People’s Attitudes Aren’t Changed By Words, But by Loving Actions Over TimeRon Kelleher
“Well you better watch out for her, you know those Mexicans like to drink their beer.“
“Have you ever seen a polar bear mate with a brown bear?’
“She’s not Mexican? Well that’s even worst because you know how those Indians like their alcohol.“
My Grandfather had his opinions about my Father’s choice for a wife. She’s 1/8th Native American, and for most of her life identified primarily as a white woman. But her long dark hair and sun-kissed golden summer skin wasn’t fooling my Irish grandfather.
“I don’t think anyone ever knew (That I was Native American) unless I told them. You could tell we were if you really looked at my grandparents, aunts, and uncles. I started to get more interested in my Native American culture and history as an adult, but it wasn’t really until Ron’s father said things about me that I felt conscious of who I was.”
An Ah-ha moment of every Mosaic Woman: when you become aware of the complexities of your ethnic heritage because someone else is bothered by it.
It was the 70s in rural Washington and Grandpa Ray’s exposure to anyone browner than him was like spotting a unicorn taking a rainbow bath on your front lawn: it never happened. Until my mother. Barbara’s 1/8th of Native American blood served as his excuse and outlet for all his ignorant racist comments along with pent up bitterness about life in general (he was a complicated guy).
But thankfully, my parents’ relationship was made stronger in the midst of his words.
“Truthfully I just thought Ron’s father was a moron. Ron was very protective of me. It was strange because I really didn’t feel any different. We never talked about being Indian growing up. It was just who we were. I didn’t notice anything until he had a problem with me. I wasn’t real happy with Ray (Ron’s father), we didn’t have a good relationship but I don’t think it affected our marriage at all. I just thought he was ignorant. It made me think more highly of Ron that I could count on him and that if somebody would say something bad about me that he would defend me. It made me think how lucky I was because some people stay quiet and don’t say anything. I knew he would step up.”
Ron and Barbara, My parent’s want to share some advice on surviving and thriving in a marriage where your in-laws are less than loving…
- Stay Unified
Outside influences are unavoidable. People will have their words about you. Stand up for each other and have a game plan for how to handle conflict. Be willing to say something when necessary, and give each other permission to be quiet when words won’t be beneficial.
Your spouse needs to know that you are willing and able to set the standards and boundaries for what is acceptable and non acceptable. Your spouse also needs you to be wise in not fueling the fire of a fight just for the sake of fighting. Remember, stay in constant communication with your spouse on how to approach outside negativity, so there are no surprises and you stay both strong and on the same page.
- Try Not to Get Your Feelings Hurt
This is Barbara’s advice. She says to not take things too personally because it can be tempting to think that negative words from your family reflect the beliefs of your spouse. When her Father-in-Law said racist awful things, she told herself, “That’s not my husband speaking.” She said, “That’s my ignorant idiot father-in-law speaking.” My mother has thick skin and a wise mentality.
Be careful not to associate the inappropriate words of someone else with the person that loves you. Your significant other isn’t to be held responsible for someone else’s actions. Remember that your primary relationship is with your partner, and his/her words are the ones that matter.
- People’s Attitudes Aren’t Changed By Words, But by Loving Actions Over Time
My memories of Grandpa Ray are sweet. He spun me around on the barstool seats of his kitchen, looking over my shoulder while I colored. He loved little brown me. My Father said that Grandpa’s attitude changed over time. Words were never going to change his mind. But exposure to something new eventually changed his heart, which changed the man I knew and grew to love.
Most people’s attitudes aren’t going to be changed by debated words. Hearts are changed once they’re exposed to a story they haven’t previously experienced. My grandfather had to watch my Mother ad Father in a loving relationship with each other. He had to watch them love their adopted Indian child. And over time, as their relationship continued to remain unified, and loving, my Grandfather’s heart softened. By the time he met little brown me, his attitude and his words were different.
As stated previously, verbally set boundaries for what’s acceptable. But fight the instinct to fight. When we fight, defenses are naturally like a wall around our hearts. It’s only when we let our own walls down, and let others see how we love each other that others might catch a glimpse of something glorious, like a unicorn bathing in rainbows on their front lawn.
….Or perhaps just the glorious beauty of your love story.
People will not always look at the mosaic of our lives and find it beautiful. They will find it strange. It will be different. Jarring. Head-turning. Whether we are in an interracial love, adopted, mixed, or simply living a life they’ve never seen before, people often have a hard time finding words of love for that which they don’t understand.
In the Bible, Jesus said that the way that people would know that we are his disciples are by our love for each other. So friend, while other people may not love you for whatever reason, have confidence that they are watching the way you love others. Show them that your mosaic life may be full of unexpected pieces, but they’re held together by a great capacity to love.
I pray that as people witness how you choose to love those around you, that they would know there’s something glorious about you. And that they too would catch some of that glory. I pray that they would find love suddenly taking root in the unexpected places of their heart all because they observed the perseverance of love in your mosaic story.
Thanks to My Parents Ron + Barbara.
Love You Both Always, Rebekah Mae