Anonymous Mom: My Racist In-Laws Get A Gag Order From Me Every Thanksgiving

Anonymous Mom is a weekly column of motherhood confessions, indiscretions, and parental shortcomings selected by Mommyish editors. Under this unanimous byline, readers can share their own stories, secrets, and moments of weakness with complete anonymity.

My husband is from a small town in the South. I’ve always known that his family was a little less liberal than mine. Alright, they can be downright bigots. But before I had kids, I just did my best to ignore their ignorance and not bring up politics. Like, not at all. I would hear them use racist slurs or tell homophobic jokes and I would leave the room. I wouldn’t yell at them or tell them what assholes they were. But I made it clear that I wasn’t happy with that kind of language.

My whole approach changed when I had kids. Suddenly, I realized that my daughter was going to be around these people for hours or even days at a time. I could not bear to think about her learning that type of hatred from her own family members. I couldn’t imagine what I would do if I heard my precious little girl utter some of the vile things that can come out of their mouths. I knew that I couldn’t change their minds, but I certainly wasn’t going to let them poison the minds of my children.

We always spend Thanksgiving with my husband’s family. Since we spend Christmas with mine, it was the fair way to distribute the big days. My parents would never even dream of uttering a bigoted phrase or an off-color joke. And not just because of good manners. They wouldn’t dream of it because they realize how incredibly wrong it is to judge people based on their race, sexual orientation, or religion.

Thanksgiving, because it was normally the longest amount of time we spent with my husband’s family, began to have a new tradition. Beginning that very first year, when my daughter wasn’t even old enough to understand what anyone was saying, I started my tradition of giving “the talk” to my husband’s family. “The talk” involves all the things that they are not allowed to say in front of my children. 

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  • Lastango

    Good job! You spoke up, and then stood your ground. Kudos to your husband, too, for backing you up against his own parents.
    BTW, I’ve had friends who use racial slurs to refer to blacks. I commented on it, and they replied to the effect that if I had had the same experiences they had with inner-city blacks, I’d be talking about them that way too. We sawed it off; they cooled their language around me, and I didn’t lecture them that even if the incidents they reported happened just the way they describe them, racial slurs aren’t part of any solution. They wouldn’t have wanted to hear that from me, but at least they became aware that not everyone they know participates in their way of talking about other races.

    • GPMeg

      I hate that– I’ve had absolutely horrid experiences with inner city everyone, just because someone is of a certain ethnicity doesn’t mean they can’t be a jerk or be nice. People are people, y’all, we’re all capable of a full range of awesomeness!

  • Ellie

    Good for you! I have to do the same thing with some of my family members. I don’t care whose house we’re in, that is not acceptable around my kids. And anyone who has a problem with it will find that they don’t have the opportunity to do it ever again.

  • Steph

    Good for you for standing up to them!

  • Sarah Johnston

    Good for you for standing up to them. My family are also racist, homophobic bigots and for years, I’ve been afraid of the “talk” we will have to have someday when I have children. I basically intend to give them the ultimatum – watch your nasty mouths and don’t teach that awful hatred to my children or you will never see my children. That’s how racism and homophobia should be handled. No tolerance whatsoever.

  • chickadee

    We had to do the same, my first husband and I. His father was prone to uttering casual racial slurs — against black people and Hispanics, usually, although Jewish people sometimes got a mention — and i always hated it. My ex wouldn’t stand up to his imposing father for my offense or his own, but he would on behalf of his child. The first Christmas I was pregnant, my ex informed his father that the first time something ugly came out of his mouth, we would leave. His mother mouthed a silent ‘thank god’ at me when my then-father-in-law agreed. It was pretty awesome.

  • NotepuedoCreer

    I hope you didn’t really talk to your in laws in that tone. Even if they are racist, It is YOUR job to raise your children. YOU will teach them that grandpa’s beliefs are incorrect. Kids will always always be in a world full of wrongs, it is up to parents to guide them in the right path. Being around your in laws once a year will not alter your hard work. It will only teach them about the different kinds of people out there.

