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Ex Forbids Interracial Dating
Q: My 12-year-old daughter is very mature emotionally and has very fine-tuned common sense. She and I are close and talk about most issues openly, but recently she brought up an issue that I am not sure how to handle.
We are white, but my daughter has an attraction for the black males in her school. She and her father (my ex-husband) are extremely close, but he is very much against her dating black boys.
My ex has threatened to do one of two things if she should want to date a black male: take me to court and assume custody of her, or exclude her from his life forever. I feel stuck! I can't side with her dad at all because I feel if she is treated respectfully in a relationship, the color of the boy's skin doesn't bother me. I also can't allow my child to lie to her father about what she is doing with her life and during her time with me. What do I do?
A: I commend you for wanting to take the high road in this dilemma and to honor all family members involved with honesty. Your ex is hurt, scared, and angry that his daughter would be attracted to and/or wants to date black boys. His heightened fears and considerable prejudice against the black race have made him become a desperate man.
I doubt there is any court that would grant him custody of your daughter simply because you allowed her to socialize with or date black boys. It would take something rather grievous and destructive in your parenting to have a court consider remanding sole custody to your ex. You cannot prevent him, however, from punishing her by eliminating all contact with her. He does have the power to harm her in that way if he chooses.
Going along with and enforcing your ex's demands, which are based upon racial prejudice (and possibly racial hatred), would be a horrible lesson in morality and ethics for your daughter. He may also harbor similar prejudices toward other racial, ethnic, or religious groups and threaten the same things if she wants to date any boys in these groups that he does not like or respect.
I would suggest that you, your ex, and your daughter attempt to air this dilemma in the presence of a skilled, family-oriented therapist. My guess is that your ex will not agree to participate in this process and will cling to his ultimatum. In any event, I would recommend that you and your daughter see a therapist together.
I do believe that your 12-year-old daughter is too young to be dating boys, regardless of how emotionally mature you believe she is "for her age." I would also explore with her why she is drawn to the black boys in her school more than any other group of boys. You seem to have a close enough relationship where you could ask such a question in an open-ended manner. The answers may be very simple or may involve some things that she has not articulated yet. Again, I encourage you to continue to deal with this issue in a forthright and open way, always with the intention of bringing about understanding and harmony, if at all possible.
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Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.