Isn't It Okay to Feel Angry At My Kid Sometimes?

We’ve spent a few weeks talking about some big picture stuff.  The next two weeks, we’ll get more practical: FAQs and Tips.  
 
I can’t always feel compassionate and curious toward my kid.  What about times when they really mess up and I should feel angry?

First of all, no human I know feels heart-led all the time.  In my own life, I shoot for feeling compassion toward my kids as much as possible, but it’s not realistic to feel that all the time.  I tell parents to shoot for 40-60%.  

The other part of this question is what about times when you, as a parent, should feel angry, anxious, confused, etc.?  And here, the answer is yes—you get to feel angry and scared and sad.  And there is a big difference between feeling some anger and being taken over by your anger.  In the former, you notice you’re angry, but you can feel some separation from your anger.  In the latter, you don’t even know you’re angry.  You are singularly focused on your kid and how they messed up.  My suggestion is that when your anger (or anxiety, sadness, etc.) is taking over, it’s not a good time to talk to your kid or make decisions, like consequences.  Take some time, go for a walk, and ask that part of you if it could give you some space so you can be with your child from your heart, instead of from that emotion. 
 
I tried being just open and curious with my kid, but they still just shut me out.  Why isn’t this working?

The older your child, the longer your patterns have been in place.  Over the course of years, your kid has learned how you typically respond, and has developed ways of responding back.  It is great that you’re trying a new way to approach your child, from your heart, but this approach might not get you immediate results.  And that’s not really what it’s about. 

Leading from the heart is about creating a long-term feeling of unconditional safety and acceptance that will help your child’s mental and emotional health for their entire life.  You will see a change in your kid’s behavior, just maybe not overnight.
 
I pride myself on almost always keeping a cool head with my family.   It’s very rare that I feel extremely angry or sad or anxious.  How is this helpful for me?

Us Minnesotans (especially us white men), pride ourselves on being stoic, on not showing extreme emotions, especially feelings like anger and sadness.  While there is value in this, there are a few ways that stoicism gets in the way of us connecting with our family. 

It’s important to say that leading from the heart does not mean being absent of emotion.  Actually, it’s the opposite.  It means leading from deep compassion and love. I work with many parents, especially dads, who talk with their kids from very stoic, analytical parts of their minds.   Kids often feel this as being cold and distant.  These dads love their kids very much, but the stoic parts of them get in the way of that love, leaving the child and parent feeling disconnected.

Have other questions?  Reply to this email.  
 
The parents I work with deeply love their kids and work really hard at parenting.  But they recognize they are human and that some brief work on their weak spots can go a long way for their family. Contact me directly for straight-forward parenting help a free 30-minute consultation. 

Transform Your Frustration into Compassion

In my podcast, The Teen Mind, I describe a teenage boy, David, and his mom, Sheila.  They are fictional characters who represent common parent-child relationships. 

Let’s imagine that David and Sheila came to see me for family therapy, and they talked about a recent conflict.  Earlier in the week, Sheila had found out that, yet again, David had skipped class.  It was his English class, which triggers his anxiety more than any other class.  The conversation goes like this:
 
Sheila: So, what’s going on David, why are you skipping class?
David: I just really hate that class.  Mrs. Washington stresses me out.
Shelia: Okay, I get that, and I know it makes you anxious, but why can’t you just talk to her about it?  It’s not okay to just skip the class!  You’re not going to be able to just skip work when your boss stresses you out.
David: I know mom, it’s not that big of a deal, I’m still doing the work!
Shelia: Well, that’s good, but you’re getting in trouble…you never get in trouble.
 
And here’s where I interrupt.  I say:
“Sheila, I can see you’re trying to help David, and I can tell that you feel stuck with this pattern.” She nods her head. 

Then comes the most important question: I ask, “How do you feel toward David right now?” 

She replies, "I'm frustrated with him.  It feels like he doesn't care that he's skipping class.  This isn't like him."

I say, “There’s a part of you that's frustrated. That makes sense.  Would that part of you be willing to step back for a few minutes and give space for you to lead from the heart?”
 
She takes a deep breath, and nods her head, yes. 

Again, I ask, "Now, how do you feel toward him?"
 
She gets a little choked up and says, “I just want to help.” 
 
I reply, “Yeah, and I imagine that deep in you there’s a knowledge that a part of him, maybe a little boy part, is really scared, and just wants his mom to be there for him.   Do you feel you can do that now?  Just be here with him, leading from your heart?”
 
