Opinion: A Family Divided

Every year, on my birthday, my grandmother and I make one of my favorite dishes, dolmas. Dolmas are a traditional Armenian dish of ground meat wrapped in grape leaves. When I was little, I could only watch my grandmother make them, and I never helped. I would carefully watch her clean the grape leaves, chop the vegetables and meat, and then tightly pack each dolma next to each other to cook. 

My grandma and I have always gotten along and have always had a special relationship. But, there is one thing we do not see eye to eye on: politics. 

About a year ago, I was at a family dinner. As always, we ate, talked, laughed, played games, and had a great time. Then towards the end of the night, we ended up having a conversation about a very controversial topic: abortion. It was the first time my grandmother and I had ever discussed the topic. Hearing my grandmother explain her perspective made me a bit uncomfortable. 

“Any life is a precious thing. You can’t just end it,” said my grandmother. 

“Wait, doesn’t that mean-,” I interrupted but was then stopped by my grandmother’s escalated voice. 

“No one has any right to take a child’s life away,” continued my grandmother.

“What? No-,” I replied, but then immediately stopped talking. Trying to avoid a big argument, I politely excused myself and tried hard not to get involved in the discussion. 

Listening to my grandmother talk, I could not help but notice how warm my face felt. Flushed, I touched every part of my face, trying to become more relaxed. I looked up to find my grandmother experiencing the same thing. Her cheeks were just as red as mine, a blush and rouge color mixed. Every time I spoke, I could see the perplexed look on my grandmother’s face. She had never heard my thoughts on the subject before, and finally hearing them seemed to shock her. Similarly, I was having the same experience. 

On the way home, I could not stop thinking about what happened between my grandmother and me. I turned to my mom and said, “Mom, it was so weird. She was saying all of these things, and I had no idea she thought that way. I hate how she thinks like that.” 

“I get it, but she’s still your grandmother. Just don’t think about it too much. She still loves you, and you still love her,” my mom responded. 

For a few days, I tried to avoid some of her calls. I did not know what to say or how to talk to her. I wished she had the same opinions as me. It would be so much simpler if she did. In just a few hours, she went from being my best friend to being a complete stranger. She was always the person with whom I would watch cheesy rom-coms, who I would get Taco Bell with, who I would go shopping for hours with during the weekends, and who would swear at the referee during my soccer games. But, who was she now? Who was this person? 

The conversation that night made me feel like I was meeting a whole new person, a person I did not know existed. From that moment on, whenever I talked to my grandmother, I tried to stay away from topics that could potentially cause controversy, but then I couldn’t share all my thoughts and beliefs with her. It felt like there would always be a part of me that would remain hidden from her. The reality of this divide made me mourn for the boundary-less connection we once shared. All of a sudden, politics complicated my relationship with my grandmother. I spent the next few days ruminating over our last encounter. 

Even though I was not completely sure how I felt about our opposing views, I knew one thing for certain. Unquestionably, I wanted to sort out what happened between us. Even though the conversation that night did not end up in an argument or a heated exchange, we both felt the disconnect and tension. My grandmother had shared her concern about me pulling away from her with my mom. She knew things were not the same after that night. I realized that I was not only the one impacted by the conversation. 

A few days after our family dinner, my grandmother unexpectedly came to my house to drop off a carrot cake, one of my favorites. My grandmother knew that baking me a treat would make me happy, and I think it was her way of reaching out and wanting to move past what had happened over dinner. Someone had to make the first move, and I was glad she did. 

She came inside, cut me a slice, boiled some water for tea, and we sat down and talked for a bit.

“So, what’s new, Sophene,” said my grandmother.

“Well, I’m doing this big project for math. Yeah, we’re building our own games that are about probability.”

“That sounds fun. How’s your project going?”

“It’s going pretty well. There are some things my group and I have to finish, but I think it’s going to turn out great.”

“I’m sure it will,” she said.

I was so happy that I was still able to continue having enjoyable conversations with her. It was like nothing had changed. She was the same person. 

“Sophene, I know that you might see me a bit differently, but it’s okay. We don’t have to focus on those things. You are still you, and I am still me,” she said while caressing my hair. “Just know that nothing has changed,” she continued, looking into my eyes while leaning forward towards me. 

“I know, I’m sorry for how I got up and left. I just didn’t know what to do,” I replied. 

“It’s okay. I felt a little like that too, but we’re moving on.” 

I cannot change the fact that my grandmother has opposite political and social beliefs than me, but that did not have to change the way I felt about her. I had to accept the fact that my grandmother has different opinions from mine. In other words, I had to realize that I can still respect my grandmother’s thoughts even though I do not agree with them.

Whenever my grandmother and I get into a conversation about politics, I take a deep breath and remember that there is much more to my grandmother than her political views. If we ever jump into a conversation about politics, my grandmother and I make eye contact for a moment, and this is our silent sign that we both know means that we are going to move on from our heated discussion. 

“Political views are not the only thing that define a person and there are many more elements that make a person who they are.””

After avoiding my grandmother, trying to tune out her opinions, and wishing that we had the same political beliefs, I finally understand that political views are not the only thing that define a person and that there are many more elements that make a person who they are. 

In order to keep the special relationship with my grandmother, I have to accept her as a whole person which includes her opinions, and understand that everyone is entitled to their own views–even though I don’t agree with them.

My grandmother is still the person who taught me how to perfectly fold dolmas and she is the same person who makes the best carrot cake, with extra cream cheese frosting, just the way I like it. Politics did not change this. I will continue to love my grandmother and embrace her different views. This is the only way our relationship will remain intact. I am grateful to have learned this at a young age because if I had not, I may have walked away from relationships in haste because of one aspect of an individual without really knowing the person as a whole.