14/08/2014 12:53 BST | Updated 22/05/2015 06:12 BST

Tolerating The Intolerant: What Should Parents Say When Relatives Are Racist And Homophobic?

Tolerating the intolerant: What should parents say when relatives are racist and homophobic?

Watching a TV personality talk about being gay, my elderly auntie wasn't impressed.
She tutted loudly, rolled her eyes and announced to all who could hear her: "What a waste."
My teenaged daughters slunk down in their seats, embarrassed at the forthright, old fashioned point of view on display.

Trouble is, they've also heard much, much worse.

Sometimes my mum says stuff in front of them that makes me want the ground to open up and swallow me whole. I try my best to counter her long-held, all too often hurtful beliefs and more often than not, a row is bound to follow.

Arguing with my mum when she makes an offensive remark isn't a pleasant experience but I always feel I need to stick to my guns so my girls can see that, however much I love my mum, some of what she comes out with can't go unchallenged.

My friend Liz had similar experiences with her former husband's father, with more serious consequences.

"He was very prejudiced on the grounds of race, religion and sexual orientation and some of this rubbed off on my husband," she says.

"He would make comments to us when we were out in public and when certain things were on TV.
I'd often be shocked by how openly prejudiced he was, especially in front of our two boys, right from when they were young. I knew I didn't want the boys brought up to share his views so I would always oppose what he said to make known that I didn't agree or think it was appropriate.

"As our boys got older they noticed it more and they would often correct him and tell him off. Often my younger son would get really upset – both with his dad and granddad, telling them not to say horrible things.

"Last year our teenage son told us he was gay. My husband's reaction was to completely dismiss our son's admission, saying he was too young to know and to understand what it really meant.

"Yet he's a very thoughtful young man who is very sure of his feelings. He felt like he was rejected by his dad and it caused a lot of problems."

Elaine Halligan from The Parent Practice, which offers a range of services to help parents, says it's perfectly normal for older generations to have different values and viewpoints from parents.

But she says: " As parents we do need to help our children realise not everyone will share the same value system as ourselves.


We all have differing opinions and you can't teach tolerance without discussing other people's views and the fact we need to respect the fact that everyone has an opinion.


She warns against being too forceful when opposing opinions expressed in front of children that we don't agree with. "These attitudes may have been accepted as perfectly normal in the grandparents' generation and we are trying to teach our children to be tolerant. We may want to tell them 'you are wrong and your views aren't helpful,' but if we speak critically it may quickly dissolve into a heated argument."

Instead, she advises, a skill called 'reflective listening' can be useful.
She says: "You can answer the older generation by saying 'I can see it is very challenging for you to accept that a modern day marriage may be between two men or two women and that the current legal changes really challenge the traditional concept of the nuclear family . I can only imagine how crazy it may seem to you."

But Elaine adds that another sensible approach is to also talk to your children to explain things were different in their grandparents' day.

This is something I have done countless times over the years and as in Liz's family, my children will also now have something to say back.

"Have a conversation with the kids to explain Granny and Grandpa have differing views to yourselves," she says.

"Show them you value tolerance and embrace ethnicity and these are views that Granny or Grandpa find very difficult as society has changed so much from when they were children."

Elaine adds: "I have a godfather who is racially discriminatory and throughout my childhood used very racially motivated words that I found at the time uncomfortable.

"As I matured I found his views abhorrent and so distanced myself from him and indeed since teenage years have never since been close. In other words his views and opinions eventually ensured we had little in common.

"Most grandparents want to nurture a positive relationship with their grand
children. They may not be aware that their views may cause offence and hurt to others.

"So instead of arguing and making them feel wrong, do let them see that what you value in your family and in bringing up your kids is showing kindness and tolerance to all - modelling this is really important to you and your family."

I've welcomed Elaine's wise words in this respect.

How tolerant can I be of intolerance?
I'm now trying to think about how my mum would react to such a tactic.
Problem is, I know I will soon find out.

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