My mother is a hard-core Leftist? How can I respect her?

January 25th, 2017 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 38 comments

Question:

My mother is a hardcore leftist. She views government as a savior. I am completely on the other side- I am a conservative. 

We always crash, argue and go weeks without speaking. (This is WITHOUT talking politics!)  

I understand about Honoring thy Mother and Father- but it seems impossible to build anything with a person whose ideology is destruction. How can I Honor the Lord with this commandment when I have no optimism in having a healthy relationship with her?

Answer: 

Dear Krystle,

For the purposes of this answer, it would make no difference if you were liberal and your mother, conservative.  We aren’t going to discuss the relative virtue of the politics here, but we do want to make the point that having differing world-views can come in many forms. There are many liberals who would say that conservatives have an ideology of destruction. They would point to skepticism on man-made climate change and suggest that Republicans want women to die from back alley abortions. So let’s focus on relationship repair and maintenance.

You say that you “crash, argue and go weeks without speaking,” even when you avoid politics. Since our first suggestion would have been to avoid politics even to the point of not taking the bait if your mother brought up certain topics (covering your mouth with duct tape can be helpful here) it seems that there is something fundamentally troublesome about your relationship. It isn’t only about politics. 

The religious obligation to honor your mother is not synonymous with enjoying her company. Along with any siblings you may have, you must be sure that she has her basic needs met.  The Fifth Commandment also means not contradicting her no matter how provocative or foolish you find her statements.  Ask, inquire, even challenge politely but don’t contradict.  Introduce your viewpoint with the phrase, “I sometimes feel that….”   Avoid presenting her with threats or ultimatums and whenever the conversation first begins to turn awkward or uncomfortable, politely excuse yourself, “I am sorry but I have to leave now.”

Not speaking for weeks on end makes it difficult to be assured that she is basically okay.  While this may not be so important right now, as she ages there is every likelihood that it may become a problem.  For example, you need to know she has food. This doesn’t mean that you must go eat with her, but you do need to be around her enough, or have someone reporting to you, to know what’s going on. 

Certainly, cutting off contact is extreme. Especially if your mother’s social circle is limited, being in touch with you may very well make a huge physical difference in her health. Is there any way you can organize your time together so you spend it at activities such as going to the movies or a concert where you are sharing time but little conversation? Staying home and playing cards or watching TV are other options. Phone calls don’t need to last an hour, but they should be regular. 

In other words, no matter how vehemently you disagree with your mother’s views or dislike her personality, you are going to have to find a way to cope. You need to rally all your creative energies and seek suggestions far and wide to do this in as painless a way as possible. It doesn’t need to be a healthy relationship, but it does have to be a relationship.  

It is just remotely possible that deep down your mother yearns for a normal relationship with you but due to psychological damage or emotional frailties she lacks the ability to communicate that effectively.   If you do both actually want to have a relationship, then some joint counseling might accomplish wonders.  A third party, neutral facilitator or mediator can make an enormous difference in these situations.  With a purposeful program, you might end up with a restored relationship with mom.  Stranger things have happened.

We wish you success,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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38 comments

Steven says:

I have the same difficulty with my mother-in-law. During the past 10 years we have been at some incredible odds about politics. I decided a few years ago that I wasn’t going to let her trap me in an emotionally charged discussion about politics. I also decided that I wouldn’t bring up politics in discussions either. Honestly, this has helped my relationship with my in-laws tremendously. And through the process I have come to realize the shortcomings I have with needing to be right and have the last word. Thanks so much for the question and the post.

Susan Lapin says:

Our biggest growth often comes from our biggest challenges. It sounds like you met this test and passed with flying colors.

Sunmi says:

This comment means THE WORLD to me especially as am transitioning in job/business. Thanks a lot!!!

Susan Lapin says:

Onwards and upwards!

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Good luck Sunmi–
Let us know how it all goes,
Cordially
RDL

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Hello Steven–
One of the best tips for dealing with ‘in-laws’ is to remember how likely it is that we were far from what they dreamed of as a spouse for their children! These interactions really do provide opportunities for overcoming personal weaknesses and developing oneself into bigger people.
Thanks for writing
Cordially
RDL

Steven Balistreri says:

I had a volatile relationship with my father, and for a very long time, we could not be together without arguing. We disagreed on most subjects. One day I decided that with Gods help I would no longer argue with him. It was not easy and I often found myself dancing around just to avoid being confrontational. After a while though, with physical signs of affection (a hug and a respectful kiss on the cheek) our relationship changed dramatically. I made it a priority to show him the love and respect that a son should, and it changed everything.

