Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Count on your influence to counter sexist grandparents'
Q: 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'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
Carolyn: Wow. What have you said to your dad about this?
Daughter again: 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.
Carolyn: 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 versus — 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.
Anonymous: My paternal grandfather was totally racist. In addition to setting excellent counterexamples, 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.
Carolyn: Kind of an un-teaching moment. Thanks.
Anonymous 2: This is pretty much the tack I took with my kids, to approach child-rearing 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 (glassbowl)?" I nose-jetted coffee everywhere and hallelujah'd the long payoff.
Carolyn: I second the two-nostril salute.