She nods again, grabbing a tissue to wipe away tears. 
 
So, I turn to David and ask him, “David, what do you want your mom to know about what it’s like for you to go to English Class?”
David, seeing his mom’s vulnerability, feels safe enough to be vulnerable himself.  He shares with her that, when he goes to English class, his anxiety feels overwhelming, that he’s terrified of having a panic attack in front of everyone.  And Sheila is able to listen from her heart, with no agenda, just curiosity and compassion.
 
She responds only with, “I’m so sorry David, that sounds so hard.  I can understand why you’d want to skip.”
 
And when it’s clear that he’s felt heard in what he needs to say, I ask Sheila, “Can you tell David what’s it’s like for you when you find out he’s skipped class?”  And she shares her own fears about David getting caught in a downward spiral and the terrible scenarios that run through her head.  That she wishes she could protect him from everything, like how it felt when he was little.
 
By leading from her heart, Sheila was able to use this conflict to actually strengthen her relationship with David, instead eroding it with their usual pattern. 
 
Also, you probably notice that nothing was fixed or solved in this exchange.  There’s no plan for how David will get to English class or what consequence he’ll have for skipping.  Instead, they’ve laid the foundation for working through problems (not just this one) in a way that feels safe and helpful to everyone.  
 
Now…I think it’s important to say that this short example was fictional and that in real life, it does not happen this quickly or easily.  Especially if you have a teenager, the patterns in place now have grown over years, and will not change in one or two conversations.  Next time, we’ll get more practical, discussing common questions and concerns parents have in learning the process of leading from the heart.
 
Feeling genuinely connected with your teen is hard...and it’s the most important factor in helping them stay on the right path.  Contact me directly for a free 30-minute consultation, and for some simple, straight-forward parenting help. 
 
Note: The characters Sheila and David are fictional and any resemblance to real people is coincidental. 

When It's Hard to Feel Loving Toward Your Child

In my previous article, we talked about a part of me that sometimes feels angry with my son.  When this happens, I don’t feel very loving or connected with him.  This angry part makes me want to yell and to quickly stop his problem behavior.  This is a normal part of parenting (and of being a human), but if this part is taking over, I probably won’t be very helpful for or for our relationship.  This way of thinking about our minds as made up of parts is called IFS, and it’s profoundly changed my relationships, especially with my kids. 
 
So let’s contrast the times when my angry part takes over with the times when I can lead from my heart.  In these times, I feel calm, curious, and connected with my kid.  There are times when he yells at his sister, and I can gently take him aside and be genuinely curious about what made him so upset.  I can listen and connect and guide him in ways that feel impactful. 
 
Maybe the most important concept in IFS is the idea that when parts take over, then we can’t lead from our authentic Self—We can’t lead from the heart.  And when we lead from an angry, scared, or upset part of us, we are missing an opportunity to connect with our kids, especially during times when they mess up.
 
But often I am able to help that angry part of me calm down before I talk with him.  I am able to slow down, take some deep breaths, and ask that part if it would be willing to give me some space, so I can lead from my heart.  That's right, I talk with the angry part of me.  It's weird, but it works.  Try it!

When I do this, my angry part often calms down, and what’s left is a feeling of compassion toward my son. 

I see there is pain or fear under his behavior, and I am able to open my heart to genuine curiosity about what this is like for him.  My anger and my desire to change him go to the background, and I just want to connect with my son.  This is what I call leading from my heart.  I can’t do it every time, but I try as often as possible. 
 
To help myself make this shift to leading from my heart, I’ve found it very helpful to move to a different room and change how our bodies are positioned.  So, after I’ve taken a few deep breaths and asked the part for some space, I say in a calm, soft voice, “Let’s go talk in your room, okay bud?” We sit on his bed, and I plop him on my lap, and just say, “It seems like you’re pretty upset.  Can you tell me about it?”  And in this moment, I feel genuinely curious.  I have no agenda other than to learn about his experience.  He feels that I’m leading from the heart, so he feels safe enough to be honest with me. And I just listen. 
 
The amazing thing is, more often than not, this gets him out of his negative funk.  When I stop trying to change him, it opens space for him to get out what’s been bothering him, and he goes back to his normal, happy self. 
 
