One of the things that often hurts the most is when your parents or family cause you emotional pain. There is an expectation and desire that they should be a supportive and caring force in your life. So when this doesn’t happen it can be extremely upsetting, hurtful, and painful. This is especially true for […]
One of the things that often hurts the most is when your parents or family cause you emotional pain. There is an expectation and desire that they should be a supportive and caring force in your life. So when this doesn’t happen it can be extremely upsetting, hurtful, and painful. This is especially true for interfaith, multicultural, and multiracial couples when a parent or family member expresses prejudice or racism towards your partner or your child. In many cases the person often doesn’t even recognize, take responsibility for, or acknowledge the harm they are causing which can add even more hurt to the situation.
Often when an individual or couple reaches out to me they describe what’s going on in one or more of these ways in response to a parent or family member saying or doing prejudice or racist things:
- they have tried multiple times to address it but have seen no change
- they have been ignoring it for as long as they could and just can’t deal with it any longer
- they feel emotionally exhausted from dealing with it
- they have already decided to cut ties with the person (But even in those circumstances it can still end up being extremely stressful and emotionally draining)
Basically, it causes us to feel hopeless and hurt. I’m sharing this with you because I want you to know that it doesn’t have to be that way.
Providing a process and creating circumstances that allow families to heal and grow their relationships is a big part of the work that I do. Prejudice is learned behavior and therefore people can unlearn it and learn new and better ways “of being” to replace it. There are many different strategies and techniques that can be used in situations like this but the big challenge is often knowing where to start to intervene.
I have a story to share with you with you to show you examples of where to start. (Identifying information is changed to maintain the confidentiallity of the family.)
I worked with a couple where the mom was African-American and the dad was Puerto Rican and Italian. They have a multiracial daughter that is 3 years old. An issue arose when the daughter told her mother that she had a conversation with her white paternal grandmother saying her legs were too dark. The parents were very upset and the grandmother claimed that she didn’t say that. It was also revealed that the parents had addressed comments the grandmother made before that they found racially offensive. Of course like every family there’s a whole bunch more background information that goes into the story but overall everybody ended up feeling hurt. The mother wanted to cut ties with the grandmother, the father felt pulled between his wife and his mother, the grandmother didn’t understand what the problem was or why the couple was making it a big deal, and the granddaughter who loves spending time with her grandmother was confused by the whole situation.
Here are 4 strategies that can be a starting place to open up opportunities for learning, conversation, understanding and change with the grandmother:
- Talking about her experience. She married someone outside of her own culture and background which was even less common back then. Getting her to talk about what that experience was like for her and what some of the pain points that she experienced from her partner’s family as well as what her partner experienced from her family. Focusing on the emotion of her experience opens the opportunity to relate it to the emotions experienced by her son and daughter-in-law.
- Using her own belief system. She identifies as Catholic and this is something that is important to her. Like most religions, caring for others and treating people kindly are part of what it is often preached. By helping her to see how her actions and words are not aligned with her beliefs can help her to make those changes.
- Pointing out how her own words don’t align with her beliefs. She would often make the statement “I don’t see color” when talking about issues of race. By digging deeper into what this means for her (since everyone sees color), it’s likely she is trying to say that she is accepting of everyone no matter what skin color they have. This is an opportunity to teach alternative language she can use and the positive impact of talking about race and skin color can have on her family.
- Connecting her to other people where she can learn. It’s likely she doesn’t have a lot of exposure to people that are different than her. Outside of her daughter-in-law’s family she doesn’t know a lot of black people or have black friends. It’s also likely that she doesn’t know a lot of white people that are actively working to dismantle white supremacy or other grandparents with multiracial grandchildren. Helping her to meet new people, connect, and gain opportunities to learn from new experiences will help her to grow and learn.
These are just a few examples of strategies that can help if you are having a similar experience. So if you find yourself feeling angry, frustrated, or hurt by your parents, in-laws, or another family member remember that you don’t have to feel like change is hopeless. There are always opportunities to encourage change. That same grandparent can become one of the strongest advocates for dismantling racism and calling out prejudice because her deep love for her family has motivated her to have a new way “of being”. I promise there is always hope.
To finding hope,
P.S. Would you like some help with a interfaith, multicultural, or multiracial relationship or family issue or situation? I would love to talk with you to try to help you sort it out and give you some advice. Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org with the word CHAT and we can schedule your free consultation call.
P.P.S. Interested in being part of a community with other interfaith, multicultural, and multiracial couples? Join my new facebook group here.