Care and Feeding

My Daughter’s New Friends (and Their Parents) Are Terribly Racist

What should we do?

A little girl looks on while other children play with a ball
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Thomas Northcut/iStock/Getty Images Plus and olga_sweet/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My husband and I (as well as our daughter, “Chloe”) moved to a new state about a year and a half ago. We live in an extremely White suburb that is surrounded by a large, non-White city. We wanted to live in the city, but the crime rate caused us to look elsewhere. As a result, everyone in our neighborhood is White. There are eight other children that live in our neighborhood that are around my daughter’s age (she’s 7). The first few months were great, and she was constantly going over to other kids’ houses to play or inviting them here. She was a little socially behind in our last town, so I was happy she had made friends. But then I started to notice that her friends were terribly racist, and after inviting the kids’ parents over for dinner … the parents are racist too. Not just microaggressions or an off-color joke (which would be bad enough by itself), but just full-on, blatant racism. Even my husband, who is from a small town that still has Klan activity, was shocked and appalled.

I don’t want my daughter spending time with these children. When the pandemic happened, we didn’t have to worry about it too much because no one was seeing anyone. But the neighborhood kids have started spending time together again (at a distance), and my daughter has been asking to go outside and play. The kids have also come and knocked on the door a few times asking for my daughter, but I made up an excuse. On the one hand, I don’t want to deprive my daughter of friends (she goes to an extremely small magnet school and isn’t really fitting in there, not to mention her classmates live 30-plus minutes away). On the other hand, I don’t want her to befriend racists! My daughter recently told me she had been feeling left out. What do I do?

—Not Raising a Racist

Dear NRaR,

Cut those monsters off for good. This sucks for your daughter, but the refusal of White families to suffer the discomfort of staying distant from racist neighbors and relatives is part of the reason racism isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. There are penalties for those of us who are targeted, for those who try to avoid or call out the racists, but hardly enough for those who actually, willfully choose to engage in bigotry. You can use the pandemic as an excuse if you don’t feel comfortable explaining to parents that you don’t want your child exposed to certain attitudes (and while part of me wants to say “YOU NEED TO CALL THEM OUT,” I recognize that you could be putting your own safety in jeopardy to do so), and after a while, they are likely to either get the hint or just give up on trying to get your kid to the junior Klan rally at the park.

As far as your daughter goes, you have to explain to her why you are keeping her away from these children. Be empathetic, as she is likely to be hurt and confused, both by the actions of these other families and by your move to keep her isolated from them. Work on scheduling some online/phone activities with her school friends and try to get her a (socially distanced) activity on the calendar with them in real life once a month or so. Do not relent, as it is very easy for even a kid being raised by parents who are deeply committed to equality to be seduced by the words of another child.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I have noticed that my oldest brother (college age) has been swearing around the house a lot lately. Our parents are against swearing around the house. I can handle other people swearing in the outside world, but this is affecting my younger brother. I personally don’t swear. Recently, my older brother called Republicans “a–holes,” which is true, but not OK. I noticed that my older sister does this too. For some context, I am 12 and have five siblings, me being the second youngest. My question is do I say something to my parents? In the past in similar things I have asked my parents not to share that I was the one who told them something like this, and they did not listen.

—What to Do?

Dear WtD,

I appreciate your commitment to respecting your parents’ rules. However, I also want you to remember that the use of swearwords is not a moral failing, which you probably already get, seeing as you agree with your brother that a certain group of people are “a–holes.” So the problem isn’t the words themselves; it’s the violation of the rule.

Rules are important, but they aren’t always easy to follow. Your brother, who is an adult, is able to use the language of his choosing in many scenarios, which makes it all the more likely that he’s going to slip up when he’s in his parents’ home and expected to follow rules that were created with children in mind. Your older sister, who is a teenager, is also at a point in her life where she and many of her peers have begun to adopt language that would not be accepted by their parents.

Do these words bother you? Or is the issue the fact that your siblings are violating rules? If it is the first one, then I’d suggest you politely ask your siblings not to curse around you, though I’m not confident that two big kids (I can call them that) are going to respect the wishes of a 12-year-old in this matter. You can also begin to accept that you will be spending time with people throughout your life who will use words that you don’t like, and that you shouldn’t make a big deal about it unless the language is harmful or offensive in some way (such as calling your friends “a–holes,” as opposed to a group of people whom you also resent).

If this is about them defying your parents’ rules, what might come of you telling on them? You’ve already suggested that your parents are likely to out you as the tattletale, but do you think anything will change? Will this just create a bad situation between you and your sibs? Just focus on you doing the right thing around the house and let the big kids be big kids.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My son has been married for more than 10 years. We’ve never seen eye to eye, but I never disliked his wife, “Sally,” until his son came along. A lovely young woman, “Allison,” gave my son the gift of a son, and of course she and the boy are the light of our lives now, and part of our family. Sally has never been polite/accepting of Allison, and though she’s never been rude to the boy (of course, my son would never allow it!), she’s never shown any motherly instincts or tried to bond with him. My son sees his boy two to three times a week at Allison’s home and is an excellent, involved father.