That’s it for today.  If you have a teenager, stay tuned, because we’ll look at a story of a teen and his mom and ask her, “How do you feel toward your son right now?”  It’s amazing what can happen when we ask that question. 
 
If you want help with parts of you that get in the way of leading from your heart, you might invest in some simple, straight-forward parenting help.  Contact me directly for a free 30-minute consultation.  

A New Way for Parents to Think About Anger, Anxiety, and Fear

In my previous article, we talked about a part of me that sometimes feels angry with my son.  When this happens, I don’t feel very loving or connected with him.  This angry part makes me want to yell and to quickly stop his problem behavior.  This is a normal part of parenting (and of being a human), but if this part is taking over, I probably won’t be very helpful for or for our relationship.  This way of thinking about our minds as made up of parts is called IFS, and it’s profoundly changed my relationships, especially with my kids. 

So let’s contrast the times when my angry part takes over with the times when I can lead from my heart.  In these times, I feel calm, curious, and connected with my kid.  There are times when he yells at his sister, and I can gently take him aside and be genuinely curious about what made him so upset.  I can listen and connect and guide him in ways that feel impactful. 

Maybe the most important concept in IFS is the idea that when parts take over, then we can’t lead from our authentic Self—We can’t lead from the heart.  And when we lead from an angry, scared, or upset part of us, we are missing an opportunity to connect with our kids, especially during times when they mess up.

But often I am able to help that angry part of me calm down before I talk with him.  I am able to slow down, take some deep breaths, and ask that part if it would be willing to give me some space, so I can lead from my heart.  That's right, I talk with the angry part of me.  It's weird, but it works.  Try it!

When I do this, my angry part often calms down, and what’s left is a feeling of compassion toward my son. 

I see there is pain or fear under his behavior, and I am able to open my heart to genuine curiosity about what this is like for him.  My anger and my desire to change him go to the background, and I just want to connect with my son.  This is what I call leading from my heart.  I can’t do it every time, but I try as often as possible. 

To help myself make this shift to leading from my heart, I’ve found it very helpful to move to a different room and change how our bodies are positioned.  So, after I’ve taken a few deep breaths and asked the part for some space, I say in a calm, soft voice, “Let’s go talk in your room, okay bud?” We sit on his bed, and I plop him on my lap, and just say, “It seems like you’re pretty upset.  Can you tell me about it?”  And in this moment, I feel genuinely curious.  I have no agenda other than to learn about his experience.  He feels that I’m leading from the heart, so he feels safe enough to be honest with me. And I just listen. 

The amazing thing is, more often than not, this gets him out of his negative funk.  When I stop trying to change him, it opens space for him to get out what’s been bothering him, and he goes back to his normal, happy self. 

That’s it for today.  If you have a teenager, stay tuned, because we’ll look at a story of a teen and his mom and ask her, “How do you feel toward your son right now?”  It’s amazing what can happen when we ask that question. 

If you want help with parts of you that get in the way of leading from your heart, you might invest in some simple, straight-forward parenting help.  Contact me directly for a free 30-minute consultation. 

 

How Do Kids Feel When We're Mad at Them?

My son is five and he will sometimes get into this funk where he’s very negative.  In these moments, he “hates” almost everything, and most things are “stupid” and “boring.”  He’ll say, “I don’t want to play with Legos, they’re stupid!  I hate Legos!” And for some reason this negativity really gets to me.  In these moments, all I can think is, “How can I stop this?”  I try to convince him that Legos aren’t stupid, that he actually loves them, and you can probably guess that this line doesn’t work.  It just makes him more negative. 

So the harder I try to get him out of this funk, the worse the funk gets, and the more annoyed and angry I get.  Until one day, we are eating lunch, and he says he hates eggs.  This is a kid who usually scarfs down scrambled eggs like candy.  So, I launch into, “You love eggs! What are you talking about?” but then I stop.  I look at his face, and I can see how I am affecting him.   Something in me says, “Corey, you’re really upset with him right now, and he can feel that, and it’s not helping.”  I stop talking, close my eyes, and take some deep breaths.  I need a different approach. 

I work with lots of parents, and what was happening for me is really common for parents with kids of all ages.  Your child does something you really don’t like and you try different strategies to change it.  Sometimes your attempts work, and things get better.  But sometimes they don’t, and no matter what you try, it doesn’t seem to get better.  It could be your four-year-old won’t brush her teeth or your fourteen-year-old won’t do his homework. 

