How can I set limits for my visiting sister with my five-year-old?
August 10, 2017 6:08 PM   Subscribe

My sister's visiting. I love her but we are complete opposites on politics and religion. How can I tactfully but firmly make those topics off-limits with our five-year-old?

My sister's a fantastic aunt, but she's a Trump supporter and he behaves in ways that are spectacularly incompatible with the values (honesty, decency, respect for others) we're trying to teach our daughter. How can I politely but clearly make those topics off-limits with our kid?
posted by kirkaracha to Human Relations (23 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
You can't set limits and expect it to work for a fun easy visit, IMO.

Everything she does reflects her values, her politics, and her religion.

You can't rules lawyer someone in to not being themselves around your kid. And by your own admission, she's not in to honesty, decency, or respecting others any way. What makes you think she'd respect your rules of what not to say or do? Bringing up rules may even entice her to sneak in awful comments that she can claim don't violate the letter of what she agreed to.

You can limit access to your kid, both in terms of time, and in context. I'd only allow supervised/chaperoned contact, keeping her focus on me as much or more than the kid. And when I'm chaperoning, I'd try to use coveratinal engineering and Jedi mind tricks to redirect and diffuse all the many objectionable things she will say or do.

Good luck, stay calm, the last thing I'd want is to brew a sibling fight over this in front of the kid.
posted by SaltySalticid at 6:29 PM on August 10, 2017 [3 favorites]

Best answer: You do the best you can with phrases such as "You know Lisa, in our family we believe......." or "In our house we don't use that language" or whatever is called for. Your daughter will pick up on you enforcing those values in real time. You'll be role modelling standing up for what you believe. You can debrief with your daughter at bedtime, talking about how different people believe different things but this is what our family believes. And you can have conversations with your sister, not trying to change her mind, but just reinforcing your own values and emphasizing that she needs to watch her mouth around your daughter.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 6:43 PM on August 10, 2017 [34 favorites]

Best answer: Much of my family is on the politically opposite spectrum than us. We say "We don't always agree with [grandma/grandpa/aunt/uncle]. But we still love [person]. We believe........?
posted by dpx.mfx at 7:06 PM on August 10, 2017 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Does she know you're on opposite ends of the political spectrum? If so in my family we've made the topic off-limits with a more or less jokey mention ahead of time like, "no politics or it may come to blows!" Etc.
posted by JenMarie at 7:31 PM on August 10, 2017

Best answer: I think some responders might have misread the OP. The OP wrote that her sister is a Trump supporter, and TRUMP behaves in ways that are dishonest, indecent, and disrespectful -- not that her sister behaves in those ways.
posted by cnidaria at 7:34 PM on August 10, 2017 [6 favorites]

Best answer: I believe OP is saying Trumps behavior is dishonest, indecent, and disrepectful; not her sister's behavior.

ThatCanadianGirl has it right.
posted by coldhotel at 7:34 PM on August 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

Would there be many instances where politics or religion would come up in front of a 5 year old?
I suppose if your sister starts going off about immigrants at the table, you could say, "Lisa, you know that we have different views on this. Please refrain from speaking in such a way in front of Hazel."

But your kid is 5. She's getting old enough to know that people have different perspectives on religion and politics. This doesn't have to be a big deal.

Now if your sister is actively saying racist or other hateful things, don't have the visit.
posted by k8t at 7:45 PM on August 10, 2017 [4 favorites]

Most 5 year olds are bored by political adult conversations, so just let your kid go play if the conversation takes that turn.
posted by emjaybee at 8:01 PM on August 10, 2017 [3 favorites]

Sorry, I may have misread the the Trump traits for sister's, but imo honest and respectful people don't support lying, bigotry and bullying, ymmv.

I absolutely see relatives try to casually weasel politics and religion in to plausibly deniable statements to children, the more bigoted the more likely. OP knows sister better than any of us but this question set all my shields on high. Sure, try to make the best, teachable moments, etc, but I still say go in preparing to do work on remediation and prevention rather than expect good success from 'pls don't Trump or Jesus my child'.
posted by SaltySalticid at 8:01 PM on August 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

Of course, there's always the terrible but funny option of teaching your kid to say "He's stinky!" when someone says "Trump" but you are probably a better person than me.
posted by emjaybee at 8:03 PM on August 10, 2017 [3 favorites]

Is it possible to just ask that all political topics be off limits for the duration of the visit -- at least around the child, but ideally just in general since it's going to make things tense and uncomfortable for everyone? This is what we do with my inlaws -- although I know they are quite conservative, we actually don't know for sure if they voted for Trump or not because such things are never spoken of when we visit/they visit. Basically everyone knows it will lead to hurt feelings and less pleasant visits, so we just DO NOT GO THERE. Channel your inner Midwesterner. :)
posted by rainbowbrite at 8:04 PM on August 10, 2017 [6 favorites]

Yeah, this has really been a non issue in our family because the political divide has existed for so long that we all just know not to go there and there doesn't even need to be a formal announcement. Unless there's more that you're not telling us, tell your sister that you'd prefer to avoid talking politics in front of the kid; even if she is a Trump supporter, if she's otherwise a decent person she won't try to indoctrinate your kid.

FWIW, when I was little, the grown ups didn't manage to avoid political wars at Thanksgiving. I wasn't scarred by it. My cousins and I were bemused by the crazy grown ups but we certainly didn't pay attention to the details.
posted by telepanda at 8:57 PM on August 10, 2017

Best answer: Hopefully, a friendly but firm, "We don't talk politics in front of the kids" should be enough.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:02 PM on August 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Sorry, I may have misread the the Trump traits for sister's, but imo honest and respectful people don't support lying, bigotry and bullying, ymmv.

