DEAR CAROLYN: I am happily married to a wonderful man. Recently, his grown son moved in with us and I’m fine with that. However, his son uses the word “retard” quite often and it bothers me – especially when he uses it with his children, 10 and 4, as in, “Don’t be a retard.”
My husband said I’m being “politically correct” – not a compliment! I believe it is our responsibility to teach our children compassion and part of that is not using words that put people down for conditions over which they have no control.
PC In CA
DEAR PC: Then say so, because you’re right. And don’t back down. Say something every time someone uses that word around you. “I find that word offensive. You’re smearing innocent people, and your own children.”
Make sure the kids hear you. An abridged version is fine for follow-ups.
I hope you also give these kids relief from the casual cruelty Dad’s teaching.
With all due respect, when your husband defends his son’s right to verbally abuse – yes, I’m not using the term loosely – his young grandchildren, his “wonderful” earns a fat asterisk.
If these two ethical giants protest your protests, then feel free to remind them of this: Teaching kids it’s OK to use a justifiably radioactive word is like sending them out in shackles. Saying it publicly will get them in trouble in school now, hurt their standing among well-raised peers as they mature, and be potentially lethal to them professionally when their time comes to earn their keep.
If that’s the price these men are willing to pay because it’s so terribly important to fight the big bad PC straw man with gratuitous ridicule of people with developmental issues, then that’s their prerogative – no argument here. But it’s your prerogative to point out that just because you can say something doesn’t mean you should.
DEAR CAROLYN: I often discuss difficult but pretty standard problems about shared custody after divorce with a friend whose responses seem unnecessarily harsh – that I just want to “wallow” and “play the victim” and I’m going to “#@$ up my kids.” If I protest, I’m accused of “not wanting to hear the truth.” When I object to the tone of her texts, the friend will continue with angry texts saying I don’t appreciate her being there for me.
When does “tough love” cross over into abusive tirades? I’m a firm believer that you can be helpful and even critical, but in a loving, supportive way. Is it overly sensitive to point out tone makes a difference?
DEAR TROUBLED: Discuss tone occasionally, and that’s a healthy way to make sure you’re understanding each other.
Discuss tone constantly, and that’s an unhealthy way to keep trying to fix a relationship that’s not working and not responding to your efforts to make it work.
Why do you keep seeking her counsel, knowing she slaps you around?
Discuss your divorce constantly, and even gentle friends sprout fangs – but that’s another column.
Whether her “tough love” is abusive is a moot point anyway; what matters is whether she’s helpful. By your account, she’s only helping herself feel superior.
If your ex-marriage played out this way or if it’s otherwise your pattern, then please consider naming a competent therapist as your new counsel in chief.
Email Carolyn Hax at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.