How to Talk to People Who Disagree With Your Parenting or Lifestyle Choices

How to Talk to People Who Disagree with Your Parenting or Lifestyle Choices. Have family & neighbors questioning what you're choosing for your family? Try these science-based tips to help reduce conflict while still stating your mind. (Photo: A set Thanksgiving table.)

Sitting around the Thanksgiving table, I struggled to describe my job to my conservative aunt and her even more conservative neighbor. I wasn’t in the mood at the moment for a throw-down on climate change. More importantly, I wanted them to see my job – telling people about fuel-efficient and electric cars – as a good thing.  I finally settled on the energy security angle.

“I tell people about how they can use less oil in their cars. Eventually it’s going to run out, so it’s best if we can use as little as possible,” I explained.

“Well, you know, some of those old oil things, they go back to and there’s more there,” the neighbor responded.

As I stared at her and my husband tried to explain that away, she continued, “Oil has to build up faster than scientists say it does to get the amount we have, since the world’s only 8,000 years old.” I was so surprised that I had nothing to say. To put it lightly, that’s a very rare situation for me.

While this conversation was about science and my job, it could have easily been about parenting choices, green living, or politically progressive points of view. Eating a vegetarian diet, choosing not to use time-outs on your stubborn or strong-willed kid, or attending a climate change rally with your family are even more likely to draw unwanted commentary. It’s easy to want to avoid people who hold radically different perspectives, but that’s not always possible. Plus, if a topic is near and dear to your heart, you may want to try to change their mind on a topic, even if you have to talk people who disagree on it.

Here’s some tips for talking to people who disagree with your parenting, lifestyle or just point of view. Most of this is from the social science literature, so I’ve tried to link to good summaries of that literature when possible. Just as a warning – this may not be relevant for all situations. There may be times when you want to straight-up call someone out, like if they tell a racist or sexist joke.

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Why White Parents Must Confront White Supremacy

Why White Parents Must Confront White Supremacy. The racism on display at the events in Charlottesville require a response - here's some things parents can do. (Photo: Sign saying "The Answer to Whether We'd Have Marched in the Civil Rights Era is Whether We're Marching in This Civil Rights Era)

When I was a teenager in the late 1990s, I thought I was born in the wrong time. In my mind, I should have been coming of age in the 1960s, the height of the Civil Rights era. I imagined myself as a fierce crusader for the rights of others, on the front lines of the marches and sit-ins to confront white supremacy.

Dear Lord, I was a fool.

Admittedly, that’s pretty common among teenagers. But this was a special kind of foolishness. One that seems especially relevant in this rather terrible time in our nation’s history. This past weekend, a white supremacist plowed a car into a group of anti-racist protestors. There are three people dead (one protester and two police officers in a related accident) and many others in the hospital.

To me, this incident highlights how ignorant I was back then and yet how common my views still are. My naivety illustrates everything about why white parents need to talk to their kids about white supremacy. (By which I don’t mean just the literal Nazis, but also the cultural aspect of valuing white people and white culture above all others.)

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Here’s What We Should Do About Phthalates in Mac and Cheese Instead of Food Shaming Parents

What We Should Do About Phthalates in Mac and Cheese. (Photo: Rows of boxes of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese on a shelf.)

Photo courtesy of Mike Mozart on Flickr.

“So now we can’t eat mac and cheese. Is there anything we can feed our kids?!” That was the cry heard across the land from moms and dads who read the Scary Mommy or New York Times articles on phthalates in mac and cheese.  Both of the articles are based on a report put out by a coalition of environmental groups concerned about toxic chemicals in processed food. (If you want to be super data-geeky, here’s the actual data.)

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A Call to Action for Parents on Climate Change

A Call to Action for Parents on Climate Change; Photo: Painting of the Lorax in front of the White House

As I scrolled through Facebook the day President Trump announced America was leaving the Paris accords to address climate change, I couldn’t do anything but sigh and shake my head. As a long time climate change activist, I increasingly identify with the climate scientists sinking into despair the same way the West Antarctic ice sheet is. As there was nothing else I could do, I posted a screenshot of the Weather Channel that made me laugh. That evening, I stood out on my back deck, stared at the stars, and wondered what the hell we’re doing to our children’s future.

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How to Introduce Kids to Political Activism

Text: "How to Introduce Kids to Political Activism / We'll Eat You Up, We Love You So" Photo: Two children from the back, one that has a sign on her back that says "We March for Our Wild and Wonderful World"

“Mommy is going to let the people in charge know that we need to respect all people,” I told my son on the morning of the Women’s March. While I’ve been politically active for a long time, he never really knew about it. Because I so rarely miss weekend time with the kids, I wanted to let him know what I was doing and why it was important. As I and two of friends gathered snacks and pinned posters on our jackets, seeing my kids reminded me why we were doing this in the first place.

Explaining what’s going on is even more important if you’re bringing your kids along to a political event. In the case of the People’s Climate March, I knew that I had a responsibility to explain to Sprout why he was there.

From explaining why I’ve missed dinner to testify to our City Council to marching down Pennsylvania Avenue, here’s what I’ve learned about introducing kids to activism:

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The “Earth March”: Bringing My Kids to the People’s Climate March

Text: "Bringing My Kids to the People's Climate March / We'll Eat You Up, We Love You So" Photo: Young boy in a teal hat holding up a sign that says

So proud of my munchkin.

“You’re not going to bring the kids to homeless shelters are you?” asked my husband, several years before we had kids. “Probably. We need to teach them how to help people.” He most likely rolled his eyes. But now after being married to me for a decade and living in the Age of Trump, he understands. Which is why all four of us were out in the sweaty heat this past Saturday walking in the Washington D.C. People’s Climate March.

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Resources on Sustainable Parenting for Green Moms and Dads

“What does being a green parent look like?” is something I ask myself a lot and struggle with. It’s what’s behind my Green Moms Profiles and potentially the topic of a book project.

Thankfully, there are some good resources to help us be a greener parent, no matter where we are in the process. A lot of “green parenting” resources focus on health issues specific to your particular family, like cutting out plastics or chemicals in your soap. While those have a valuable place, I’m more interested in the larger scale issues, like conserving energy and minimizing greenhouse gases. While these resources aren’t all specific to parents, I think they’re all useful!

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