Not-So-Grand Parents | A Little Help, Please | The Good Old Days


Not-So-Grand Parents

Dear Ask Micah,

Okay this started off when my son was born 10 years ago! And has got worse since my sister in law had her kids! My in laws (I wasn’t married at the time to him) don’t spend much time with my kids! They live 1 1/2 miles away from me! My sister in law used to live a street behind me and they would go visit her and her kids (2 girls, one is 6 the other 4) all the time and wouldn’t stop by my house even if we were outside playing! My husband hasn’t had the best relationship with them.  He has worked for them and their business for over 15 years and now he is the general manager of their new store.  So work always is the main focus of conversations.  They don’t know how to separate it from family! My daughter has only been over there 2 times alone her entire life (she’s almost 4).  I decided to keep up with how many times they see my kids so for a year I kept up with it (still am) and November 2012 until now they have seen my kids 10 times (this includes birthdays and holidays)!

My sister in law has been living with them since May 2013 due to a divorce and her not being stable. So they see her kids every other week (she and her ex have joint custody).  I invited them over for dinner and they have come but I stopped asking when I invited them one time and we were gonna order pizza so I wasn’t in the kitchen cooking and we could all spend time together and they declined because pizza wasn’t good enough (they are a wealthy family with high expectations apparently).  My son has said a couple things about it and I asked them about it and she (his mom) blew it off like it was no big deal! They have come to maybe 5 games of my sons (he’s been playing a sport since he was 4, and yes we give them schedules of the sports).  They go to most of my husband’s sister’s kids stuff! When his mom calls (mostly when she needs something or has a question) I try telling her things about the kids but she never is interested! They will take his sister’s kids to work with them or take them somewhere fun but don’t include my kids! My husband has talked to them about this 2 times and nothing has changed! Even for birthdays or Christmas they do more for his sisters kids! I know my kids will eventually speak up for themselves (I hope) but it breaks my heart that they don’t spend time with my kids! My kids are well behaved and well mannered! They aren’t crazy kids that no one wants to be around! I never was around my family a lot so I don’t get how they can be like this! I know that sometimes people don’t have a “bond” but this is their damn grand kids we are talking about! Money isn’t everything and memories are all we have at the end of the day!

They even treat my husband different than her! If he calls into work he gets bitched at but she shows up to work 2-3 times a week and all is good! The manager at their store can’t even get on to her because she cries to her dad! (My husband works at their new store and his mom dad and sister work at a different location) even when I had my daughter (a planned csection) his mom knew the date time and place and decided to take a trip to see her family that day! So she came up to the hospital for maybe 30 minutes then left and we didn’t see her for another month! I have always respected them, even when I had my son and my husband and I weren’t together I would take my son to their house to see them ANYTIME they called and asked even when my husband wasn’t there! I’m just not sure what to do from here! Especially since my husband works for them and they will let that interfere with work! I want my kids to have a relationship with them but NOT if they are gonna do it on their time and just come in and out of their lives when they want to! But I also don’t want my kids to think I kept them from their grandparents! So my question would be what do I do about how they are with my kids!

KD

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Dear KD,

Why in the world would you want your children to have a relationship with these awful, awful people?  I think your kids are much better off with as little exposure to their grandparents as possible.  I’m sure you’ve heard that expression people use to describe someone who is waiting on or chasing after a love interest who seems unresponsive—“He’s just not that into you.”  Well, it sounds to me like these people, for whatever reason, are just not “that into” your children.  In my book, that makes them pretty awful people.  I do not see how grandparents can take no interest in their own grandchildren.  Maybe it’s because I grew up with the best grandparents I could have ever hoped to have, but I just don’t get it when people have grandchildren that they never want to see.  For whatever reason these people don’t appear to care very much for their son’s kids.  Maybe they don’t care a whole lot for their son.  Maybe it’s you they don’t like.  It seems odd to me because apparently they entrust one of their companies to their son, so they must deem him trustworthy and competent.

You said yourself that you have always strived to make them feel welcome in their grandchildren’s lives—you even took their grandson to visit them when you were not together with their son.  Whatever the reason for their snubbing of your family, it isn’t fair that these kids are left out in the cold while the other grandchildren are adored.  Is it possible that their daughter is actually the child that has disappointed them the most, and maybe she’s the one that has required the most attention?  You know that other saying, “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.”  Maybe they have spent so much time overseeing and greasing her that along the way they got too much in the habit of being there all the time with her family.  That still doesn’t make it right to neglect your children, but if their daughter’s children have needed them more than your children have, it’s possible that they developed a special bond to them and feel more like parents to those kids than grandparents.  Again, that sucks.  Your husband hasn’t done anything wrong, yet his kids are the ones ignored because his screw-up sister is constantly in need of being rescued.  I don’t know if that’s actually the case; I’m just trying to come up with scenarios that might explain their neglect.