It’s times when you’re really trying to change a behavior or attitude, but your kid just won’t budge.  You feel stuck, and you start to dread certain times of day or certain situations.  You need a different approach, but you’re not sure what to do. 

Well, there is a different approach, one that has helped lots of parents (myself included) get out of feeling stuck, and it starts by making a pretty big shift.  That is shifting the focus away from your child and onto yourself.  And it starts with a simple question, “How do I feel toward my child right now?”   This doesn’t seem like the most important thing to focus on when you’re feeling stuck, but after over a decade working with kids and families, I believe it is.  And I’ve put together six articles that I’ll send out weekly that will explore this approach. 

Let’s go back to my son and me at lunch.  I had tried lots of strategies to stop his negativity…none were working.  It seemed like the harder I tried, the more negative he got.  I was feeling really annoyed and angry with him, and even though I thought I was hiding those feelings, they were having a big impact. 

We have to remember that most of our communication is nonverbal.  And kids are extra sensitive to the nonverbal signals of their parents.   So no matter how nice or patient we act, if underneath we feel angry or annoyed, they can feel it.  I was trying to be patient with my son, but my anger toward him was coming out in my facial expression, tone of voice, and body language.  So my son could feel, deep down, that I was angry with him in that moment, and the deepest parts of his brain registered that as rejection.  And when kids feel rejection, they usually act out.  (This applies to grown-ups too). 

So when I asked myself that question, “How do I feel toward him now?” it helped me shift my approach, and I began to feel unstuck.  And next week, we’ll talk about how you can feel unstuck with your kid. 

Your kid did not come with an owner’s manual.  Parenting is really hard.  You love your kids, but you’re a human, and sometimes you feel upset with them.  Want help with that from a parent who won’t judge you or make you feel like you’re totally messing up? Reach out for a free 30-minute consultation. 

Also, Check out my podcast, The Teen Mind, on your podcast app. 

Why Consequences Won’t Stop Your Teen From Risky Behavior

Most hospitals have backup generators that kick in when the power goes out.  These generators are important, but they’re only designed for short term, intermittent use.  If you use the backup generator as the primary source of power for a long time, it’s going to break down and you’ll have problems.

In your family, consequences are your backup generator.  It’s important to have them in place, and you will end up using them from time to time, but if they’re your primary tool for parenting, you’re going to run into problems. 

Before we can get really into the problem with relying too much on consequences, we need to lay some groundwork, which means talking about influence. 

You want your teen to take out the garbage.  They have not been taking out the garbage.  You need to do something to get them to take out the garbage.  You want to change their behavior—you want influence

In our hospital analogy, if consequences are the backup generator, Influence is the electricity.  It is one of the most important resources you have as a parent.  It is your ability to guide and steer your kid when they’re getting off course.  It is as crucial to parenting as electricity is to a hospital.  You cannot parent without it. 

And, like electricity, there are a few different ways to generate influence.  And if consequences are the backup generator, what is the main power grid?  What is your primary source of influence?

Esprit de Corps

I really didn’t want to get all French on you, but this is the best way I could find to sum it up.  Esprit de corps is your main power, your main source of influence.  In your family esprit de corps is a deep understanding and trust that you’re all on the same team.  You don’t always agree, and sometimes you get mad at each other.  But at the end of the day, if asked, “Does my parent have my back?”  your kid would answer a confident “Yes.”

Esprit de corps means that you have a healthy amount of trust and rapport with your child.  It means that they value your opinion as a parent, and yes, this is possible with teenagers.   And esprit de corps means that you can talk with your teen about taking out the garbage, negotiate if necessary, and come to a solution to the problem without resorting to carrots and sticks. If you have esprit de corps, then you trust that your child wants to do the right thing and wants to succeed, but that they need help getting there. 

If you rely on consequences as your main source of influence—if your first move is to confiscate the phone for not taking out the garbage—you risk eroding your esprit de corps. 

Pot-in-the-Sock-Drawer

Let’s look at the “pot-in-the-sock-drawer” scenario.  You find pot in your teen’s sock drawer: What do you do?  What most parents do, understandably so, is jump right to consequences.  “You’re grounded for a month, and no phone after 7pm.”  The kid tries to defend himself, the parent stands their ground, and everyone leaves the conversation feeling angry and bitter. 

Why is this a problem?  Because consequences were the only means of influence. With no healthy discussion, the teen felt unheard and defensive, leading to a feeling of “me vs. you”.  When your kid feels like they are in a battle against you, this means serious problems for esprit de corps.

