I have been with my boyfriend for five years. We have only been dating for two of those. When we met, he had a sister who is the same age as my son, and they really liked me, but my boyfriend’s parents constantly harassed her and insulted her for being white. Over the years, I have explained this to them, but they still abuse her. I can’t stand it any longer and sent my boyfriend a message saying it has gone too far. One day, my boyfriend discovered that he could have the rest of his life without having to see this. How do I convince my boyfriend’s parents to tell their daughter to stop being treated like this? I am in a serious relationship with a man who respects other people. But for some reason, I am comfortable sticking up for my son even if that means scaring his mother. — After School Years
Lane: A passionate question, but there is no good answer. There is no single right way to go about this. If you and your boyfriend were to marry —which we’re not suggesting — I’m sure his parents would have a conversation with your son about the need to respect people based on their own personality and circumstances, not the color of their skin. That might work for some of us, but it’s not a great idea as a rule to schedule one-on-one talks with your own relatives about cultural issues that occasionally can make for uncomfortable conversations. Most families have a relatively small number of really loud and deliberate people who want to express themselves about things that you probably aren’t in the habit of talking about. Start in your own family, then make for the playground.
Herman: Even a well-meaning parent may be met with a chorus of objections from their children when they ask about race. Not only is that difficult, but your boyfriend may not even be able to answer when a parent says something about his sisters, without blunting his insights because he didn’t finish that sentence. Your boyfriend may need to watch your reaction and then decide what the right thing to do is, or go to your son’s school, where an African-American group is on hand to make a statement about how unacceptable this behavior is.
Emily: What if his mom says she doesn’t want to see him? That doesn’t mean the death of the relationship, it just suggests to his family that he is limiting the potential for having real and honest dialogue. Keep asking, suggest they have a time-out, and then leave the room while you talk to your son in private. Start your son in the afternoon, and if you see anything that seems problematic, stop talking to your boyfriend.