Fatherly's resident parenting expert talks about keeping peace with Thanksgiving racists and picky eaters so everyone can enjoy.
My wife’s brother is coming to our place for Thanksgiving. To put it mildly, he likes to drink and has pretty extreme views on race. It never fails that he says something offensive. I have three kids who are now old enough to know what he’s talking about, so how do I deal with him on Thanksgiving?
Albuquerque, New Mexico
You say your brother-in-law likes to drink and has “extreme views on race.” I hear, “My brother-in-law is a drunk racist.” I’ve gotta be unequivocal about that because honestly dealing with a drunk racist in front of your kids at Thanksgiving is different than great grandpa calling a black person “colored.” For one thing, great grandpa probably isn’t going to change and, let’s face it, he’ll be dead soon anyway. But your brother-in-law is most likely going to be around for a while and, unless your wife decides to disown him, he’ll probably be coming around for many holidays to come — that’s a whole different situation.
The fact that while your brother-in-law may still be capable of change, you do not have the power to change him. If he doesn’t want to change his views, he probably won’t — not for you, anyway. And, hey, guess what? That’s great because you can now relieve yourself of that responsibility. He is a dumpster fire and you have neither the skill, tools or authority to extinguish it. See? Things are getting easier already.
What you can control are your own values and the values of your family. Think of your brother-in-law’s racism is a virus that could infect your kids. Your values are a protection from that virus. But they aren’t going to do any damn good unless you have made your values explicit. You say your kids are old enough to know racism. So, then, the question is: Have you specifically and explicitly talked about racism and why it is dangerous and evil? Have you sat down with your kids and talked about how your family values accepting all people regardless of race? If not, you need to do that. You need to make tolerance so ingrained in your family values that when your brother-in-law opens his mouth, your kids understand he is wrong about his beliefs.
As far as Turkey Day is concerned, make sure you give your kids a fair warning. Help them practice ways to extricate themselves from uncomfortable situations by telling their racist uncle they have to go poop or something. It doesn’t have to be elaborate, it just has to be an out. For your part, you’re going to get really good at changing the subject and ignoring the guy. Literally, do not engage. And frankly, if his racism is exacerbated with alcohol, slow walk his beer and wine. Make him ask. Be slow about obliging him. That should help too.
Once dinner is over and the guests have gone, make sure you debrief with your family if any disturbing stuff was said. It’s a great way to draw a contrast in your values. If your kids ask why their uncle is the way he is, there’s nothing wrong with suggesting that he’s sick. Be as empathetic as you can be. But be clear he needs help.
Of course, all of this is assuming that you absolutely have to have your brother-in-law in your house. There is a more obvious solution: don’t let him come over. Of course, that will require an uncomfortable conversation with your wife, but if she’s game, simply don’t invite the dude, or disinvite him, as the case may be. You don’t need to welcome a drunk racist into your home. If he asks why he’s not invited, be honest. Let him know you don’t appreciate his views on race. Who knows, maybe it’ll help him realize he’s wrong.
My kid is a really picky eater and that makes Thanksgiving dinner an incredible struggle. Is there a way I can make my kid eat so she doesn’t insult everyone?
I don’t know how old your kid is, Donald, but if you’re going through life worried about them insulting people, you’re going to go crazy. One of the great things about being a kid is that when you insult people you have the excuse of … being a kid. Don’t take that away from her.
Here’s the thing: you struggling with your kid at the Thanksgiving dinner table is making everyone else feel weird and awkward. It’s not that your kid is insulting anyone it’s that you’re calling out the fact your kid is refusing to eat anything. And contrary to popular belief, Thanksgiving dinner is not actually about the act of eating. In fact, it has very little to do with nutrition. Do you know how much butter and fat is on a Thanksgiving table? Like, ten Paula Deen’s worth. At least. Why is it important that your kid eat that?
What Thanksgiving dinner is really about, and why it’s actually important for your kid, is that she gets to spend time bonding with family. In other words, it doesn’t matter if your kid eats or doesn’t eat. What matters is that she is sitting at a table with people who love her. Pressuring her to eat doesn’t do anything but ruin the experience of communing with family. Are there ways to “make her eat”? Sure. And all of them make you look like an asshole in front of your friends and relatives. The trick here is to keep your kid happy at the table. Yes, absolutely put a bit of everything on her plate. But if she only wants to eat butter and rolls? Don’t sweat it. As long as she’s being cute and relatively polite, your guests will be delighted.
And if aunt Barb does get sad when your kid doesn’t try her green bean casserole? Well, that’s not your problem. Aunt Barb should realize that tying her ego to hot dishes is not the best life strategy.
If there’s anything you take away from all of this, it’s that you have permission to not stress about what your kid eats on Thanksgiving. Your job is to make sure that she and your guests have a memorable experience and bond as a family. Trust me, she’s not gonna starve. Not on Thanksgiving. It’s is almost an impossibility.
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