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Ask Ellie: Don't give up on husband's racist family

It is definitely hard to teach an old dog new tricks, but it’s not impossible

My family is originally from North Africa, but we have been in Canada for nearly three decades. We are very assimilated into daily life but have our own customs and traditions that we uphold.

My husband’s family members still make racist comments, in front of us, but look appalled when we call them out. They continuously respond that they don’t mean the comments negatively at all.

Both my husband and I have tried on several occasions to explain to them why their comments are so hurtful. They don’t apologize, get defensive and swear they meant nothing by it.

They’re older but not so old that they can’t see how hurt we are by their words.

How do we move past this so we can enjoy our large multinational family?

Words that Sting

I’m so sorry you have to deal with this. It is definitely hard to teach an old dog new tricks, but it’s not impossible. Sounds to me like you need to keep talking to your in-laws. Try showing them, with words, how their words make you feel. Don’t give up on them — for everyone’s sake, but especially the next generation. Your children need both sets of grandparents to know where both their parents are from, and to be able to form independent decisions about what makes them who they are.

Dear Lisi: About six years ago, I met and married a great guy. His wife had tragically passed and he was raising two little boys on his own. We fell in love and had two baby girls in quick succession. The boys and I have a wonderful relationship, as do they with their half-sisters (we don’t even use the term; I’m just clarifying).

My husband’s family accepted me with open arms and made it easy for me. They had all been close with his first wife and deeply saddened by her passing. But they made space for me in their hearts and I’m so grateful. Extended family get-togethers are warm and loving.

Unfortunately, I just don’t connect with my husband’s group of friends. They’re not my cup of tea at all. I don’t get their humour, their idea of fun, their camaraderie. It’s strange because I think my husband is funny, charming, a great dad, great friend, great husband, and we have a lot of fun together alone and as a family.

It’s not a huge problem but I know it hurts him that I think his buddies are subpar. How can we overcome this impasse?

Loving Wife

Though your husband’s loss is tragic, and no doubt left an indelible mark on both him and the boys, your life now sounds wonderful. You’re a blessing to them and your girls. I’m so happy for all of you.

Here’s the thing: you don’t have to love his friends. It’s OK if you don’t. It’s how you deal with it that matters. Are you rude? Dismissive? Unfriendly? If so, that needs to change.

But if it’s just a connection, then you can figure out how to make it work. Is it just his guy friends that you don’t click with? If so, let him enjoy his guys’ nights. Is it their wives as well that you don’t like? Also, an easy fix — limit how much time you all need to spend together.

You do have four young children, which everyone knows takes up most of your waking hours and cuts down on your sleeping, leaving you exhausted. No one would be surprised if you bowed out of an evening or two.

Ellie Tesher and Lisi Tesher are advice columnists for the Star and based in Toronto. Send your relationship questions via email: ellie@thestar.ca.

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