Dear Dr. Gramma Karen,
My son and his wife Naomi have been married for three years and are expecting their first child in a couple of months.
They live an hour away from my Naomi’s parents and also an hour away from me. In the past three years, my son has been to my house a few times; Naomi has visited even less. They spend every holiday and summer vacations with her parents. Some holidays they come and see me maybe for an hour.
I love my daughter in law, but sometimes I just don’t like her. She acts like her side of the family is the only extended family they have. On social media, there is not one picture of my son’s family. At their wedding, no pictures of my son’s family were taken by the photographer. My DIL said she forgot. It’s like we don’t exist.
I have told my son how I feel and he doesn’t see it, so I’m not talking to him about it anymore. I know I will hardly ever see my grandson.
What can I do to change all this? Please, please help me.
Dr. Gramma Karen’s Response
My husband and I recently sent a bouquet of daisies to a young friend of ours to acknowledge his heading off to college. We sent daisies because in Norse mythology the daisy symbolizes new beginnings. In thinking about your situation I want to suggest that the impending birth of your grandchild is your “daisy time.” By that I mean there may be opportunities for you to initiate new beginnings for you, your son, and your daughter-in-law.
Before I discuss some of your possible new beginnings, I want to point out that it seems all your resentment is directed at your DIL. I suggest that some of your resentment should also be directed towards your son. Whether he is indifferent, clueless, or wanting to avoid conflict with your DIL, he is not an innocent bystander.
For whatever reasons, your son has not advocated for, much less insisted, that you have a more active presence in their lives. In short, he either condones or approves how you are being treated.
That said, going forward, I think the fork in the road for you is to either continue to be passive and harbor all the understandable hurt you feel, or, to take some actions that might improve your chances of having access to your grandchild in the years ahead. I have four actions to suggest.
Accept that your DIL’s mother will most likely be the primary grandmother and that you will probably play a secondary role.
It sounds like your DIL and her mother have a very close relationship, so it is to be expected that she will turn to her mother first for help and guidance, especially with a first child. As author and grandmother Barbara Graham points out regarding her feeling left out, her daughter-in-law’s reliance on her mother is not necessarily a rejection of her, but simply a preference for her mother: “At this point, I accept that my daughter-in-law will turn to her own mother when she’s concerned about the health and well-being of our granddaughter.”
Ask your DIL and son for their advice on how you can be the best grandmother possible.
I am not suggesting a conversation about you and your hurt feelings; it’s already been made clear to you that this would not be fruitful. Rather, let them know that you want to be the grandmother they want you to be and you want to follow whatever parenting practices they’re thinking about. To this end, you’d like to read books they’re reading and follow blogs and watch videos they can recommend. This positions you as advice seeking, rather than as advice giving.
With your son’s and DIL’s approval, reach out to your DIL’s parents and let them know you would like to get together to discuss with them how you can be a good co-grandparent with them.
You do not live that far away from your DIL’s parents, so spending time together, and hopefully building a personal relationship with them might be possible – offer to travel to them and visit at their convenience. This reaching out to your DIL’s parents brings me to my final suggestion.
Be specific and forthright about holidays and how you might participate.
There are several things you can suggest to your son and DIL:
- “You said you’d be gathering at Naomi’s parents for the holiday. I would like to join you. Would that be okay with everyone?”
- “As you are making plans for the holiday, I want you to know that it would be my pleasure to host everyone in my home.”
- “I know you’re planning on spending the actual holiday with Naomi’s parents, so perhaps we could celebrate the holiday together the week before.”
You may fear rejection by extending these kinds of invitations or by inviting yourself, but I would point out that you already feel rejected, so you have little to lose by being explicit. In fact, you may learn something about the underlying circumstances of you not being included or about feelings your son or daughter may have toward you. If such conversations come up, your challenge will be to listen and to learn, not to justify or be defensive.
I urge you to consider the actions I suggest. Doing so is a strong message that lets your son and your DIL know you see them as the team leaders for raising your grandchild and that you want to be on their team. They, after all, will have total control over your access to your grandchild, so you want them to see you as a willing and cooperative helper.
In closing, please know that I am “sending” all of you daisies and my best wishes for happy and promising new beginnings.
Ask Dr. Gramma Karen is published every other Tuesday.
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