Susan Lapin says:

Your comment made me think of the recent Thought Tool, “Push Me, Push You”. Very often, the way to get a new reaction out of someone else is to change our own behavior. And the onus is on children to respect parents.

Kat says:

Beautifully done, Steven! Two things about your comment really spoke to me. First, the incorporation of physical interaction, as I think all of us often forget the power of SHOWING respect and affection through touch as we strive to improve verbal communication. Second, the truth that we as children have the power to change the relationship with our parents. Sometimes I confuse honoring my father and my mother with waiting for them to take the initiative to help our relationship grow. My parents have done so much for me; the time has come for me to be the light when needed and help us find a new way to interact and elevate our relationship.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Good point Kat–
It can be so helpful when dealing with tough parents, to remember how much they did for us during their lives. The problem of course is with those folks whose parents did not do much for them, or didn’t do much good for them. Or worse, folks whose parents really harmed them. (of course almost everyone suspects that their parents ruined their lives) But in reality, there are people who grew up with horrible parents. It does happen unfortunately. Then there is only one thing to do and that is keep reminding yourself until it is embedded in your soul, that doing something you don’t like doing but doing it because the moral system to which you subscribe regards it as a good thing to do, does wonders for your soul. It builds such vast reserves of character strength that you might end up thanking your terrible parents for giving you the opportunity of respecting them even though you’d rather have had tarantulas laying eggs in your ears.
Cordially
RDL

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Dear Steven–
How easy it is to forget how little power we have to change others directly. But we have limitless power to change ourselves. And it is also easy to underestimate how impactful on others it can be when we make changes in our own behavior. Your letter demonstrates these important points so effectively. Thanks.
Cordially
RDL

Karen Boswell says:

While I NOW have a GREAT relationship with my parents, when I was 13-14 years old – had I been my parents, I would have killed me….

Thankfully – THEY were the parents and – by the Grace of God (and the patience of my parents)..I am still here to talk about it 🙂

I am sure your answer will be seen as “not an answer”

It took me a VERY long time to understand “Honor thy Father and Mother” – for some reason, as I got older, my parents got “smarter”

Just like it took me too long to understand why my Mother followed Ephesians 5:21-33 (as did my Father)

In my youth, I listened to the voices of the culture – while in the back of my mind, the lessons of my parents were calling. (Proverbs 22:6)

In our child state, we don’t understand things that happened when we were children (we were children).

We carry those child images with us (wounded) UNTIL we mature and comprehend(or try to understand God the Father) then Honor thy Father and Mother makes more sense

I always hated when my “why” was answered with “because I said so”

Ultimately, that is why we do what God commands – just because He says so

Susan Lapin says:

God doesn’t command us to do things that are easy or natural. There is no command to oversleep, overeat or to be ungrateful. Honoring parents isn’t a nice sentiment; it is often a difficult task. As you say, more so at some stages of life and like any other exercise, we get better at it the more we do it.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Yes, Karen-
just as Susan says, not only do we get better at lifting weights the more we do of it, but the strength thus gained can enable us to do far more useful things than lifting weights. Obeying when a parent (or a boss) says ‘Because I told you to do it’ builds character in a very useful way. One reason so many Americans are essentially unemployable is that they do not possess the very basic character strength to mentally duct tape their mouths and obey orders. One reason the military works better than the post office is because everyone is trained to obey orders from day one. Soldiers who ignore orders face far more stringent sanctions than mailmen who dump the day’s mail into a drain. Honoring parents is actually a very useful commandment and does far more for children than it does for parents
Cordially
RDL

L says:

Excellent post! Our family has experienced a similar situation and while we’ve made mistakes, we are learning. I have a related question but of a much more sensitive nature. My father is in prison. When he is released after serving his sentence, he will be an elderly man and the conditions of his release will require him to avoid contact with a certain population. How can I honor and care for (by possibly bringing into my home) both of my parents (who are divorced) while at the same time protecting my family. (If it is possible, could you please not print my name on this comment? Thank you!)

