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. 

That very first time, I was so scared. I was shaking and my palms were sweating. I walked up to my father-in-law and I told him, “You can’t use racist language when my kids are in the house and might overhear you. You can’t tell inappropriate jokes because you think they’ll go over their head. I don’t care what your beliefs are, but you won’t pass them on to my kids. If I hear so much as a single slur, we won’t come back here for Thanksgiving again.” He laughed at me, like I was just some silly little lady getting bent out of shape.

My husband stepped in and said, “Dad, she’s serious.”

My father-in-law wanted to argue with me. He wanted to tell me why me and people like me were ruining the country. He wanted to defend himself and he said that he’s not really a racist.

“They have names for us too, ya know,” he told me. But I knew before I went to that talk that I wasn’t going to change his mind. I wasn’t going to make him stop saying horrible things when I wasn’t around. “I don’t care what you do in private,” I told him, “but you can’t talk like that when we’re here. I won’t have my kids hearing it.”

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.”

From that year on, it’s not so much of a show down between my in-laws and I. But I do still feel like I need to give a gentle reminder: “The kids are here and you need to watch what you say.”

I have no idea if my comments have made a difference in the way my in-laws think in general. But I just don’t know that I can worry about that. I can’t change everyone’s mind. I can just do my best to raise kids who know that we do not judge people based on their appearance, that every religion deserves to be respected, and that every person has the right to love anyone they choose.

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. Then, I’ll be able to explain to them that there are all kinds of people in the world, even some who don’t respect other people’s differences. Unfortunately, we’re related to some of those people.

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(photo: Georgios Kollidas/ Shutterstock)

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