Dear Miss Manners: Seventeen months ago our granddaughter was born. Initially, my son wasn’t sure he was the father, but blood tests proved that he was.
Even when he wasn’t sure of his paternity, he accepted (at 18 years old) that the child was probably his and jumped into the role of father. He now lives with his girlfriend and baby and works to support them, going to college part-time. My husband and I help them out as much as we can and rejoice in our granddaughter.
Our sadness is that our son’s paternal grandparents (the only ones still living) have completely rejected his baby and his girlfriend. In their words, “We do not presently accept that she is our great-granddaughter.”
This has devastated my son, who was always close to his grandparents. His grandparents don’t want to hear about his daughter from him or from us, refuse to come to family gatherings, yet expect us (including my son) to maintain smooth albeit artificial relations with them, to visit them, exchange gifts at Christmas (though without coming to our house), keep in touch, and so forth.
My husband continues his regular contact with his parents, focusing on their needs as they grow older. I find it uncomfortable to visit them without ever mentioning my son, his girlfriend and his little girl, who live next door in a house we own, and who are beloved and central people in my life. My son, for his part, has given up trying to be a good grandson and has ceased to communicate with his grandparents.
How can I best behave in this situation? I don’t want to mirror my in-laws’ rejection of my son’s girlfriend and child by rejecting them in their turn. Yet my heart is not in our newly superficial relationship. I find that I let weeks go by without so much as a phone call to inquire about their health. It feels wrong, but I am truly angry at them for letting their morals come between us. What should I do?
Gentle Reader: As grandparents, you are doubtless old enough to remember the astonishing change in attitudes about illegitimacy over the last few decades.
With dizzying rapidity, society went from almost universal condemnation of illegitimacy to absolving the children but condemning the mothers (remember “there are no illegitimate children, only illegitimate parents”?) to condemning the fathers as well, until a micro-second later, deciding to absolve everybody.
Miss Manners recognizes that each of these stages had its horrifying injustices. And like everyone else, she wants to be sympathetic to innocent children deprived of their rightful heritage, heroically overworked single mothers and fathers alienated from their children.
So here we all are, with the paradox of condemning the situation while absolving everyone in it.
And here you are, proud of your son for the simple duty of looking after his own child (although without, Miss Manners notices, marrying the child’s mother) while condemning your parents for “their morals.”
Since nobody seems to know what to do, Miss Manners is glad to turn to the smaller problem of what you in particular should do.
You should explain to your son your parents-in-law’s position that it is wrong to bring a child into the world unprotected by the stability of marriage. (Oops! Speaking of social change…) And you should explain to them your son’s position that the child is nevertheless there and should not be deprived of particular family ties for social generalities.
As each is right and each is wrong, but all seem to have a strong sense of doing right, perhaps you will succeed in reconciling them for personal purposes, if not in their moral stances.
The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Judith Martin United Features Syndicate
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