Tag: in-laws

Confronting Less Than Grand Grandparents

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Hi, Whit:

My parents and my husband’s parents live close to us (mine, around 20 minutes, and his, within an hour), so we are lucky, especially since we have a two-year old daughter, “Kelsey.” Both sets of grandparents have been around for Kelsey’s birthdays, and we can easily go to both houses for Christmas/Hanukkah, Thanksgiving, Mother’s Day, etc. This should be the ideal set-up, right? But it’s not.

The problem is that my husband’s parents don’t really seem that interested in Kelsey. They are generous with birthday and holiday gifts, but they don’t spend much time with her. Even though they are all retired, only my parents are available if we need some help with her. To be honest, we have never asked my husband’s parents because they have never volunteered or indicated any willingness along those lines. They even want to be called “Grandmother and Grandfather” instead of much more affectionate names like “Nana and Pop-pop.”

What really bothers me is that I want my daughter (and any subsequent kids) to know all of their grandparents and have a strong connection like I did with my grandparents. I want her to feel special and loved by my husband’s parents like she does with mine.

I’ve wanted to talk to them so that they know how I feel, but my husband doesn’t see any point because, as he says, “They are just different people” than my parents. I feel like I ought to do something since it’s a question of how her life is going to be with them. I just can’t forget about it because I don’t want her to miss out on something so important. What do you think I should do?

Wants the Best for her Daughter

Dear Wants:

What I think you should do is to refrain from speaking to your in-laws about the way they behave toward your daughter (and especially what they want to be called by Kelsey) Talking to them can only make them feel that you disapprove of them as grandparents, which, of course, will only make them more hesitant to do anything with or for Kelsey.

Whit’s End: In-Law Trouble

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christmas-drama-3

Hi Whit,

When my husband and I were dating over 10 years ago, I introduced my friend to his brother and they eventually got married—and now they are getting divorced after having had two children who are now 5 and 7. The break-up was nasty and there are hard feelings, especially because my BIL accused my SIL of having had an affair, which she never did.

Recently, while they were separated, my (and her) FIL died and my BIL refused to let my SIL  (his wife) attend the funeral at the church with her children.  My SIL is very upset because she wants to be with her kids so that she can console them during a traumatic event.

Obviously my BIL wants to punish my SIL by excluding her from the funeral because that’s the kind of mean, vindictive person he is.  My SIL and I agree that the damage to the kids should be more important than getting revenge, but don’t know what to do about it.

My SIL wants me to talk to my husband to see if he can somehow persuade his brother to be reasonable. However, my husband says that he is going to stay out of it because it’s between his brother and his wife. What do you think I can do? Should I try to do anything at all?
Stuck in the Middle

Side-Stepping the Stepmother

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Dear Whit,

I need some advice about a sticky family problem.  I’m in my 40’s, married with children, and my father’s new wife (my mom passed away about ten years ago) is quite a bit younger than him. My stepmother (it creeps me out just to say that, so I’ll call her “Amelia”) and I have cordial relations, but she definitely is not “family” to me the way my dad, my two brothers, and my sister are.  Now that my dad is getting older, Amelia has taken over responsibility for some of their household tasks, which my siblings and I mostly appreciate. My siblings and I are annoyed, though, that she routinely answers my dad’s cell phone and responds to texts addressed to him, so we have no way of communicating with him without going through her. They also have a joint email address. Since Amelia sometimes seems kind of resentful, I am not exactly eager to communicate with her.  Just recently, I wanted to talk to my father about something, but thinking of Amelia reading the text or answering the phone was enough of a barrier that I did not do it.  I feel cut off from my father yet reluctant to just ask her to butt out.  Any recommendations?

Stuck With a Buttinsky

Dear Stuck:

You new stepmother sounds like the kind of person who would be cool under fire.  When she faces a threat, she grabs it by the throat, wrestles it to the ground, and then dares it to get up. Not the kind of person you want to cross, but perhaps someone you want on your side.

As such, I’m betting that she has a job with responsibility and authority and that your father is retired—am I right? Furthermore, if Amelia holds down a job and still manages to have “taken over responsibility for some of their household tasks,” she must be efficient but also busy—very busy. In addition, she sounds as if she is used to being in charge and doesn’t mind if she steps on some underlings’ (your and your siblings’) toes. Could that insensitivity or disregard be part of why you say she “creeps me out”?

If you were to confront Amelia about blocking access to your father, I suspect that she would bristle at being left out of the mix. Given Amelia’s authoritative personality and the protective role she serves for your father, you can set up some new arrangements that will give you personal access to him without setting off any familial IEDs.

