Dear Wendy: “My Boyfriend’s Ex-Wife Is Teaching Their Kids To Be Racist”

My ex-fiance and I recently reunited after being apart for nearly 10 years. We were high school sweethearts for several years but I wasn’t ready to marry him at the time so we went our separate ways and he eventually married and had two beautiful children. Unfortunately, his marriage didn’t work out, but three years after his divorce, he and I bumped into one another and decided to give our relationship a second chance and recapture what we once had. So far everything has been a fairytale, but we do have one issue: his ex-wife! She is trying to teach her children to be racist towards me because I’m Cape Verdean. Fortunately, the kids love being around me and have no issues with my race at all but they’re forced to go home and deny liking me to make their mom happy. They have also told their father that mommy doesn’t want them sitting on my lap or playing with me. So, what do I do and what does my boyfriend do to try to handle this situation? Should I be absent in their lives in terms of baseball games, school plays, drop-offs, etc., even though she takes her fiancé everywhere? He and I are discussing marriage in the near future but I’m afraid I’d be signing myself and my future children up for 13 years of torture. What should I do? — Colorblind

It totally sucks that your boyfriend’s ex-wife and the mother of his children is a bigot and is trying to use her kids to sabotage your relationship. Luckily, those children seem like smart, loving people and have been doing a great job accepting you in their lives. Continue treating them — and, if you can stand it, their mother — with respect. Go to their events; cheer them on at their games; and smile at their mother when you’re in the same room as her. As long as she is not directly “torturing” you, and you are still fairly new in their lives, you should leave the parenting to your boyfriend and his ex-wife. That means it’s his job to sit down with her and voice his concern about the way she’s raising their children and teaching them to treat not only people of other races, but adults who are romantically involved with their parents.

Your boyfriend needs to explain, without going into detail, that you are an important part of his life and by extension, a part of his children’s lives and it’s time for his ex-wife to respect that — especially if he (hopefully) shows respect for the relationship she has with her fiancé. Unfortunately, there’s no way to police her words and actions and she could very well continue her nasty behavior. If that happens — and frankly, it probably will for awhile — take the high road. Focus your attention on creating the best relationship you can with your boyfriend and with his children. As marriage becomes a more serious option, sit down with the kids and explain that you love them and you’re excited to become their step-mother, but that you’d never try to be their mom because they already have one who loves them very much.

Don’t EVER bad-mouth her in front of them, but let them know that you happen to believe everyone is equal, regardless of race, and when they’re in your home you expect them to respect people’s differences. You and your boyfriend should tell them together that it’s possible for good people to make bad decisions — that adults are human and make mistakes and it’s their job to decide for themselves whom to like and love. No one — not even their own mother — can control their feelings for other people. Children are so much smarter than most of us give them credit for. It’s a great sign that they’ve already shown such a liking to you and seem to question their mother’s behavior. As long as you continue to respect them and the relationship they have with their parents, you can work this out. But your boyfriend absolutely has to have your back — if he doesn’t, there’s no point in being with him anyway — and he has to take a stand against his ex-wife and the messed-up way she’s raising her kids.

How do I become less awkward? I’m 22 years old, super clumsy and get absolutely retarded with conversation when I meet new people or have to interact with co-workers in a fast paced environment where every moment is crucial (I work in radio and concert production). Meeting big wigs and other personalities has me looking like a complete idiot sometimes as I babble nonsense, smile awkwardly, speak at the same time they are or trip over my feet. Obviously I’m not always like this and have the confidence needed if I got here in the first place, and I am in no means a social outcast. In a field where appearance and presentation are everything, what can I do to be less quirky? — Awkward Girl

A simple trick to being less awkward with people is to always have at least five go-to “water-cooler” topics in your back pocket when meeting new people. Water-cooler topics are those issues that are timely and newsy, but not too controversial. We’re talking new movies and popular TV shows (“Have you seen “Sex and the City 2″? “What did you think of the “LOST” finale?), best-selling books you may have read (or at least know about), local developments in your area, like a new coffee shop or a restaurant you just read a great review about, and since you work in radio, music and concerts are always going to be appropriate. It’s important to remember that people like talking about themselves and the more you let them dominate the conversation, the less likely you are to say something stupid. So have a few questions ready to ask anyone new you might meet. I like to ask people if they’ve taken any great vacations lately or have an upcoming trip planned. “Where did you grow up?” and “How long have you lived here?” are always good ones, too. And if you’re meeting someone through somebody else, ask how he or she knows your mutual connection. Oh, and couples are always happy to talk about how they met.

If you ever feel like you’ve said something stupid or awkward, just smile and relax. Chances are no one else noticed your social faux pas, but if you feel they did or if you honestly say something inappropriate, just quickly apologize and make some excuse like you’re a little nervous because you’ve been so excited to meet them or this is a big event you’ve been preparing for for a long time and you’re a bit overwhelmed. We all say and do dumb things sometimes — when we’re able to shake it off and even laugh at ourselves it helps ease others and make them more comfortable in our presence. And if you’ve talked about all you can think to talk about with someone, just excuse yourself to “get a drink” (ask if you can get something for them if you’re headed to the bar or catering table), go to the bathroom, or “mingle a bit.” Always end a conversation with “It was so nice to meet you, So-and-So.” Repeating someone’s name at the end of your conversation not only helps you remember it, it’s also a simple, thoughtful gesture that shows good manners. Try to remember at least one thing from your conversation so that the next time you run into that person, you have something to ask them about. People are always so impressed with those who remember little details about them.

*Do you have a relationship/dating question I can help with? Send me your letters at [email protected]