    • Anna

      I hope she did. The language in the article was entirely appropriate. It is her job to raise her children which includes only involving them in the lives of people who will respect the way she is raising them. Speaking to her in laws is a perfect example of how she IS raising her children, instead of just sighing and wringing her hands when Grandpa says something racist. I’m sure the kids will eventually figure out this part of the family’s beliefs. That doesn’t mean they need to hear that garbage right off the bat.

    • chickadee

      I hope she did as well — she set the terms for the relationship, which is entirely within her rights. She doesn’t want her children being exposed to what is a terribly toxic environment, and if she feels that they are being exposed to harmful influences, off they go. So the ball is in the in-laws’ court. If they want a relationship with the children, they’ll curb their tongues.

    • disqus_HSAPCZMjiN

      What about teaching them that you should stand up to bigotry, even when it’s people you love? I think she is setting a far better example by standing up for herself and people who are different than if she were to defer to elders without question.

    • Courtney Lynn

      And I echo the previous two replies. I hope she did. What was she supposed to do? Keep her mouth shut like a good woman should? Hell no!

  • Courtney Lynn

    I found a way to shut my parents up, I married outside my race!

  • DM

    This is my biggest fear in having children. My husband and I both come from very conservative deep South families with many family members that make racist and bigoted comments all the time. They are also all deeply evangelical. Since we live far away from them, we have never had to confront them that we do not share their views or beliefs. I am only home 1 or 2 times a year, and I’ve done exactly what this author has done – I’ve left the room and ignored it. I am terrible at confrontation. But I know as soon as we have children, it will have to be confronted, and I’m really not sure how it will go.

    I think what she did here was amazing. I hope that one day I have the nerve to do the same.

  • WTT

    THANK YOU for posting this! I have to deal with the same thing when my in-laws are visiting. My MIL will spew the most racist things about other cultures and our current president and it breaks my heart. Sometimes I want to uppercut her but I just bite my tounge and pop an extra Xanax. I think this year might be the year I have the same “talk” with my inlaws. Thanks for your help!

    • AllofThemWitches

      Give her a simple ultimatum. She’ll be talking about you for years!

  • K.

    I have mixed feelings on this.

    Quite frankly, if someone asked me to curtail my speech in my own house, I would probably tell them that they didn’t have to BE in my house–family or no family.

    To me, the litmus test is to reverse the perspective. So I know that you said they were racist and the comments were “inappropriate” and sexist/racist/homophobic and most of us I would imagine are against such types of speech. That makes it easy for us to say that your objection is reasonable.

    But what if someone in your family came to you and said something like, “I don’t want you talking about your gay friends and referring to them as ‘married’ and ‘parents.’ They can’t be married because it would be an abomination in the eyes of God and they can’t be real parents because they didn’t conceive the child. I don’t want my children growing up thinking that way.” You’d probably feel offended, no?

    A family member DID say that ‘no references to gay marriage/parents’ to me in my own home and I felt justified in telling them that it was my house and my friends and if they didn’t like it, we could do next year’s holiday at their place and they could un-gay it up all they wanted, but so long as they were in my house, then I was going to speak however I damn well pleased. And by the way, I also have a sailor mouth when one of them asked me to tone it down in front of her kid, my response was, “In MY kitchen, preparing food from MY refrigerator? Fuck, no.”

    Now, I say this because I also have racist relatives (surprise, surprise) who didn’t curtail their speech around me when I was a kid–but I had an open-minded mom who discussed their comments later with me in private. I wasn’t traumatized by my relatives cultural differences. I didn’t grow up to be like them. In fact, my mother’s views–as well as yours for your own children–were always going to be 1000x more influential on me than my dumbass relatives’–and that is true for your kids as well. But what’s more is that as a child, I was really sort of fascinated by my relatives and our differences and I learned a lot from being around them–not their actual views on things, but how to find common ground, how to have discussions, and how to appreciate them for all their craziness.

    Perhaps by letting your kids experience people who view the world differently, they will become more tolerant and curious individuals.

    • blitheandbonny

      Why on earth should we pretend that both of these opinions – the bigoted, racist ones and the non-bigoted ones – are equally valid? I’m tired of it. I don’t care whose house I’m in, if someone breaks out the bigotry, I’m not going to tolerate it – I’m gonna call them on it. It’s not a “different perspective.” It’s actual, harmful hate speech.

