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Dear Caroline,

My husband and I are adoptive parents. Our son is Black and we brought him home when he was almost eight years old. My in-laws have grown to love their (only) grandchild, but have not grown out of some lifelong habits. These include saying racially insensitive things and tolerating racial slurs being spoken around them. Our son is now 15 and I have asked and nagged and begged for years for them to please understand that their behavior and tolerance of their friends’ use of the “N” word are inexcusable. They feel they have “changed enough.” Since all of my pleas have been ignored and only bred resentment, do you think I should let my son tell them directly how it makes him feel?

…Torn Up and Frustrated

Dear Torn,

The short answer is yes.

Now for the long answer:

Your in-laws are living in an echo chamber. At age 15, your son has no obligation to tolerate their microaggressions and blatant racist remarks in silence.

Since your in-laws have behaved this way for years, your son may feel more isolated and emotionally exhausted than you realize. Don’t let this go until one of their remarks becomes the drop that spills the bucket, so to speak.

It is best to prepare an approach that’s calm, convincing and drama-free, rather than leave it to chance.

Here’s my suggested step-by-step scenario:

First, get your husband fully onboard, since the problem lies with his parents. Likewise, your son needs to know that his own mom and dad are in his corner as a united front.

Next, set aside time to plan and rehearse the conversation with your son. It may help to put pen to paper. Make sure he’s gone over what he wants to say enough times that he’ll be able to make his points clearly.

And, finally, make an appointment to visit your in-laws in their home. Let them know ahead of time that you, your husband and your son are coming over because you need to talk about something important.

Being at their house will allow the three of you to make a polite exit should an argument start. Once people are in your home, it can be difficult to show them the door.

Before you go, prepare yourselves to face your in-laws with no expectations. Your son may get an apology and a promise of better behavior. Or he might face criticism, ridicule or gaslighting. Make sure he knows that a bad outcome is no reflection on him.

No matter what your in-laws’ reaction is, you and your husband should be there to lend moral support, but let your son do the talking.

Once your son has spoken his piece succinctly, silence is his superpower.

Hopefully your in-laws will get the point.

If they react with a lot of resistance, you, your husband and your son should thank them for their time, tell them you’re sorry it couldn’t be worked out and then quietly get up and leave.

At age 15, your son is old enough to decide whether or not he wants to limit his exposure to his grandparents and their friends going forward.

It’s already October. If you ask me, it would be best to get this conversation out of the way well before the holidays.

Wishing you the best,


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