Ally Building: What To Do When Family Wants You To Pick A Side

Being an “ally” is trendy. It’s a buzzword with a lot of good press. Men are constantly being asked to be allies for women’s rights, and majority cultures and races are pressured to be allies for minority movements.

By Jessica Marie Baumgartner4 min read

This can be a good thing if put into practice with balance and sincerity, but ally building has become a common way to turn groups against each other when disputes break out, even within our own families.

Ally Building and Unhealthy Conflict 

The more this is put into practice, the more ally building becomes an unhealthy coping method for conflicts where two people are experiencing a dispute, and instead of talking the issue out, or agreeing to disagree, one or both of the people involved bring other family members into it. That’s what we’ve been taught works in society after all. Go online and build an angry mob of people to force others to do what you want. Gain sympathy and support in order to punish the other party

When putting this into practice within families, people believe they gain validation and allegiances. It makes them feel justified, but in reality, they’re merely using manipulative mob rule tactics to back their opposing family member into a corner. This does nothing to resolve the issue. If anything, it causes deeper rifts and wider divides. 

A few years back I experienced this with my sister. Although she is my older sister, I became a mother seven years before she had her first child. Then, once she became a new mother, she felt it was her duty to try and “parent” my eldest. She was suddenly an “expert” who thought I was placing too much of an emphasis on my daughter’s need to get a good education and plan to go to college or a trade school to support herself even if she wanted to get married and live a traditional life as a stay-at-home mother someday. After seeing my mother struggle because my father couldn’t handle his drinking, infidelity, anger issues, or finances, I believe it’s good for women to have the ability to be self-reliant, even if they don’t need to use it (just in case). 

Ally building uses manipulative mob rule tactics to back the opposing family member into a corner.

I learned a long time ago that my parenting is for my children, and that I can’t control what other parents teach their children. I’m never against open debate, but my sister would go behind my back to discuss her political and social ideologies with my daughter, and then my little girl would come to me crying that her aunt told her she can’t be a stay at home mother and have a career.

This is silly because I write for a living, and know plenty of women who work out of their homes as they care for their children, but for a young girl, having a close family member discourage her from looking forward to her dreams was unsettling. I had to step in and say something. Of course, my sister thought I was completely wrong, and we fought. 

Now, I’ve never been one to assume I am the goddess of all answers. Sure, I can be quite stubborn at times; I know that I’m not perfect and can be wrong, but she specifically undermined me to my daughter multiple times and acted as if that were her right.

I don’t agree with how she obsesses over her daughter’s looks, constantly runs around disinfecting things, and spoils her children by giving them more toys than they can play with, and I have even discussed this with her, but I have never pulled her children aside and tried to teach them anything against their mother’s wishes, nor have I dragged other family members into it. It’s my belief that it’s not my place to tell other parents what to do with their children so long as they are fed, clothed, housed, and properly looked after. 

Unfortunately, my sister spent every family gathering during this long-lasting dispute gossiping about it to our aunts and cousins. It was highly embarrassing to me because I’d rather just laugh and joke and have a good time. 

Her wish to build allies and bully me into submitting to her parenting style only made me dislike being near her. My husband and I eventually forbid her from babysitting or being around the children at all. Finally, one of my aunts straight up told her, “No. You’re wrong here. You don’t mess with other people’s kids.”

Apparently, that’s all my sister needed to question herself. Someone standing up and refusing to give in to her strange quest to build a case against me did the trick.  That, and we had a huge fight on a family trip that led to months of no-contact at all. We both needed a break to regain some balance. 

Handling Pressure To Join a Fight

My aunt’s declaration was simple and easy. She wasn’t rude or hurtful. She merely refused to play ally building games for my sister. 

The pressure to join someone else’s fight is everywhere nowadays. The famous Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. quote, “In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends,” is circulated around the internet as if it applies to every situation. Too often, people mistake these words of wisdom to mean that they should run their mouths about everything they disagree with. But when we’re constantly fighting and attacking each other, no one is able to properly communicate, find understanding, or resolve conflict. Instead, they’re all just shouting at each other like children. 

When we’re fighting, no one is able to properly communicate, find understanding, or resolve conflict.

There is a time to fight, and it’s usually after proper contemplation and sound realization of injustices. Family disputes don’t often fall into that category. Families are not perfect groups of plastic people who always smile and agree with each other, or tyrants threatening to usurp rights. Disagreements are healthy between relatives. It means we’re exploring different perspectives and sometimes reaching opposite ends. 

Instead of allowing someone to coax us into joining a fight, or really bullying a family member into doing what we want, voting for our candidate, or eating our favorite pizza, we can listen and be respectful. We can offer polite commentary, or even just admit that we don’t appreciate the sentiment and change the subject. 

How To Avoid Family Division

Lending an ear and empathizing is a great way to properly cope with the pressure to become an ally for the wrong crusade. Going further, kindly reminding the instigator that it will better serve them and their situation if they address the issue with the person directly involved, instead of dragging everyone else into it and causing a scene, is a good way to avoid encouraging division. 

My mother is the queen of this. She has five older brothers and two younger sisters. Being the eldest girl, she’s always put in the middle of everything, but she has brain damage and recently survived throat cancer. She doesn’t need everyone else’s problems on her plate. Despite this, she likes to help. It makes her feel useful to offer up advice, but also direct everyone to try and find common ground. 

Little gestures bridge wide gaps.

When my sister and I weren’t talking, she never stopped pressing me to remember my love for my sister. Instead of falling for my sister’s ally building schemes, she just told her to drop it and move on. As hurt as I was that my sister didn’t trust me to be a good mother to my children, even after years of them displaying good behavior, my mom was right. We just needed to drop it and move on.

It’s good to have these kinds of positive pillars of the family to squash division and keep everyone together. My grandma was always the glue that held the family together. No matter who was fighting over what, she always smiled with kind, gray Irish eyes and said, “Oh, it’s really not that bad, is it?” Sometimes she’d sing, “Let There Be Peace On Earth,” and as annoying as it could be, I think of that song when our family is struggling to come together.

Little gestures bridge wide gaps. A simple reminder of what truly matters or a sweet song helps the people we grew up with look back through everything we’ve endured together. The wisdom of our elders can end any feud and bring family members back to their senses to end destructive ally building trends.

Closing Thoughts  

We can support our family members without always agreeing with them, just as we can disagree without forcing everyone else to pick a side. Allies are for wars, not family. Our relatives are too close to us for such divisive tactics. When family members start to divide, expressing understanding and sympathy is a great way to veer everyone toward common ground. With some gentle reminders of the deeper ties we all have to each other, we can avoid division and get back to enjoying each other’s company.

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