Grandparents

30 Jan

I was reading a post on LiveJournal today, from a mother who does not feel it would be in her child’s best interest to maintain a relationship with her estranged mother (the grandmother) and was seeking a second opinion.

It was a bit of a reminder that I’ve got to start figuring out the boundaries that I want to set for my parents and in-laws in regards to my unborn child.

See, I feel that my mom can do no wrong.  I really think she did as best of a job as she could given her single-parent status, and I don’t blame any of my personal short comings or problems on the way she raised me.  She had no habits that are contrary to how I wish to parent my child (partying, drinking, smoking, drugging, etc.).  My mom also avoids offering unsolicited advice and even when she does, she picks up on my emotions pretty quickly and would probably step away before a tense situation regarding a non-life-threatening instance happened in front of my kid.And she’s really excited for the baby and lives in a town 3.5 hours from here – when she wants to see the baby, she’ll have to really weigh her situation and set things aside to make the visit a special time.

The problem is, I know I view my mom through rose-tinted lenses.  I feel she can do no wrong, so obviously, I am less apt to be critical of her as a grandparent to my child.  I’m going to have to “check myself” and make sure I’m being fair to my in-laws and others when they are around my child, because otherwise, I’d be putting my mom on a pedestal that others couldn’t attain.

On the other hand, I find my in-laws quite flawed.  My mother-in-law has some life-long mental health problems that caused a strained relationship with my husband that only recently is being rebuilt.  My father-in-law is socially inept and a religious and intellectual bigot; he and I are practically polar opposites in the way we choose to present ourselves to others.  My in-laws keep a far less tidy house than I do.   Parts of their house are like something out of Hoarders.  They have a couple of cats that they keep in different bedrooms because they “don’t get along” and a rarely cleaned litter-box 8 feet straight from the front door.  My M-I-L also  smokes in her home; sometimes she decides to quit but never quite gets past the weaning stage – my F-I-L would rather that she doesn’t smoke at all, but doesn’t know how to positively reinforce her efforts.  Their parenting style seems non-existent. For example, my husband claims that they failed to completely potty-train him and his brother; I don’t know how true this is because he was a child, but it does worry me. His dad also used physical punishment repeatedly on him when he was young; I know I have witnessed domestic violence, so I don’t think I’ll ever allow that to be part of our punishment options, because I don’t trust myself. In current times, my brother-in-law, who is in high school, faces no consequences for having near daily detention for failing to turn in homework.  (He goes to a student-paced work-book based,  private school, with “teachers” who are little more than supervisors, and still manages to fall behind enough that he faces “summer school” to catch back up to his peers; allegedly, if he would just stop napping through the day, he could get enough work done during the school day to avoid homework entirely.)

I try to be respectful of the fact that my in-laws are different from the family I grew up in; a lot of it cultural, some of it because of their state of mental and emotional well being.  I want them to have a relationship with their grandchildren, but because I have trouble understanding their parenting choices, I don’t want to hear “advice” from them, much less allow them to be in loco parentis for long periods of time.  This is going to be a hard issue to address tactfully and respectfully.  My husband and I will have to reach mutual agreements concerning related issues like sleepovers and babysitting before his parents broach the subject, and we’ll have to be firm and clear on the terms of our mutual decisions with his family.  Our baby deserves to know every part of his loving family but it will be our job as parents to keep those relationships from being harmful – physically and emotionally.

Which brings me to my own dad.  My father and I have seen each other TWICE, since my mother separated from him in April of 1993.  I was 6 years old.  He came to our state once when I was in the third grade and spent a weekend with us, I can’t look back and say it was fun.  I know that the little girl I was then was so excited to see her father, but he bought us stuff and took us to an ice show.  I don’t think he tried to get to know us, or at least spend time with each child independently of the other. That was followed by years of broken promises to visit or to bring us to our home state to meet our half-sisters.  It was followed by years of knowing he was behind on child support and pleas left on his answering machine at 3 am pacific time to just talk to one of us.  I did not want him at my wedding and when I was finally able to see my half-sisters nearly two years ago, I held no desire to see him then, but we did run into each other and the meeting was civil.

I have to tell him that I’m going to have a child.  That should be the easy part.  The hard part is going to be letting him know that he will have to make any and all effort to get to know his first grandchild. I personally don’t have the emotional energy or desire to make that effort.  I don’t know my father on a personal level and I don’t know if I’ll ever have the desire to want to know him.  I have a lot of hurt because of his cowardly ways of “parenting” my sisters and me and as an adult, I can choose to not allow toxic people in my life.  As a parent, I can choose for my child, at least until he or she can begin to reason for him or herself.  I’m going to leave that open to him. I’m going to say, “if you want to make contact with your grandchild, you have to be the one to arrange a visit to this state, including finding accommodations.  And you’d better consider bringing my sisters, too.  If you want pictures, you get an email address that I can forward them to, don’t expect personal messages.  We’ll start there, and see how this goes.”

I’ve got to make that phone call before I put it off until the kid is two.

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