My grandson had his fourth birthday during quarantine, so we made the family gathering a bit of a party for him. We haven’t had a picture together for more than a year, so we decided to take one to commemorate the family being together again. As the focus was my grandson, I obviously asked Sally to kindly step out of the picture so that his family would be pictured for his fourth birthday. She unkindly refused and even tried to drag my son into it, who obviously didn’t support her and pointed out she was being disrespectful. She got very quiet and said she wanted to leave, and when my son said he wouldn’t, she called a cab and went home alone.

Since then, Sally hasn’t reached out or made any attempts at reconciliation at all. I would like an apology, but I would settle for her to publicly acknowledge that she ruined my grandson’s party and acted like the child herself. She’s never tried to be family to the child, and then she gets offended when it’s acknowledged that she’s not family. My son says to let it slide for his sake and pick my battles with her, but I think that’s letting her off too easy. She has not even tried to talk to me since the party, and I fear my son is too easy on her as he lives with her most of the time despite the child, so I think she needs a reality check, but I don’t want to make things more difficult for my son unless it needs to be. What is the best way to get through to her that she needs an attitude check and should improve her behavior? She couldn’t have children, so my grandson being in her life should have been a cause for celebration and gratefulness, so I have no idea what she’s thinking and have nowhere to start!

—Family Is Everything

Dear FIE,

If I am reading correctly, your son had a child outside of his marriage to a woman who is unable to have children, and you are asking for her to accept this in “celebration and gratefulness”? If so, oh … oh, my.

Sally decided to remain in this relationship, which does mean that she should embrace this child and nurture him as a stepmother—though I wonder how that relationship has been fostered if visitation takes place at his mom’s house (and I certainly hope that the Dad/Allison relationship has morphed into one solely focused on co-parenting and not whatever was going on that led to this situation in the first place). However, there’s a lot of healing work that needs to go into making something like that work, and I don’t get the impression that the two adults who needed to drive that have made those strides yet.

Regardless of how Sally and your son may have dropped the ball, I’m curious as to why on earth you would ask your daughter-in-law to step out of a family picture when she is, in fact, family. A shot of the boy and his two parents would be one thing (and you’d still take one that also included the stepmom, as she is part of the parent team!), but it sounds like you all literally excluded her on purpose because she is not the child’s biological mother, or, perhaps, because you don’t like her. And that is awful.

This is a mess that your son made, and you have a responsibility to not make things worse by ostracizing your daughter-in-law, who may be a huge jerk but is also someone who seems to have gotten cheated on by a man who got someone pregnant, possibly while knowing that she herself could not bear children. It isn’t for you to decide that she should simply be grateful to have a kid around, but even if it were, you then turned around and said she wasn’t a member of his family! Have some empathy for her and stay in your place. If you want to be helpful, talk to your son about what sort of steps he has taken to heal his marriage and create a bond between his child and his wife.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I have an 18-year-old, a 20-year-old, and a 7-year-old. When my oldest two were in elementary school, smartphones barely existed and were so expensive that only some adults had them, and no kids had their own smart devices. This worked out great: My oldest two had a wonderful, minimal-tech childhood, and now are well-adjusted adults who balance technology use with the demands of the real world. Now, it seems like kids today are given expensive tech when they’re toddlers. I recently discovered that almost every kid in my daughter’s second grade class has their own piece of smart tech, be it an iPad, an iPod Touch, or a regular smartphone.

My daughter has been begging for something of her own to be able to connect with her friends and go online, but I really think she’s too young to be trusted with an expensive piece of technology, and I think childhood shouldn’t be endless screen time (of course, if we got her tech, we would severely limit how much she can use it). I also don’t want her to be exposed to some of the stuff on the internet. We have a computer that she is allowed to use sometimes, and we sometimes let her play on our phones when we’re waiting out in public. Should we let her have some kind of tech, like an iPad, or stick to our guns and keep her childhood as tech-minimal as her older siblings’ was?

—Old Maid

Dear OM,

You can’t keep your youngest child’s life as “tech-minimal” as her siblings’ because tech savvy is no longer a hobby or a privilege but a critical part of her ability to function in the world around her. The pandemic has made it so that in some parts of the country, she’d need to know her way around a tablet or computer to attend school or have social interactions with her peers at all. And even when things return to some sort of new normal, these devices play an important role in our lives that we can’t erase with nostalgia or a desire to keep kids safe, innocent, or physically active.

Choose a tablet that you can confidently navigate yourself, as your ability to understand security settings is critical to her online experience, and allow your child to live in the modern world. Limit her screen time reasonably and ensure that she still goes outside to play, still reads physical books, and still plays with actual toys. You’ll both be fine.

—Jamilah

More Advice From Slate

What do you say to your 18-year-old niece wearing a Make America Great Again hat at a family party? Respect her autonomy as an adult to peacefully display her political views? Counsel her privately that her choice to wear the hat makes you and other people uncomfortable? Ask her why she’s wearing the hat?