Q: My daughter will be getting married this summer. The family of the groom participates in social drinking. Our side of the family does not drink alcohol. What would be the appropriate way to handle this situation? Should there be alcohol allowed or not?
Juli: The issue about whether or not to allow alcohol is a relatively minor one. Your daughter's wedding is one event -- the details of what was served will soon be forgotten. The symbolism of how you handle the situation is far more significant.
Your daughter and future son-in-law are building a brand-new family. Decisions like the one you are facing will be important in how that new foundation is established. They symbolize unspoken issues like, "Whose family will be more respected?" and "Whose values will the new couple choose to model their family after?" With this in mind, here's what I would advise:
Involve your daughter and her fiance in the decision. It's their day. It's about them. They are stuck in the middle wanting to honor both sets of parents. Respect them for that desire and honor them as they wrestle through the issue.
Second, consider a compromise. Serving alcohol doesn't mean that you have to drink it or that drinking has to get out of hand. Perhaps serve only wine during the reception.
Whatever you decide, remember that you are supporting a new marriage, not just planning a wedding. Do everything you can to graciously welcome your husband and his family into your own.
Q: My granddaughter is the offspring of an interracial marriage -- her mother is black, her father white. Her parents have now divorced and her dad is no longer in the picture. She often struggles with issues of her "color." What can I do to help her?
Jim: In the first place, don't be afraid to talk about race with her. There's no reason to cover this topic in a shroud of silence and shame. She needs to know that it's OK to be herself, just exactly as she is.
You and the girl's mother should both communicate openly with her about her "color"-related feelings and experiences. Try to understand her situation from her point of view. Ask open-ended questions like, "Tell me what you like or don't like about the way you look" or "Describe a time when you felt different from the other kids in class."
Also, help her meet other kids from ethnically diverse backgrounds when possible. And make an effort to expose her to books, TV shows, dolls, games and artwork that feature multicultural characters and themes. This will help supply her with the positive role models she so desperately needs. It's important for her to see examples of talented, successful and happy people who, like her, come from racially mixed backgrounds. Regardless of what you feel about his politics, President Barack Obama is a shining example of an individual from a racially mixed background who has risen to power and prominence.
Finally, be sure to teach her about the many other kinds of distinctions and likenesses that exist among human beings. People are similar and different in a variety of ways -- race isn't the only distinguishing element. Below the surface, people all have similar needs and feelings. Everybody wants to be loved and accepted. Looks aside, help your granddaughter understand that she is also very much like the kids around her. Race is only one small part of who she is. It's not the defining factor.
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