If none of these fit the situation, then just chalk it up to them being jack-asses.  Regardless of their reasons, my advice is to stop trying to coerce your in-laws to visit.  Obviously they don’t want to.  Don’t put yourself or your husband through that.  It hurts him to see his parents so disinterested in his life.  This is why their relationship has evolved to just business.  That’s how he copes with it and how he is able to continue to be around them—in a business capacity.  If you keep tossing out invites that are never accepted, it just causes him more pain.  He has found his comfortable line of how to deal with them, and it’s through the business.  Stop reminding him that he’s being shunned personally. The same goes with the kids.  The kids will only be damaged by this neglect if they know it’s happening.  Do not let your children hear you discussing it.  Do not drive by their aunt’s house and point out Grandpa’s car.  You want to minimize the issue to them.  They should not grow up knowing that their grandparents prefer their cousins’ company.  That can only make them start to feel insecure inside themselves which will cause you much bigger issues down the road.

I could tell by your many many exclamation marks in your email that you are hurt and angry.  I will tell you now that you are justified in that anger.  You have every right to be angry.  You are right–they are doing wrong–and it isn’t fair.  Now let it go.  For your kids’ sake, let it go.  I have agreed with you–they are awful people–so drop it now before it affects your kids.  Being angry at the in-laws isn’t worth their mental well-being.  It also isn’t worth causing a rift between the cousins.  I would assume that your kids and your sister-in-law’s kids play together and like each other.  I loved my time with my cousins growing up, and to this day, I think of them and those days a lot.  Although life often takes cousins in different directions, those bonds forged as children never go away.  Do everything you can to foster that cousin-bond between the two sets of kids and do not let their grandparents’ favoritism tarnish their relationships with each other.  This whole situation is the grandparents’ making, not the grandkids, and not even your husband or his sister.  Even if that sister is needy and monopolizes the parents, it’s still not her fault that they do not make time for the rest of their family.

So basically, what I am saying to you is that you are right and your in-laws are wrong, but unless your husband is prepared to quit his job, seek new employment outside of the family business, and sever all ties with these people, then you’re going to have to make the best of it.  They are not the type of people who are going to admit they are wrong, and they aren’t going to understand why you are upset.  If they were capable of realizing this, then they would have realized it one of the many times in the past when you voiced your hurt and resentment.  Clearly they either don’t understand what you’re talking about, or they just don’t care enough to make changes.  You can’t change them.  You can’t change anybody but yourself and how you react to things.

So, again, unless you are all willing to evict them totally from your life, you have to let it go and stop holding on to the resentment.  Remove all expectations from them.  If you expect nothing from them, they cannot disappoint you.  That can be very freeing.  You may find that you start to enjoy their company once you aren’t wrapped up in the injustice of it all.  At the very least, you will remove a heaviness from your heart.  There is nothing wrong with you or your family, and the problem is theirs to deal with or not deal with.  Right now, your family is the only one going through turmoil over this.  Why punish your heart over people who aren’t worth it?  Let it go and just exist with them—no expectations and no investment in whether they like your family or not.  Once all animosities are truly gone, the energy may change and you might find that your in-laws suddenly feel more drawn to your family.  That in no way means that I think this was ever your fault, but guilty people (if they feel guilty) often avoid the person they’ve wronged so that they don’t have to feel guilt.  Once you’ve removed the air of guilt, the whole relationship could change.  And if it never does, at least you feel lighter, and your kids aren’t growing up with emotional baggage just because some old bastards were neglectful.

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A Little Help, Please

Dear Micah,

I am a single mom doing it all on my own.  My husband died two years ago suddenly.  I work full time all day and spend all night working around the house and helping my kids with homework.  You know all the usual stuff.  I don’t ask for much but I do need some me time on occasion.  I ask my mom and dad to come over and watch the kids sometimes and sometimes they do, but more often they don’t.  They say it’s not that they won’t but that they can’t.  They always have something going on.  They are very social.  They belong to a couple of clubs and a lodge.  They are always on the go.  That’s great but I need help sometimes and I think as my parents they should be there more especially since my husband died.  I don’t want to paint a bad picture like they don’t care.  They do care and they have been good to us.  They just can’t give me time and that’s what I need most.  I want some time to go to a movie with a girlfriend or have dinner with co-workers.  My husband’s parents are around too but just my luck, they are best friends with my parents.  If my parents are gone off somewhere you can bet my in-laws are with them.   I have a friend that thinks it’s all on purpose because none of them want me dating again until my kids are older.   Is there a way to sit everybody down and just ask them if that’s the real problem?  I am not interested in dating right now.  I just want some fun time for myself.  Do I have a right to demand some help?  I don’t want to appear helpless and I don’t want to look demanding either.  But I am struggling here.

