In one of my earliest childhood memories, I’m 6 years old and following my father into a voting booth to learn about how the machines work. I watch him explain what the different levers mean and make his pick. Then I scold him for voting for "the mean man," George H. W. Bush.
How could I have had personal political opinions at 6, an age where I couldn’t even be counted on to tie my own shoes or make it through the night without peeing in my canopy bed? To be honest, I have no clue. I was raised by two politically conservative parents, with no progressive relatives or babysitters in the picture, and yet I can’t ever remember being anything but the total, utter bleeding heart of a liberal that I am today. Perhaps you can blame TV. (I’m pretty sure my parents do!)
But my situation isn't as unique as it sounds: Though some social science studies claim that conservative, authoritarian households breed conservative, authoritarian children, often enough, that strategy backfires. Sometimes, being forceful and open about your political beliefs turns your kids into rebels. That's how things worked out in my father's case — a lifetime of conservative values netted him a child who doesn’t eat meat, fundraises for reproductive rights, and posts essays on the Internet about going bra-less.
I love my father, but I still have my struggles when I try to relate to him and his values — struggles that any liberal child with conservative parents will understand:
All your tattoo and piercing decisions are based around how easy they'll be to hide
Even if you haven’t lived in your parents' house or taken their money for years, you believe that the pleasures of a cute foot tattoo are nothing compared to the pleasures of not spending every holiday break for the rest of your life being lectured about how you look like a sailor. So put that ink somewhere that will always be 100 percent covered by clothes, or GTFO.
You can never decide whether or not to drink during the holidays
A little wine might loosen your tongue and lead you to finally tell Uncle Jeff what you actually think all of his NRA bumper stickers. That wouldn't be pretty. But on the other hand, how are you possibly going to get through six hours of your family members saying “Barack Hussein Obama” sober?
You feel like you have to lie every time you tell your parents about your week
In high school, you told them when you were going to a reproductive rights march or anti-war protest because you thought you could shock them into seeing the light. But these days, you're more likely to refer to a weekend spent manning a Democratic fundraising phone bank as "making a few calls and catching up with old friends." Lying sucks, but being lectured about your life choices sucks worse.
You try not to envy your friends' liberal families too much
You know, the ones whose parents went with them to the climate march? A climate march that you personally could not attend because you had to go to a cousin’s shotgun wedding?
it's hard to explain what having a conservative family is like to your friends with liberal backgrounds
Yes, I will be spending four days and three fun-filled nights over Christmas break with human beings who think the Affordable Care Act might possibly be a sign of the End Times. I'll text you all about it!
You're not sure how long your parents are going to pretend that you’re not having premarital sex
Oh, wow, so when we visit, I can sleep in that canopy bed I used to pee in, and my boyfriend can sleep on a cot in the laundry room? Even though we've been together for four years, and have a house and a dog and a joint checking account? Uh, yeah, we’re going to the Holiday Inn, we’ll see you guys in the morning.
Despite your best efforts, everything turns into a political fight
You spend the weeks before a visit becoming an expert in a variety of soothing, non-confrontational conversation topics, like NCIS and rhododendron cultivation; yet somehow, by lunchtime on Day One, you’re screaming about how climate change does too actually exist DAD OH MY GOD!
You know that a family car ride means biting your tongue about conservative talk radio
Also, there are an alarming number of Cash-4-Gold ads on this station.
You’re an expert in creatively rebuffing their attempts to get you to go to church
What was that noise? Did you hear that? No? Maybe I'll go jog up to the attic and see what it was anyway! TTYL!
You cling to any stray liberals who've married into your family
Cling! Cling to them at family gatherings as if they were a piece of wood and you are Rose at the end of Titanic. Do you actually have anything in common? Who knows? Who cares? The important part is, they’re the only other person at this Christmas party who doesn’t think you’re going to burn in eternal hellfire for donating $60 to Planned Parenthood.
You know that it's hard to watch TV with your parents
Did a TV show casually mention abortion? We’re changing the channel. Did two people of the same gender just share a loving and tender kiss? We’re changing the channel. Did a movie with Susan Sarandon just come on? We’re putting on a DVD of something wholesome, like Brigadoon… but not before your dad mutters something that involves the phrase “liberal idiot” under his breath.
You’re an expert at pretending to like awkward conservative Christmas gifts
Oh, awesome! I’ve totally been meaning to read Heaven is for Real! I'll just leave it over here, in the basement... um, so I don't forget it!
You're used to being asked if you've come around to their side yet
They've always assumed you'll become a conservative eventually, although they did seem to give up a lot of hope after you got your first full-time job and told them that taxes "aren't so bad."
You’ve perfected the smile and nod when your parents go off on a political tangent
Or when they try to give your niece something like this:
Smile, nod... and then throw it out the second they turn their backs, of course. We're talking about the fate of future generations here!
You’ve been told to “cover up a little” every time you've worn a tank top in front of them
Even in, like, June!
but Despite all your differences, you manage to still love your parents
... with a little help, of course
Even if seeing them is emotionally rewarding, that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Buy yourself a beer afterwards. Or nine. It's the American way of coping, and I think we can all agree on that.