DEAR AMY: Like many Americans, some of my relatives (blood and in-laws) are currently on the opposite side of the political spectrum than my husband and I. Unfortunately, at our frequent family gatherings (they live in town) they like to talk about how stupid and ignorant the opposite side is. It gets worse at larger functions because most of their other relatives are a willing audience. If people disagree, they rarely voice it, except in more private conversations. It’s not just politics. They also frequently disparage gay rights and minorities (I happen to be a member of an ethnic group they seem to find acceptable, and yet I am offended by their comments about others). I find my blood pressure skyrocketing when this happens. My husband ignores their blatherings and says I should too, because they’re old and won’t change and they do help us with family stuff; but as their rants grow more offensive I find it harder to keep my mouth shut. I have stood up and left more than once, but apparently they cannot link cause and effect. We have also had to speak to our kids about how we don’t agree but we don’t want to fight, either. I was going to host a family celebration for my kids’ graduations, but I am dreading it beyond measure and am considering calling it off. Should I tell them that politics are off limits? Should I call them out on their racism (they’ll say I’m too sensitive)? Should I say that I (and my children, because they don’t like it either) will be avoiding them unless they can speak civilly? I really think that because we don’t say anything, or say things infrequently, they assume we agree and they can be as ugly as they wish.
Peeved about Politics
DEAR PEEVED: I don’t think you should declare any subjects “off limits” beforehand, but I do think you should react honestly (and loudly, if necessary) in the moment — just once — when statements are made that you find personally offensive. Hoping that obtuse family members get the hint obviously has not worked. So say, out loud, “What you are saying is offensive to me. I’d appreciate it if you would stop.”
So what if they think you are sensitive? You are sensitive. They should be, too. But they’re not.
If a topic takes hold and gets out of hand at your house, you would be doing a good hostess deed to say to one and all, “Hey — this is getting heated. Let’s find something else to focus on while we’re together.”
One way to do this is to use any children present as human shields. You can say, “I’d love to hear from the kids what their plans are for this summer.” This can eventually include all others if they can pivot to a new topic. You can also ask the young people how they see some of these political issues, unless you think this would be a catalyst for more offense.
DEAR AMY: I’m almost 26 years old and engaged. I’m conflicted about inviting my father to my wedding. I haven’t seen him since I was about 5 years old, due to the fact that at that time my mother divorced him and eventually made a restraining order for myself and her permanent until I was 18. I communicate with my dad a few times a month via the phone. He is an alcoholic and I do not expect him to walk me down the aisle, but my mom and her family do not think I should even invite him. Any advice?
Anonymous in MA
DEAR ANONYMOUS: Your standard for inviting guests to your wedding seems extremely low.
Here is a man who at one point was deemed a considerable danger to you.
You have not seen him in person since you were 5 years old.
It is wonderful that you communicate with your father by phone occasionally, but you should get to know him in person before inviting him to such a momentous event. Use your upcoming wedding as a valid reason to try to spend time with him before extending this invitation. Your fiance should be involved in this choice.
DEAR AMY: I might be the rare person to agree with your response to “Uneasy,” who was nervous about interacting with a cousin who held objectionable and offensive political views. To me, this visit seemed like an opportunity to test everyone’s assumptions. I’m rooting for these two cousins to find common ground.
DEAR OPTIMIST: Me, too. Thank you.