When there’s no esprit de corps to support the consequences, then the teen starts thinking, “How can I get around this?” And they’ll scheme ways to sneak out at night, to steal the phone back when you’re not looking, etc.  You are enemies, not teammates. 

“Yeah, but what do I do then when I find the pot in the sock drawer?” 

Good question.  First, take several hours to allow your feelings of shock, fear and anger to run their course.  Talk it through with your partner, do some journaling, pray, exercise, whatever you need to calm down a bit. 

Then talk to your kid, and say something like, “I found this.  Please know that there will be some consequences, but before we talk about that, I first want you to know that I’m really upset, and that I think you’re a great person and I love you very much.”

And then you interview them.  If you don’t know how to do this, let me know, and I can help.   Basically, you give them as much time as they need to tell you their side of the story.  You say you believe them and that you need to look into it in order to verify.  

With this approach, you’re giving a consequence, but it’s not your main means of influence.  By waiting until you calm down, you’re able think more clearly and keep your kid’s defensiveness to a minimum.  This means you might be able to ask your teen for their input on what the consequence should be, further strengthening esprit de corps and adding to your precious influence reserves. 

We sometimes tell ourselves that if we just try hard enough or if we take away enough privileges that we can keep our kids safe.   And while there is some truth to that, I think it is important to remember that you cannot protect your child from every danger.  Bad things can happen, things you might not have any control over.  I don’t say this to scare you.  I say this to help you avoid the illusion that consequences can save your child from their own bad decisions.  Your child will make bad decisions.  It’s not your job to save them.

 

This advice is not meant to apply to every parenting situation.  As with all parenting advice, this will work for some and not work for others. 

If you like this, check out The Teen Mind, my podcast about understanding stress and anxiety and how it affects our teens.  

Why We Get So Upset When Our Kids Screw Up

Melissa just checked her son’s grades, and they’re pretty bad.  He has one B and the rest are Cs and Ds.   Daniel is in 8th grade, and he’s really smart, so Melissa doesn’t understand how he could be doing so poorly.  She thinks to herself, “He needs to bring those grades up.  He’s really smart.  There’s no reason he shouldn’t be getting all A’s and B’s.”

Melissa is angry.  She doesn’t understand why Daniel doesn’t try harder, why he doesn’t seem to care.  It just doesn’t make sense and it’s infuriating. 

And just beneath that anger is fear.  What if he keeps getting bad grades through high school and can’t get into college.  And, deeper than that, is another fear, one that makes her chest feel tight and causes panicked thoughts to run rampant in her mind.  She’s afraid Daniel will end up feeling like a failure as a person, that he’ll end up working a dead-end job that makes him miserable.  And she’s afraid she’ll be constantly reminded that she failed him as a parent, that maybe there was something she could have done to help him. 

And so when she thinks, “He needs to bring those grades up,” what she’s really thinking is, I need him to be successful and happy, so that I am not a failure.

If you find yourself needing your kid to change in some way, it’s likely that their behavior triggers a deep fear...

 

This fear; that we might somehow fail our children, that they will somehow end up as addicts or assholes—or that they’ll be depressed or unemployed or even dead; this fear lingers below the surface for all of us with this overwhelming job of raising children. 

And the way this fear bubbles up in our lives is by making us feel like we need our kids to succeed, to be happy, to have friends, etc.  Because if they don’t, what would that say about us as their parents?

If you find yourself needing your kid to change in some way, it’s likely that their behavior triggers a deep fear that something terrible will happen to your child. 

A parent who needs their son to be involved in lots of activities might be deeply afraid he will end up a lazy person, living at home and playing video games until he’s thirty. 

A parent who needs their daughter to stop dating that boy might have a deep fear of her being emotionally abused, or ending up serial-dating jerks because she has a low opinion of herself. 

 

Now, you might ask, “What’s the problem with me needing my kid to stay out of trouble?  I’m just doing my job as a parent.” 

To answer that, we'll talk about the difference between needs and preferences

When you need your kid to do something, and they don’t do it, you become angry or anxious or depressed.  And then when you talk with your kid about it, your emotions take over and sabotage the conversation.  Your kid gets defensive, which triggers your emotions more, and the whole thing escalates until someone says something hurtful or storms out of the room. 