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Dear We-Know-Your-Name-But-Aren’t-Publishing-It–
how terrible that is. But sometimes life deals out terrible hands. Okay, so let’s try and deal with it. First of all, it just may not be possible for either (or both) your parents to live in your home. (If that was what you meant in your question.) If you meant to express concern at them visiting in your home (at different times, perhaps) I don’t see a problem unless their behavior is unacceptable. It is unlikely that your dad poses any real threat to your children, unless he behaves rudely or vulgarly. But safety wise, it shouldn’t be hard to keep everything under fairly tight control. I don’t know the legal implications at all but perhaps avoiding contact with children has exceptions such as family under supervision. I don’t know but you have some time to find this out. As we said in our main post, your obligations extend to maintaining a relationship, and ensuring they can sustain life in dignity. The relationship doesn’t even have to be nurtured in your home; it could be in theirs respectively. We feel there will be options here. It will all depend upon what sort of people they are; whether you will want them to have any relationship with your children; whether they have the financial resources for dignified living; the legal concerns; and so on. You don’t have to decide it all today. Step by step it will all fall into place.
Cordially
RDL

Walt Huber says:

There is an old saying that goes: “Opinions are like rectums, everyone has one and most of the stink.”
Sometime with people we love we just have to “agree to disagree” and go on with our lives and relationships. Nobody promised life would be easy.

Susan Lapin says:

Well, we never heard that old saying, but it is certainly colorful.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Dear Walt–
I really like the last two sentences in your letter.
Thanks
Cordially
RDL

Carolyn says:

I have a very liberal family and I am a conservative. While we agree to avoid politics, we have very different views on most subjects, to include music, movies etc.. One thing that helps me, when I find little common ground and much to argue about, is to remind myself that God chose them to be my family. He did not give me the family exactly or even remotely like myself. Why? We must have things he wants us to learn from each other, even if it’s just patience and learning to be with and loving people completely different than myself at times. Laugh with love when your differences come up and try to see them through the lense of God’s love for his children. You and your mom.

Susan Lapin says:

What a fantastic perspective, and a very Biblical one. We do believe that God chose each of our families for us and recognizing that encourages us to embrace whatever challenges that presents as well as be filled with gratitude for the good.

Carolyn says:

Just as we need to honor God, our Heavenly Father, so too we need to honor our earthly parents. Upon reflection, I think your original response to the question, we are commanded to honor our parents, is not simply a command to honor our elders and those who raised us. The command is also the way to honor God and the decisions he has made for us. Disrespecting your parents and not honoring them is disrespecting God’s choices for us and not honoring God. Honoring our parents, and I would add our family and all of God’s children, is honoring God. Isaiah 55:8-9 teaches us ” For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. ” As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts are higher than your thoughts.”

Susan Lapin says:

You are making a point we touch on in our audio CD, The Ten Commandments (http://rabbidaniellapin.com/product/ten-commandments/) that links #5 (honoring parents) with #10 (not coveting). Accepting that God is the ultimate Giver and that -as long as we do our part – we have what we should have, lets us make peace with our own lot.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Dear Carolyn–
I really can’t add much to what you wrote and how Susan responded without feeling rather redundant.
Cordially
RDL

Rod says:

Your candour is so much needed Rabbi Daniel Lapin “The religious obligation to honor your mother is not synonymous with enjoying her company. ”
I have faced and face similar challenges , and my view on the subject is:
-See the person as a key customer , even if it is your father or your uncle
-Be professional.
-Make yourself less available , so that the person/customer will appreciate the time you share together.
-Ussually is better to talk less and focus the conversation on how delicious the meal is or how delicious will be future meals or about a shared interest , like wine tasting , cupcakes , fishing, baking pastry …
-If the person is very talkative and wrecks your nerves , reduce the exposure even more , but be consistent (once a week, once every two weeks,once a month, etc) .Be expected , be longed-for.

Susan Lapin says:

You make some very good and practical points, Rod. Thank you.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Thank you Rod–
Candor often just means ‘honest’ and anything else would be wasting the time of our readers. Your idea of viewing these tricky relationships in terms of a business challenge is terrific. I wish I’d thought of saying it!
Cordially
RDL

ROBIN says:

