What If My Racist Family Rejects My Girlfriend and Her Kids?

For the past six months, I have been seeing a woman who has four kids (11, 12, 14, 16). I am 24, my girlfriend is 40. The age difference isn't so much the issue as the fact that all of her kids are multiracial (my girlfriend is white; the kids' father is black). I am white. Before you call me a bigot, please understand that I have no problem whatsoever with her kids. In fact, I love her kids. They're great kids! In fact, I'd be very open to adopting them legally if our relationship progresses to the point where we'd want to consider marriage. The problem is with my family. I'm supposed to go to a family reunion this summer in Alabama—rural Alabama. Most of my family members who are expected to attend are not very open-minded, shall we say, about mixed couples or mixed families. I grew up hearing a litany of racist and snide remarks about people of color. I hate to say that about my family, but those are the values that were instilled in them and even though society has come a long way, there are parts of the country that are very slow to change (or unwilling to). I want to bring my girlfriend and her kids with me to the reunion, but I am very worried that they'll be met with cold stares, unfriendliness, rejection, maybe even hatefulness. I am quite sure also that some will whisper and wisecrack about me. I can take that, although it would make me uncomfortable and I'd probably end up making a scene. I am more worried about my girlfriend and her kids. I don't want the way my family might treat her to impact her impression of me. I don't want to scare her off, basically. I just don't see it going well. I can bring her and the kids and hope for the best, I can just take her but not the kids (maybe), I could go alone, or I could not go at all. None of these options feels good, but the first one feels both right and riskiest. I am wondering what you think. Thank you. —Bracing for the Worst
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Dear Bracing for the Worst,

Thank you for reaching out with such a powerful and important question. I commend you for taking the time and being thoughtful, considerate, and deliberate in planning your course of action with what could be a highly sensitive situation.

My first thought about this is whether you’ve spoken to your girlfriend about your concerns. Does she know about your family’s tendencies? She may have similar feelings or worries, and together the two of you can discuss the various options and come to a decision that best suits everyone. I’m quite confident that she has been dealing with various forms of racism for quite some time, as she was in an interracial relationship and now has biracial children. Given that, she may have her own perspectives on how to deal with situations like this in a way that is supportive to her and the children. If you haven’t yet spoken with her about this, I would suggest you start there. Not only will having that discussion clear things up for you and help you clarify your course of action, it will help build your relationship by fostering open and caring communication.

As the saying goes, the best defense is a good offense. I suggest you openly discuss this with the whole family, talk about your concerns, and plan a strategy.

Should you both decide to attend the family reunion, you may indeed be faced with the challenges you are concerned about. As the saying goes, the best defense is a good offense. I suggest you openly discuss this with the whole family, talk about your concerns, and plan a strategy. Discuss the fact racism still exists, it’s still a problem for minorities, and it can be incredibly hurtful to be on the receiving end.

If your family makes racist comments, you can choose how to handle it. You can decide as a family if you are going to address the comments calmly and rationally, or if you will decide to remove yourself from the situation. You can plan a response such as, “I will not allow my family to be subjected to this sort of racist behavior. If you want us to stay, you will apologize and refrain from further comments of that nature.” The other option is to choose to leave immediately.

What is NOT a good option is to lose control, get angry, and make a scene. As difficult as it may be to remain calm in those types of circumstances, nothing is ever resolved by acting in anger. If you are concerned that you can’t handle this sort of situation without getting angry and making a scene, I suggest you not be in it at all.

It sounds as though this relationship has the potential to be long-term, as you seem committed to her and the children. If that is the situation, you will be faced with a lot of racism, microaggressions, and other painful situations for as long as racism continues to be an issue in our world. Sadly, there is a long way to go on that front. You are in a unique position to act as an ally for your girlfriend’s children, and in some ways, for all people of color.

If you and your girlfriend decide to go to your reunion and face what can possibly arise, you are opening yourselves up to be uncomfortable, hurt, and upset. On the other hand, you may be opening up opportunities for dialogue, reflection, and maybe even change in your family. This is not an easy situation, and it will require much of you and your girlfriend to navigate it with grace, but I believe that with honesty, openness, and a willingness to engage, you can manage it. I hope you believe that, too.

Best wishes in the journey!
Lisa

Lisa Vallejos
Lisa Vallejos, PhD, LPC, specializes in existential psychology. Her primary focus is helping people to be more present in their lives, more engaged with their existence, and to face the world with courage. Lisa began her career in the mental health field working in residential treatment, community mental health centers, and with adjudicated individuals before moving into private practice. She is in the process of finishing a PhD as well as advanced training in existential-humanistic psychotherapy, and provides clinical training and supervision.
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  • Naomi

    Naomi

    July 11th, 2015 at 5:41 AM

    The way I see it this is your time to stand up for the people in your life that you love. If you choose to marry this woman then these will be your children and by right you will then have to stand up for them in all instances. I think that this is your time to decide whether this is something that you will be comfortable doing around your extended family for the rest of your life.

  • Kyle

    Kyle

    July 13th, 2015 at 2:59 PM

    knowing their tendencies are these people that you even want your loved ones to have to be around?

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