Jennifer D.

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Dear Jennifer,

I don’t think what you’re asking is out of the question.  And, I doubt that your parents could be so stupid or selfish as to not grasp the situation if you are crying out for help.  So, it makes me wonder if you are actually crying out loud enough.  When you ask them, are you explaining to them exactly what you just told me?  Or are you softening it a little so that your plea doesn’t sound so urgent because you don’t want to be a nuisance?  It just seems to me that if your parents and in-laws understood fully that you are stressed and need some time to recharge, they would step in and help.  I think that you should sit them down and explain the situation.  Have them all over for dinner one night and then when the kids exit the table, leaving just the five adults, ask them if they could come together and give you one day off each week.  Maybe the two couples could rotate Fridays.  Every Friday, one of them could come and watch the kids from 6-10 and give you a break to do something you want to do.  If they seem reluctant to want to help, then try to find out why.  Maybe they are afraid you’ll start dating again.  Maybe they think your children are unruly and hard to manage.  Whatever their reason could be, get to the root of it, solve it, and ask for help.  You cannot get what you don’t ask for.

P.S. If they are just simply worried that you might start dating again, write me back because that is a whole other topic you may want me to help guide you through.

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The Good Old Days

Since I had two questions that both involved grandparents, it got me to thinking about grandparents in general and how different things are these days regarding them.  When we think of grandparents, most of us have a vision of some picturesque Norman Rockwell fantasy.  An image of a big family table with cousins and aunts and uncles gathered all around while Grandma fills the table with a treasure of homemade delicacies.  We think of lazy afternoons when Grandpa would take the kids fishing or out to get an ice cream cone.  As past generations have come and gone, those images of family didn’t really change.  Oh sure, in my childhood, the fishing happened at a fish farm and you had to pay for what you caught, and ice cream cones came from a Dairy Queen or a Baskin Robbins and not from some country general store like in my parents’ time, but the basics of the dream remained unchanged.

Family life has remained pretty standard through the last several generations until now.  Now, times are different, and I think our expectations of grandparents have to change.  We have to redefine in our heads what we think of when we think of Grandma and Grandpa and what we expect from them.  Today, Norman Rockwell’s idea of grandparents doesn’t exist.  Grandpa can’t go fishing.  He has to work because his 401K took a hit.  Grandma doesn’t have time to watch the kids because she’s got an appointment at the salon to get her roots touched up and a Brazilian blowout on her hair.  No more quilting bees, there’s a tennis match to get to.  Grandpa can’t go for ice cream this afternoon because he’s hitting the golf course with a friend from work.  And no one can come for a home-cooked family dinner because Grandma doesn’t cook anymore.  However, they will meet you for a quick bite at that sushi place on the corner.

My grandparents were in their 60’s when I was born.  Many of today’s grandparents are in their 40’s and 50’s.  There is a picture of my great-grandmother at 41 hanging in my hallway.  She looked like Granny Clampett from The Beverly Hillbillies.  Today’s 80-year-olds do not look like that.  Grandmothers today shop at designer stores for fashionable clothes.  When they go to have their hair done, it is an upscale salon, not a beauty shop, and they aren’t getting a roller-set, they are having color and highlights and a fresh new cut.  Grandparents are working and traveling and playing and thriving.  A 70-year-old grandmother today has put down her Guideposts magazine and is reading Fifty Shades of Gray.  Grandfathers are manscaping and growing their beards in and out as the trends change.  They are the cooks in the kitchen at home because they enjoy cooking, and they are healthier than they’ve ever been because they exercise regularly.

Grandparents today are not bad grandparents if they don’t seem as involved in your family as those of generations past.  These are the new breed of grandparents, and they are the first generation of that new breed, so bear with them while they find their feet in this new terrain.  When you think about it, they were also the first breed of a new kind of parent-generation.  They went to every school play their kid was in.  They volunteered with little league and girl scouts.  They didn’t just say “Do your homework,” they helped you with it.  They volunteered at school.  They took elaborate family trips with their kids.  Their entire parenting years revolved around their kids’ schedules, needs, and desires.  That had never happened before.  Their parents didn’t live like that.  In their childhoods, children were just necessary mouths to feed and beings to raise, but the kids knew their place and were often put in it.  The world wasn’t  as kid-oriented as it became in the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s.  Today’s grandparents spent their 20’s, 30’s, 40’s being the best parents the world had ever seen in the history of parenting.  Everything revolved around their kids.  So cut a little slack to them now that they are the new grandparent generation and start to focus on themselves a little more.  We must remember we are judging them on the standard which they created for us.  I think they’ve proven they were great with children.  Now, let’s not begrudge them some well-deserved self-indulgence too.

 

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