Arrow-right Camera
News >  Features

Carolyn Hax: Adjust your expectations of dream family

Dear Carolyn: What should a mom do when her children feel rejected by their own grandparents?

My in-laws are divorced, yet each is disconnected from my children’s lives, despite living no more than 15 minutes from us. My own parents live an hour away yet visit frequently, help out and never miss a chance to see them in performances or sports competitions. The difference has become noticeable to all three, who are now in elementary school. 

Grammy only comes over when invited and on holidays has dictated when that will be, based on her other kids’ schedules. Did I mention these are her only grandchildren? 

She does give gifts to the kids and in emergency situations will babysit. She has attended a few of their events, but it requires my husband picking her up and catering to her. 

As for their Gramp, he has never attended a birthday or holiday gathering. Instead he calls up a day or so afterward and tells us when he can come over. He arrives, sits down, takes pictures with the kids and usually leaves within the hour.  

Now here is the core of the issue. I married into a highly dysfunctional family, and the result is my kids now suffer. As an only child, I had dreamed of marrying and creating a warm, extended family for my children with loving aunts, uncles, cousins and especially grandparents.

How do I resolve this? How do I explain to my children, who deserve to be loved and valued by the people around them, that these relatives are the losers in the equation? – Disillusioned Mama

You want to lay this all at your in-laws’ feet, and from your description, their behavior sure makes that tempting. We’re talking grandkids here! Who doesn’t love grandkids?!

Your in-laws, that’s who. Or, they love your kids but love themselves more. Or love them plenty but are morons at showing it. Or love them in the abstract but find kids annoying. Or they have the classic gerania in crania. Who knows. There’s certainly ample precedent for each.

Here’s what we do know:

You dreamed of a warm, extended family for your kids. Then you married into a highly dysfunctional family. And you didn’t adjust your dreams accordingly.

So while your in-laws are fully responsible for their stunted excuse for grandparenting, you are responsible for continually setting them up to fail – and continually exposing your kids to that disappointment.

When people disappoint you in significant ways, you have a choice: carry on without them, or reset your expectations to reflect what they actually give. Since they’re your husband’s parents, and more oblivious than evil, attempting the latter makes sense.

That will require you to make changes, since you can’t make anyone else change. I suggest several:

Where your in-laws impose on you, cheerfully stick to your plans. “Darn, we’re serving the turkey at 6, not 3. We’d love to have you here, though, so do holler if your plans change.”

Where they come up short, treat short as sufficient. Good sportsmanship, thy name is you.

Where they disappoint your family, use them to instill coping skills in your kids. “I’m disappointed too. But you know what? This is how they’ve always been. That reminds me not to take their choices personally, and just accept them as they are.”