It’s amazing how expanding one’s family puts relationships and familial interactions into perspective and allows people to really assess where they’re placing their energy. This realization feels rather timely with the holiday season upon us.
One of K’s uncles has always been a total ass on every possible level. He’s an equal opportunity, offensive, abusive jerk who holds the family hostage with his intentionally shocking words and actions. At Easter, when he found out that I worked for an agency that provides prevention education about and services for people who have experienced domestic and sexual violence, he made a wide variety of rape and abuse “jokes.” He then went into a tirade about finding prostitutes via Craigslist, using colorful language in front of all of us (including his 86-year-old mother), like “shlob the knob.”
He regularly makes racist, ageist and homophobic statements, treats all women as his personal servants, and makes really lewd sexual innuendos. It’s no surprise that this loudmouth has been ejected multiple times from planes before takeoff. The entire family seems uncomfortable with his actions, but no one really confronts him. They take the approach of “that’s just Uncle So & So…” Of course, in true WASPy fashion, they all talk about his inappropriateness behind his back.
Before our wedding, K’s uncle told grandma that he didn’t think he’d be able to take our wedding seriously (whatever the hell that means). When K’s mom heard that he’d said this, she went all mamabear on his ass and told him that if he feels that way, he shouldn’t come to our wedding and basically disinvited him. Things in the family have been especially tense since that point.
When K was little, his uncle acted the exact same way as he does today. He was never shy about using disgusting and offensive language in front of little ears. After the Easter incident, K and I came to the conclusion that we will not be celebrating Christmas at his uncle’s house, where his family gathers each year. We made the decision to confront his behavior when it occurs at future family gatherings, but don’t feel like it’s appropriate to tell someone to change his behavior in his own home. At the very least, we feel that his uncle could use the fact that he’s in his own home as a justification for using whatever language he pleases.
We met K’s parents for breakfast on Sunday and one of the main purposes was to inform them that we will not be at the uncle’s Christmas celebration. We (K especially) were anxious about how this news would be received because, in the past, K’s mom has said hurtful things about how she feels like K doesn’t care about his extended family when he was unable to attend a family function. K outlined all of the above concerns and told his parents our plans. To our relief, his mom expressed her immediate support, saying that it’s our job as parents to protect our little one from influences we deem toxic. She also mentioned that she had tried to confront her brother on several occasions when K and his sister were little and that the uncle just became more obnoxious as a response. K’s mom pledged to confront his behavior at future events in hopes that multiple parties expressing their lack of acceptance for his words and deeds would help to shift the family culture and dynamic around this problem.
I’ve had my share of tension with K’s parents in the past, but after this conversation with them, it’s fair to say that I’ve never felt closer or more protected by them. It was a wonderfully empowering experience.