When you prefer your kid to do something, and they don’t, then you might be irritated or bummed out, but you won’t have the strong emotional reaction you would have if you needed them to do it.  You will be able to approach in a more calm, detached way. 

The vibe your kid gets from you will be, “I wish you would have turned in your homework, but I’m okay either way.”  And that vibe is very calming for a child or adolescent.   So now both of you are calm, you will be able to talk about the problem in a way that feels like you’re on the same team, working together, instead of feeling like it’s you versus your kid. 

So, ask yourself: Do you need your child to:

  • Do what they’re told?
  • Get better grades?
  • Eat their vegetables?
  • Be nicer?
  • Hang out with a different crowd?

If you find yourself answering yes (I know I certainly do), it might be helpful to take a look at the fears underneath that need.  Be honest with yourself.  We as parents all have these fears.  The fears are there to protect you and may just need you to listen to them.  Once you do, they will calm down. 

All characters are fictional.  Their experiences are common among real people, but they are not based on any real people.  Any resemblances to real people are coincidental. 

 

If you like this, check out The Teen Mind, my podcast about understanding stress and anxiety and how it affects our teens.  

- Corey

Your Dad Voted Wrong: 5 Steps to Not Feel So Mad at Him

(Or at your mom, uncle, child, friend, etc.)

I heard a story the other day about a woman who, before the election, would talk with her mom every day on the phone.  In the weeks since November 8th, they’ve barely talked.  The daughter, who voted for Hilary, is angry that her mom voted for Trump.  She’s afraid that if she calls, her anger will take over and she’ll say something deeply hurtful.  The mom is angry that her daughter hasn’t called.   And she’s afraid that if they talk, her daughter will act distant and aloof, which hurts more than not talking at all. 

Certainly, you’ve heard or experienced similar stories.  Maybe over Thanksgiving you had to wrestle with the fact that you have one feeling about Donald Trump and someone close to you has a very different feeling.  Maybe you’ve gotten into an argument or a fight about it.  More likely, you’ve probably avoided talking about it, changing the topic when any hint of politics comes up. 

These things hurt. We feel that when someone votes in a way that is so counter to our beliefs and our identity, that they have personally attacked or betrayed us.  And right now, lots of people are feeling attacked or betrayed.  

Some give the advice that we all need to work harder to see things from the other side’s perspective. And this advice makes sense.  Have a grown-up conversation with your dad (or mom or uncle or child, etc.) .  Ask him why he voted for Trump and then listen and say, “hmm, I hadn’t thought of that before.  Thanks for sharing.”  Or have a conversation with your daughter (or dad or aunt or friend, etc.).  Ask her how she’s feeling about the election (knowing she voted for Hilary), and then say, “yeah, I can see why you’re upset about all this.”

But we know this isn’t how it works.  Because when your dad starts talking about immigrants, or your daughter calls Trump supporters racists, this overwhelming feeling takes over.  It is a mix of rage and sadness, rage toward the opinions, and sadness toward the fact that this person you love dearly holds those opinions. 

And so how are we supposed to act like grown-ups when the thought of talking to your dad makes you anxious and queasy at the same time?  Or if you hear your daughter say one more thing about Trump supporters being racists that you’re going to punch a hole in the drywall. 

It’s easy to say we need to see the other person’s perspective.  It’s easy to say we need to put our emotions aside and just talk like reasonable people.  But for many of us, myself included, talking about politics with family scares us more than a face-to-face meeting with a tiger shark.  We love our family.  We don’t want to lose our cool and then be left with an even bigger elephant in the room for the next holiday. 

So, let’s assume you are ready ease the tension between you and a loved one.  You don’t understand how such a smart, loving person could vote for that candidate, or how they could believe those ideas.  And you’d like to try to understand. 

Well, here are five practical steps that might help. 

1.     Ask this person to meet you for coffee.  It might be weird for you to ask your dad to meet you for coffee.  Do it anyway.  Tell him you haven’t gotten to have a good old father-daughter/father-son talk for a while. 

2.     Ask to hear their story.  After the necessary small talk, say, “Y’know, I think we have different beliefs about politics, and I realized that I don’t know much about your story of how you came to believe what you do.  I’d really like to just hear your story.” 

3.     Listen to their story.  Say things like, “I can understand that,” and “So, were you and mom married at that time?”

4.     Ask if you can share your story.  If there's time. 

5.     Hug, say “I love you,” and cry a little, if necessary.