain frozen somewhere in the mid-19th century. There’s no point in railing against their choices, or judging your sister for hers, either – you won’t change their minds and you can’t change the world simply by highlighting inconsistencies.
Taking the path of least resistance, rather than barracking others in an attempt to get them to see the world as you do, can be the best choice. To paraphrase Gandhi, each of us needs simply be the change we want to see. If we stick to the path which we think is headed in the right direction, others will fall into line.
You’ve become consumed by the idiosyncrasies of others to the detriment of your own wellbeing and that’s not a sensible headspace to confine yourself to. Your parents’ position is clear and Brexit is, for better or worse, now a done deal.
Your mum and dad may have elected to fossilise, but treat them with the respect they deserve for surviving so long and against so many odds. You can love them for what they’ve given you rather than what they now bring to the table. The same is true of your sister, who will doubtless have experienced extreme stress during this past year of burgeoning pressure on our undervalued and overworked NHS staff.
You’re free, you’re in your early 50s and your children are getting on with their own lives. Maybe it’s time for you to loosen ties from the family circle, too, and look for new adventures and like-minded companions to share ideas and inspiration with. It certainly beats standing on your parents’ doorstep trying to trace the rabbit hole Nigel Farage has disappeared down!