Very good post. It really touched me. Nearly all of my life I’ve had a love/hate relationship with my Dad. He was cruel, verbally and physically abusive, an alcoholic and many other things, but my mother stayed because he was a good provider and she didn’t want to be a single parent with eight children. I always felt I was never good enough, had very poor self esteem and failed in relationships. My visits to my parents’ home had nearly ceased. Dad is now 84, has dementia and his health is failing. Recently I went to visit and prayed for him before I left. I felt sorry for him and a lot of my residual anger toward him began to subside. He came from a very dysfunctional family with physical, verbal, and even sexual abuse toward his sisters, a father who was gone most of the time and a very religious mother. I said all this to say when you consider a person’s history, we can get a better understanding of why their mindset and behaviors are skewed. Rejection and anger seems to be in the DNA of my dad’s family line. Knowing this doesn’t provide a balm for my own brokeness but through the love of the Father, I am being healed (this in itself is a lifelong journey) and enabled to position others for healing.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

You’re doing very well, dear Robin–
it’s hard but you’re doing well. Strange isn’t it how easy it is for us to feel compassion for total strangers yet so often all we can summon up for our parents is anger and resentment. For strangers we often say, “I imagine he had a tough life” or “I’m sure terrible challenges in her life made her like this” but our first (and terribly wrong) instinct with parents is quite different.
Cordially
RDL

Krystle says:

Although it seems dreadful and nearly impossible to restore, I will start to repair slowly with a bit of your advice.
For the sake of time, I mentioned our political views to not only showcase our different world view but our characters. It’s unfortunate to say, but my mother is not mentally well.
She finds excitement in stealing.
This is the core of our issues. When someone is a thief they are seeking attention while always remain on defense mode.
She assumes I am out to get her because she lives a lifestyle of taking from people. She does this through shoplifting, smitten by big government’s over-reach and recent stolen goods from people’s homes!

While my mother is like this, I certainly do not wish to be part of it. My husband and I do not want our children around it.
I will not encourage this behavior. I will not ‘turn a blind eye.’ (My brother handles it this way.)
However, I shouldn’t completely dismiss her from my life.
There are many methods and forms one can take by honoring this commandment (as you enlightened me). One thing I can do is pray. I could only pray for her.
I could also hand write letters to her as if I were mailing them. (And maybe one day I will mail them.)

Next would be to contact my brother periodically, to check up on her. (He lives with her.) I think this is the most effective way and healthy path to chose.

“It is just remotely possible that deep down your mother yearns for a normal relationship with you but due to psychological damage or emotional frailties she lacks the ability to communicate that effectively.” You are spot on with this one.
Thank you for your help.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

You’re welcome Krystle
and apparently your situation is even more difficult than your initial letter revealed.
It does sound as if you are now on a healthy and effective track,
Upward and onward,
Cordially
RDL

CG says:

Ah – the delicate world of balancing our beliefs with someone diametrically opposed to our dearly held point of view! I too had similar issues with my spouse until I decided that I would respectfully listen to his views and tell him he had a point. True, I may not think it a valid point, but it was his. I also tell him he could be right. While I don’t think so, admitting that doesn’t hurt me and helps end conversations on a more positive note.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Dear CG–
isn’t marriage wonderful? It makes us ever so much wiser day by day and year by year. I bet you weren’t so wise when you first married!
Cordially
RDL

bob aronson says:

Teacher i remember (I think I remember!) possibly a Thought Tool from the not too distant distant past where, during the height of the “marriage equality” debate, you pointed to the 5th Commandment for traditional marriage….that God did not command to honor “thy father and thy father” or “thy mother and my mother”.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Yes, Bob,
Scripture is filled with these little nuggets if you search for them and remember that often what the Good Book does NOT say is every bit as important as what it does say.
Cordially
RDL

Marilyn says:

My children set a good example for me. They are kind to me even though l know they sometimes think l am a dingbat.
I seriously hope l have not caused any of them to wish for egg laying tarantulas instead of having to listen to me. Hahahahaha.
I loved this question and the answer!
Thank you!

Susan Lapin says:

Are you channeling Edith Bunker, Marilyn. I haven’t heard the word dingbat in ages.

Mark & Laura Lampe says:

This brings me to thoughts of my own mother. We were estranged for around ten years because I had enough of her constant criticism. One night I had a dream that I needed to drive from my home in Bothell to my sister’s house on Fox island where our mother was staying. I had a sense of urgency to see her, I awoke that morning with a resolve to put my bad feelings behind me and be reconciled with my mother. We had a wonderful two hour conversation over lunch, and with hugs we forgave each other. Two weeks later my sister called me crying, our mom had dropped dead unexpectedly. I know God had spoken to me in that dream. I am so glad that I had the sensitivity to respond to that prompting, I would have regretted it otherwise.

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