Regulating Repellent Relatives
My in-laws, though decent people, are nominally Christian. I cringe every time we spend time with them because they use foul language and watch inappropriate movies and TV shows in front of my young children. I want my kids to know and love this side of the family, but I don't want them to be subjected to questionable or even immoral behavior.
This is a frustrating situation for any concerned parent. It's one thing to shield our children from poor examples in the media or steer them away from bad peer influences. But when it comes to family, we're stuck with the ones we've got.
We would not suggest cutting off contact completely with family members. After all, our kids need to be raised in the ways of the Lord, but Uncle Obnoxious and Auntie Annoying need us to bring the Gospel to them, as well. In fact, our visits may be the only exposure they ever get to Christian family life.
Prepare your children ahead of time, every time. “We love Cousin Cussalot, but sometimes he uses words that we don't allow in our family. It's not okay to say them, even if Cousin Cussalot does.” Maybe your little one will pipe up and say, “Hey, Cousin C., we don't say that word in our family.” Also, remembering that children should be taught respect for elders, be sure to point out the relative's good qualities to them. Our kids need to know that good people have bad habits and can sin. We don't want them to think he's a rotten egg altogether, just that he has some things to work on — like we all do.
Have a family policy where you have to approve all movie or TV choices, even if at a friend's house. When you get to the relatives’ house, this will be an ingrained habit. If an offensive program is being shown, your kids will be trained to look to you first for approval. You can discreetly give a thumbs up or down; if the show is inappropriate, they can go play elsewhere without much fanfare. Of course, this assumes that you are present for the visit, which is always a prudent idea. Don't put your young kids in situations where you aren't there to monitor and, if need be, intervene.
Above all, take steps yourself to correct the situation. That is, take the relative aside privately for a conversation about the behavior. It may be that Uncle O. does not even realize what he is doing and will appreciate the heads-up. This is especially true of relatives who are younger and may not yet have children of their own. It may never have occurred to them to “watch it” around the kids. Again, this is an opportunity not just to protect your children, but also to help the adult grow in virtue. If you remain silent, they may never have a reason to change.
Tom has a friend who used to take the Lord's name in vain every other sentence. Finally, Tom stopped him in mid-thought and told him he was offended by this. We've never heard him do it since.
The McDonalds are family-life coordinators for the Diocese of Mobile, Alabama.