Ask Sahaj: How do I respond to intrusive questions about my biracial grandkid?

Sahaj Kaur Kohli. Photo Twitter @SahajKohli

Dear Sahaj: My loving, and well-loved, 7-year-old granddaughter is biracial. A few times when someone sees her photo they’ve commented, “Oh, your daughter married a Black man?” Beside being incredibly rude, it isn’t true. But do I need to tell friends and acquaintances the whole story? What short statement works?

– Frustrated Grandparent

Frustrated Grandparent: You don’t need to tell anyone more than you don’t want to. Though it’s likely most people don’t mean anything by it, it can be frustrating that that is the first thing they say.

Depending on your comfort with the person, you may kindly push back on the question. This can sound like, “I’m sure you didn’t mean anything by it, but I don’t see how that’s important.” You could clarify her dad’s racial identity or your daughter’s marital status without going into a story about it. Or, you can simply say, “No, she did not.”

When someone says something that is rude, sometimes the best response is to not respond to it at all. Simply, you can redirect the conversation. This may sound like, “She’s really sweet and loves …” Or, “I really love how she …” By redirecting the focus on your granddaughter’s personality or interests, you demonstrate that it’s not important to focus on her racial identity and that there are far more interesting things about her.

Dear Sahaj: My daughter lives in a country halfway around the world. She is in a serious relationship with a man who lives with his parents, and she’s developed a warm relationship with his family. Despite being educated in the United States, my daughter’s beloved seems reluctant to visit us here, saying he must get approval from his father and never making more than vague plans. We would welcome him with open arms if given the chance. He has an open invitation to visit, and we do not pressure my daughter or her boyfriend – really, we don’t even bring it up.

What advice do you have for us to be welcoming, friendly, humble and willing to learn? Because my daughter and her boyfriend are from different cultural and racial backgrounds and the boyfriend makes excuses why he can’t visit, we are afraid of doing something wrong – but more than willing to keep an open mind and correct any mistakes we might make. Privately, we feel hurt and confused by the distance, especially because it seems as though our daughter is welcomed by his huge and extended family, but we don’t know how to bridge the gap. Thank you for any advice you can give us. I love your column and your thoughtful and nuanced responses.

– Humbled and Open

Humbled and Open: On one hand you don’t want to pressure your daughter or her boyfriend, and on the other you aren’t saying anything. This may be contributing to a sense of disconnection you feel. I wonder if being concerned with saying the wrong thing is rooted in a fear that you may push your daughter away? This begs the question of the quality of your relationship and how open you feel you can be with her about what you are feeling.

You want to explore if there’s a middle ground. For example, you may name how you feel with your daughter by saying something like, “I feel nervous about saying the wrong thing and making things worse. I don’t want to bite my tongue because I really care about you. Can we talk about what I’m feeling?”

You can show curiosity by asking your daughter more questions to understand the situation. This may sound like, “Are there cultural differences I should be aware of, or that would help me understand [boyfriend] better?” Or, “This is new to me, and while I may not understand where he’s coming from, I want to try.” You may even ask for guidance by saying something like, “We’d really love to meet him. Is there anything we can do to help make this happen?” I do also wonder if there’s an opportunity for you to visit her at any point and tack on an introduction to him then.

Right now, it seems like your daughter’s partner feels unfamiliar and, sorry for the pun, foreign to you. Are there ways you can nurture a relationship with him from afar? This may be telling your daughter that you’d like to talk to him next time you and she have a call. Even if it’s just asking how he’s doing, or learning more about him, this can build intimacy and comfort with him – and vice versa.

While it can feel like an unfamiliar situation, you want to be a support to your daughter. This may sound like, “I’d love to learn more about him. What are your favorite things about him?” Or, even simply just asking her if she’s happy.

Regardless of if there are cultural differences, remember the values that are important to you – kindness, openness and so on. These can help you have empathy while also finding micro ways to continue to nurture your relationship with your daughter – and by default her boyfriend. These smaller moments, questions and conversations can help build the foundation for something deeper, and bridge that gap you feel.



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