      If you reverse the situation as in your example, you know what I would do if a family member said I couldn’t call my gay married friends married or parents or they’re going to leave? I would tell them where the door is, just like dad-in-law had the option of if he was that attached to his racism.

      We don’t need to be teaching our little Bratleighs and Snoflaykes about tolerating everyone’s opinion even when it’s a hateful, bigoted one. We should be teaching them to know when they don’t have to.

    • K.

      Well, for one, by tolerance, I wasn’t saying that one needs to teach children that hate speech is okay. Just because you allow someone else to have bigoted ideas doesn’t mean that you validate them–you can challenge them, you can talk to your children about the perils of such beliefs, you can discuss why such perspectives are wrong. But people don’t usually develop prejudices just because they’re fundamentally terrible people. And I, for one, think that it causes more problems to dismiss and condemn such people–no matter how offensive you find their beliefs–because it conflates the two. And kids end up thinking that everyone who has values that are different from their own must be fundamentally bad people. That’s a problem.

      I don’t think it’s particularly productive to teach kids that hate speech doesn’t exist or to encourage a hateful attitude towards people who perpetuate it. I’d prefer, as a parent, to teach children how to understand and respond to it and to use it to help to clarify, and sometimes perhaps to change or complicate their own views. This writer was talking about family and has family members that seem in line with some of my own, and since we are talking about family–generally not people you can easily dismiss wholesale forever–I feel that it’s a good lesson to teach my children that one can disagree with someone else’s beliefs, while they can still find some kind of common ground or humanity in that person. If that’s too kumbayah for you, then fine. I, for one, think it’s an important lesson.

      The other issue is that irregardless of whichever social value is being expressed, I personally find it rude to tell someone how to behave in their own home. If you don’t like their behavior or are offended by their homophobia/racism/sexism/basement dogfighting/small-operation residential sex trafficking, then you can leave (and in the case of dogfighting and sex trafficking, call the police since they’re illegal in most states). You don’t have to break bread with them, as this writer did.

      And for the record, I DID say that my response to someone who said something I found offensive in MY house would be the same as yours–to show them the door.

    • Julie

      I totally respect your views and opinions on this. I wouldn’t want to be told how to speak in my own home either, but me personally, I may not take is as far as you- I think I could hold back a few F bombs when the little ones are hanging out. But to each their own :) The only reason that I would cut the author a little slack here (and I can’t be certain) is that it sounds like her children (child?) are relatively young. Toddlers will repeat anything, and teaching them reason isn’t always in the cards. They will say words without knowing what they mean, and usually loudly and at the most inconvenient of times. She DOES say that as the children get older she will be able to talk to them about it more and teach them right from wrong. She also did give her father-in-law the option to say “this is my house and I’m not going to change”. Just that if he went that route, she knew where the door was. So even though she gave him the ultimatum, he chose which way to go with it.

    • PSG

      Yeah – I’m extremely salty, but when kids are around…nope. Prim. I don’t care if it’s my house or yours.
      If we had that conversation and the host started in with the fuckity-fuck-fuck…I’d leave. Period. Either I would not be invited again, or I would decline.
      It’s not a self-righteous tizzy, just a safe judgement call based on my parenting style.

    • Andrea

      I’m actually of two minds on this as well. It seems to extremely wrong to threaten to withhold grandchildren visits with their grandparents. I teach my children right from wrong; my parents are old fashioned and sometimes tell my children things I don’t agree with. We talk about it and I help them make up their own minds. Unless they were harming my children, I would NEVER blackmail my parents or my in-laws like this. And before you say it, yes I can see why you would think that being exposed to bigoted comments can harm your children. But the reality is that they WILL. Whether it comes from your in-laws or life in general, they will hear. It is up to you to teach them better, and I am sure you will. Hearing grandpa says stupid stuff isn’t going to undo your teachings. It doesn’t seem right that you would threaten to never let them see their grandchildren. It is hurtful and, forgive me, but controlling too.