Different Values

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This is the first in our series inviting writers to anonymously share family struggles. If you would like to submit your story, please contact [email protected]

What do you do when your values clash with those of your son and his wife?

Our son, Jim, and his wife, Cathy, are ultra-conservative Christians, while my husband and I are cafeteria Catholics.

Jim met Cathy at work. He’d never been interested in our Catholic faith, but a few weeks after their first date, Jim started going to Cathy’s church. He didn’t tell us he was going to church with her until after they’d been dating for a couple of months. Their wedding ceremony was performed by a minister Cathy had known since childhood.   Clearly, our son was committed to his new wife, his in-laws and his new religion. He never discussed any of this with us. Perhaps he thought we’d feel wounded or disappointed. We took consolation in the fact that he wanted to live a faith-filled life.

After Jim and Cathy had their first baby, my husband and I noticed we were not asked to babysit, and the baby was not brought to our home to visit. Though we had never dropped in on Jim and Cathy unexpectedly, we had been instructed by our son to call before coming over to see the baby. At the time, I thought it was a reasonable, understandable request, but when we found out that Cathy’s parents were doing all the babysitting and allowed to visit anytime with no call-ahead reservation necessary, we felt like outsiders and it hurt!  

At first I tried to convince myself that it was because we were the parents of the Dad, and maybe that’s how it goes: The parents of the dad have to wait until the mom (our daughter-in-law) is ready to allow us full access. I told myself I could live with that; it’s always been my goal to be a good mother-in-law. It seemed clear Jim felt closer to Cathy’s parents, but I consoled myself with the old fridge-magnet adage, “Your son is your son until he takes a wife, but your daughter’s your daughter all of her life.”

The first time we were asked to babysit, the baby was four months old. The other grandparents weren’t available. Last choice caregivers or not, we jumped at the chance to prove we could be the greatest of babysitters.  When we arrived we were given instructions about sleeping and feedings. We were also given specific instructions about what we could and could not say in front of the baby. No “Oh my God” or any taking of the Lord’s name in vain. No four-letter words.  I reminded our son that we don’t use that kind of language, and if we did, a four month old wouldn’t understand us anyway. He said the baby would pick up on our attitude. Really? Okay. 

I could see my husband’s face. The vertical vein in the middle of his forehead – the one that’s not noticeable when he’s content – was bright red and throbbing. But we said nothing; we were afraid if we raised a fuss, we’d not be asked to babysit again. So we smiled and assured our son we would follow his instructions.   

That’s how it goes most of the time. No screaming, no yelling, just subtle reminders that they have rejected our values and found something else. We fall in line because we don’t want to be any more excluded from their lives than we already are. 

I don’t try to lure them into religious debates. But if they say something I don’t agree with, I’ll tell them calmly without anger. One day they were telling me I should live by the bible, word for word. When I said I didn’t agree and thought the bible was a good guide for living one’s life, but not to be taken literally, my daughter-in-law said, “I’ll pray for you to change.” Boiling inside, I didn’t show my anger. Instead, I said that I completely respected their right to believe as they wish and to raise their children as they think best; that I would always respect their wishes regarding their children; that I don’t believe in trying to one-up them with religion and that I can see what may be right for me may not be right for them. A couple of hours after I left their home, Cathy called to apologize.

Recently, Jim said his daughters won’t be allowed to date – ever.  He and his wife believe that God will send the right man to marry them. Uh, good luck with that. People need the practice of dating and romantic relationships to make a good decision about whom to marry. When the opportunity arises, I will try to discuss this in a non-confrontational way. I’ll try! Due to the rules my son wants to impose, I’m concerned some of my grandchildren will rebel.  How will they handle it?  Will they reject them? I just don’t know.

Once in a while I’m encouraged.  The other day, Jim said to me, “Mom, it makes me angry to see Christians carrying signs putting down gay people. Don’t they know Jesus would invite gay people to dinner?” Hearing this made me happy and proud. He has a loving, accepting heart buried in his fundamentalist chest. 

I will not allow my family to be torn apart by religion.  There is too much of that in the world.  So I will continue to try to live and let live; to love my children for the virtues I see in them and to hope and pray that they’ll practice acceptance and tolerance too.

I felt rewarded by the Mother’s Day card Jim and Cathy gave me.  In it they wrote that I am a helpful gift to their family.  I hope they mean it because knowing that I am helpful to them would make my day, my year, and maybe, just maybe I might be a good mother-in-law after all, if not the absolute best.

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