Grandmother Angry about Gaining Two More Grandchildren


My son, who has custody of his two children (a girl and a boy), is going to marry a woman with two girls of her own. The four children are all between the ages of 9 and 12. My husband and I have been told that we must treat these two girls the same as we treat my son’s children.

We already have five grandchildren: our son’s two children plus our daughter’s three, all between the ages of 10 to 14. We are very close to our grandchildren, as we have been a part of their lives since birth.

Now, with the addition of two more grandchildren, we simply can’t afford to do the things we enjoyed doing with our grandchildren. I don’t feel right doing activities with my daughter’s three children, as I know my other two grandchildren would probably wonder why they are being left out.

I get angry. My son’s fiancée doesn’t work and has a boatload of problems. Her ex-husband does what is required – nothing more – and there is no help from either my son’s fiancée’s or her ex’s sides of the family. Her expectations of us is causing me to become more and more angry and making it difficult to accept her girls.

My husband and I are having more arguments about this than we have had about anything in our 48 years of marriage. Somehow, I need to get past my ill feelings. I would appreciate your unbiased advice. Thank you.

The phrase “tea and sympathy” has been used as an expression that means showing kindness and lending a sympathetic ear to someone who is troubled or upset.

When you are ready, you will do what you clearly know you need to do: “I need to get past my ill feelings.” But before you can do so, I think you could benefit from a heavy dose of tea and sympathy. I suspect you are feeling a bit emotionally battered right now, trying to deal with the anger you’re feeling towards some of your family members, as well as towards yourself.

I can understand that you’re disappointed with your son’s choice of a new wife: from your perspective, she is bringing some serious issues to the marriage, and you’re concerned how these issues will play out and affect your son and his children. In addition, your son and his wife-to-be have issued you marching orders – that is, you are to treat your son’s two new stepdaughters as you treat your biological grandchildren. No one likes an ultimatum, especially one delivered by one’s grown children!

And, to top things off, your husband of almost 50 years is not allowing you the space you need to vent, or to feel sorry for yourself that you’ve had difficult circumstances foisted upon you. It sounds like several family members want you to move immediately into accepting some big changes in your life. I get that you may be feeling rushed and pushed before you’ve had time to deal with your emotions. I hope you will accept my empathy and cyber-hugs.

That said, it sounds like the biggest challenge for you is accepting the two daughters as step grandchildren. You say that accepting them and treating them equally means financial sacrifices because you will have less to give to your other grandchildren, but I want to suggest this isn’t really about money.

Monetizing gifts and experiences can easily be done, be it for five grandchildren or seven – kids can accept whatever is offered to them as long as they feel they are being treated fairly and equally. I suggest the core issue isn’t financial, but is really about you deciding if you have the emotional bandwidth to accept your son’s two stepdaughters as your granddaughters.

It is worth noting that your son and his fiancée felt they had to explicitly state to you that you have to treat the step-grandchildren joining the family as you treat your other grandchildren. I cannot help but wonder if they were worried specifically about you and how you would treat the two girls, based on your verbal and/or non-verbal behavior. Or, perhaps they were simply being proactive and want to do whatever they can to smooth the way for the two daughters becoming members of a blended family.

As you know, this is a critical juncture point in your life: what you decide to say and do will be part of a lasting definition of you as a person. And not to put too fine a point on things, your whole family is watching and waiting. How you treat the two girls joining the family will most likely shape how other family members, especially your five grandchildren, treat them. You are an important role model.

As your family expands, perhaps it will help you make some important decisions by asking yourself these questions:

  • What words do I want my grandchildren use to describe me?
  • What values do I want to demonstrate to my grandchildren with my behaviors?

Once you’ve answered these two questions, what you need to say and do to translate your answers into action will be clearer to you.

I know you know this, but it is worth emphasizing. The two girls joining your family are children looking for the same things all children seek: to love and be loved. They do not deserve to be emotionally isolated or marginalized because of the actions of their parents. Of course, you have special and close relationships with your biological grandchildren, but it is my hope that your two step-granddaughters are able to bring additional love and joy to your family. I wish you all well.

Ask Dr. Gramma Karen is published every other Tuesday.

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