This is the main challenge for me. My sister is a wonderful, kind, thoughtful, spiritual person, and it is very difficult for me to reconcile that with her right-wing politics. Like, don't trust any mainstream media except Drudge Report. I think she was freaked out by 9/11 and took a hard right turn.
posted by kirkaracha at 10:36 PM on August 10, 2017

Response by poster: It's come up because on two occasions our daughter has told us that our sister said that people that know Trump personally say he's very nice. I don't care if they say that because I can only judge him by his public statements, and he's made many, many, many, many public statements that show a disregard for many people and are not compatible with our values.
posted by kirkaracha at 10:38 PM on August 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

Perhaps start by ditching the premise that because her politics are different she must not support your values. Trump can be a lying piece of shit without your sister automatically being a lying piece of shit herself, right?
posted by so fucking future at 10:48 PM on August 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

Even if your sister vocally praises Trump within earshot of your daughter, and your daughter picks up on that and decides to "like" Trump too (in a meaningless, Dylan Pickle-esque way), I don't see how that means your daughter will stop valuing honesty, decency or respect. In your example, your daughter has heard reports that Trump is nice. So the problem is she might... be nice too? Worst case scenario she's confused which... seems like the appropriate response to our current situation, and something that's bound to happen whether auntie visits or not.

Trumpian behavior in children is definitely becoming a thing but that's more about modeling behavior/language that they see on TV and/or from their peers. I would be WAY more concerned about that if I were a parent. If your sister is walking around mimicking Trump's catchphrases or bluster or insults, well, she's no longer a fantastic aunt.
posted by acidic at 11:02 PM on August 10, 2017

I saw a talk recently by a man who had adopted children from several different countries, and one of the interesting things he said was that if you have rules in your house that you expect everyone to follow, print them on a sign in all languages spoken in the house and post it on the wall. But if not talking politics or religion is not a house rule but only a sister rule, that will not help you.
If your sister does not visit often and you are just looking for a way to dissuade her for this visit, you can probably use the current North Korean narrative to your advantage. Just tell her ahead of time that the current situation has you really on edge and you do not want to hear about any current events on this trip. Then do not watch any news during the visit. It sounds like you could us a break from the news anyway.
posted by Short End Of A Wishbone at 11:39 PM on August 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

I would not even bring your kid into it. A simple 'no talk of politics/religion during this visit' rule should do it. It's not like you want to hear it either.
If she asks why, it's because you want to have a nice time with her.
posted by Too-Ticky at 2:41 AM on August 11, 2017

My sister is a wonderful, kind, thoughtful, spiritual person, and it is very difficult for me to reconcile that with her right-wing politics.

Honestly, her politics may not be monolithically as right-wing as you think. My experience has been that when you separate these things from easily identifiable tribal language, where the person isn't sure what the "right" answer is, you get a lot better answers.

I would try turning your sister on to Evan McMullin and the Reagan Battalion crew over at Stand Up Republic - - it may be easier to hear negative points about Trump coming from a more traditional-Republican perspective.

In terms of your daughter, though, I think it's an actually valuable lesson to learn that people can be nice at home and terrible to other people out in the world. Maybe Trump is nice at home - but who cares? He's still destroying the world. Many concentration camp guards loved pets and children, but they still sent Jews to their deaths. It doesn't matter how nice someone is at home if they are cruel to people outside it, and that's an incredibly important lesson to learn.
posted by corb at 4:05 AM on August 11, 2017 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I recently met up with a cousin I hadn't seen in a decade, who is a Trump supporter. On Facebook, we got to the point where we unfriended or unfollowed each other after the election. But in person, we were completely capable of both kind of jokingly saying "let's not go there" if the conversation veered in a dangerous direction. We both know what each other's opinions are about things, so there's no point hashing it out or arguing. If she's on the same page with you about wanting a pleasant visit, this is totally doable!
posted by misskaz at 6:12 AM on August 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Your daughter is coming to you to check out how she think about what your sister says. This is a good thing and you want to encourage it.You can't protect her from exposure to ideas that range from incorrect to hateful. You want to model being loving and respectful towards your sister while also being clear what your own values are. Lots of examples above of how to do it - I just want to say that it is not necessarily a bad thing that this is happening. Trust that at this age your child is going to align with value of her home, not an aunt that she sees a few times a year. (At other ages, opposing views can be more seductive but at 5 this is really not an issue.) So, think about this as a teaching opportunity - what do you want to daughter to learn from this experience and then focus on that. We can love people and still disagree. Being nice to your friends doesn't balance out being mean to people you don't know. People with power need to think about the needs of the people they are supposed to be taking care of, not just what they want for themselves. And then let it go - this is not a big deal to your daughter unless you turn it into one - she is far more interested in her own life than the abstractions of politics.

If I were you, I would want to put a limit on talking about politics just for my own peace of mind and to enjoy the visit but do that for yourself, you don't need to be so concerned for your daughter.

ps - Big exception if they are talking about things that little ears shouldn't be exposed to things (especially violence) if they don't need to be - my daughter had nightmares for years after she heard a short clip on the radio about homes being bombed in a far away war. I wish I could have protected her from that.
posted by metahawk at 12:04 PM on August 11, 2017

At our family reunion this summer, one of my great aunts (one who married into the family) started expounding on how much she likes Trump to two other great aunts (who are sisters & liberals). One liberal great aunt shut down the conversation by saying, "I really love how we can get together as family and enjoy each others' company even thought we all have different opinions. Let's not talk politics while we're here." I suspect your sister might respond well to something similar.
posted by linettasky at 2:20 PM on August 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

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