Carolyn Hax: Dealing with a parent’s prejudices

Carolyn Hax
Columnist May 22, 2012

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

What can I do to protect my children from my parents’ inherent sexism? I am an intelligent woman. I received my bachelor’s and master’s from top universities, I had a decent career as an accountant before becoming a stay-at-home mom. I’ve never, ever been referred to as smart. My brother was the “genius” while we were growing up.

The last straw was today. My son was telling my dad that he did a lot of work at preschool and my dad said, “That’s good. You have to work hard to grow up smart like your dad.” I don’t even think my parents know what my degrees are or where I’ve worked.

I’m worried about how this is going to influence my children. I know I can’t protect them from everything, but they see my parents three to four times a week.


Daughter of Sexist Parents

Wow. What have you said to your dad about this?

Carolyn:

I cannot talk to my parents. If I complain about anything, I’m being “too sensitive.” My dad thinks I’m a pinko liberal mainly because I think he should put his guns away before my kids come over.

But my kids LOVE their grandparents and they’re the only grandparents they have.

For what it’s worth, I did not have a relationship with my parents from when I left for college until I was 30.

Daughter again

Then you’re going to have to push back in various ways. Among them: Lightly challenging your dad’s orthodoxy on the spot, with, say, “... and if you work really hard, you can be as smart as your mom.”

You’ll also need to be very consistent on gender around your kids, and support them for who they are vs. — pointedly — for the personas assigned to them by rigid thinkers.

And, you’ll need to supervise visits, especially if Grandpa won’t lock up his guns.

Also remember that despite your father’s bias (or perhaps because of it), you have confidence in your intellect and you’ve declined to be pigeonholed by any orthodoxy, right? And you did this with a biased parent. So, it’s okay to project that your kids will see past this unhealthy influence. Your influence is so much greater.

Re: Sexist Parents:

My paternal grandfather was totally racist. In addition to setting excellent counter-examples, my parents talked to us openly about the fact that he was racist and his views were flat-out wrong. But they also helped us understand that my granddad was still a wonderful man who loved us to bits, and that such views were more common among an older generation. The daughter should have a similar conversation with her kids — early and often.

Anonymous

Kind of an un-teaching moment. Thanks.

Re: Sexist Parents:

This is pretty much the tack I took with my kids, to approach childrearing from a point of supporting them as people and projecting that they’d see through unhealthy influences.

So one day, when we were visiting the grandparents, my 19-year-old turns to me in a quiet moment and asks, “Has Grampy always been an overbearing a---?” I nose-jetted coffee everywhere and hallelujah’d the long payoff.

Anonymous 2

I second the two-nostril salute.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Subscribe at www.facebook.com/carolynhax.

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