    • lea

      Mmmm I see your point.
      I guess it’s all about where you draw the line with what you will tolerate exposing your children to, and this will vary for everyone. I think if my parents, or my in-laws, weren’t prepared to behave in a way around or towards my children then I would feel justified in withholding visits. Spending time with your grandchildren is a privilege, not a right. My parents took us kids to visit my paternal grandfather as rarely as possible. He was a grumpy impatient old man and we hated going there, so why should we have to?

      In this instance, I agree that the OP has probably gone to a little too far- especially as the potential damage of the children hearing bigoted, racist speech can be managed with discussions with them afterwards etc.

      Me personally for something like this, I wouldn’t stop visits, but I would sure as heck make sure to say something if anyone made an inappropriate comment. A simple “I would prefer if you didn’t use that language in front of me”.

    • Andrea

      I wouldn’t force my children if they really didn’t like it. But there doesn’t seem to be any indication of this. So they have different views (which of course it makes those views, by definition, wrong). But they are not waving guns on the children’s faces, they are not placing them in harm’s way, they are not gifting them little KKK hoodies. They are spewing some bigoted comments. I am quite certain that the writer will NOT be changing her in-law’s views anytime soon and it seems to me that it is quite simple to teach your children that “we” do not agree with Grandpa’s views on people of other races/ethnic backgrounds. Children WILL gravitate towards tolerance. The threatening tone and ultimatum did not sit well with me and it was over the top in my opinion.

      My guess is that she doesn’t like hanging out with her in-laws to begin with (for reasons OTHER than their views) and this gave her a way to get out of it.

    • lea

      Good call on their being other issues behind not wanting to spend time with the in-laws. It certainly explains the overreaction.

    • Psych Student

      I appreciate your thoughts on this and thank you for providing a different perspective. However, if we talk about not avoiding exposing children to bigots, then perhaps we shouldn’t avoid exposing them to ideas that gay people exist, get married, and become parents just like straight people and play along with people who want to do so. Talk about setting kids up for a shock! :)

    • cathleen

      in this case, the father in law was completely able to say this was his house and he’d talk how he wanted and then she rightly would choose not to go there. she gave him a choice, if he wanted her there then he’d respect her wishes. I don’t think just bc you go to someone’s house that means they can do whatever they want and you have to like it. they can choose how to act and you can choose how to respond. in this case, she was just saying if you do this, we will do that. would it have been better if she just left as soon as he started in without explaining why? instead she gave him more power and put him in charge of picking which outcome he preferred.

  • Katie

    To those who say she should teach her children about racism and how to respond to it, I absolutely agree: When they’re older. She stated she had this conversation when she was pregnant. Small children believe whatever trusted adults say to them, and have a very hard time distinguishing and making their own judgements. To limit their exposure to hurtful language as small children is entirely appropriate. She was reasonable, respectful, and well within the binds of civility.

    “As my kids get older, I get more concerned about the time they spend with
    my in-laws when I’m not around. I don’t always trust that they’ll keep
    their guard up once I’ve left the room. But the good news is that I get
    to trust my kids more. I know they’ll come to me if they hear something
    that doesn’t square with what I’ve tried to teach them.”

    I love this! As your kids grow up, you have to trust them to make their own decisions and opinions. Awesome!

  • whitelotushealing

    This is awesome :) By the way, my grandfather was racist…but I NEVER knew until a couple years after his death (when I was in my late 20′s) because my parents did the EXACT same thing when I was a baby. They told him not to say “the n-word” and other things around me, and he never did. I was shocked when I realised…but happy I had a childhood (I spent a lot of time with my grandparents, often without my parents) where I didn’t know.

  • Rose Heels

    You are the best mom ever!! Ultimately this is about passing down your family values to your young ones, so dad in law should respect that even in his house. And maybe this will help him grow as a person too. I completely relate.

  • Psych Student

    I do think their are circumstances in which this approach is not only acceptable, but important.

  • PSG

    “There was just one moment when I was worried that the whole thing
    would blow up in my face. My father-in-law looked at me and said,
    “You’re in my house.”

    I stared at him and said, “If you feel that way, we won’t come back.”

    Well played.

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