My son and his wife are expecting a baby boy in two weeks — the first grandchild on either side of the family. The couple lives with my daughter-in-law’s (controlling) mother and (passive) father, and I don't see a lot of them even though they're only three blocks away from me. My daughter-in-law is very opinionated — much like her mother. I really want to have a relationship with my grandson, but I am so afraid that under the circumstances, I will get [to spend] very little time with him. How do I handle this?
If you’ve ever seen a lifeguard blow his whistle at the beach to force everyone out of the water, you’ve probably seen the effects of an undertow. Being from Kansas, I was clueless the first time this happened to me in California waters. Why was the lifeguard frantically motioning the swimmers to come back to shore?
Shark? Nope. Gnarly waves? Nope. Undertow.
Invisible to the eye, but potentially deadly, undertow currents catch swimmers unaware, causing them to drift out to sea and making swimming back to shore so exhausting that even the hardiest swimmers are endangered.
As I read your question, I can't help but feel your undertow of hurt, disappointment, and judgment. Your feelings toward your daughter-in-law and her parents may be justified, but they have the potential to sabotage the very thing you want — a close, loving relationship with your new grandson. So I’m blowing the whistle here, and urging you to come back to shore and see this situation from a little distance.
We all walk around with invisible radar, picking up on all kinds of "signals." Are we cherished by family or merely tolerated, respected or judged, accepted or rejected?
You may or may not be right about your daughter-in-law's feelings toward you, but she undoubtedly feels your unhappiness with her. That doesn’t mean she should exclude you when her baby arrives, or that she will. She may understand the importance of her son having two grandmas in his life, or recognize the pleasure it brings her husband when she includes you in plans. But given the fact that you only live a few blocks away and rarely see the family, your dire prediction could come true — unless you do something to change the situation now, and escape the undertow of negativity before it sweeps you out to a sea of disconnection and alienation.
Focus on the Positive
You can take action to change things. Start by setting aside your list of complaints about your daughter-in-law and her family and making a new list of things you like about them. This may be easier said than done — you may have mountains of evidence that they deserve your negative feelings — but keep your eye on the prize, and give it a try:
• What are the nicest things your son has ever said about his wife? Look for those characteristics the next time you're with her.
• Often, the things we dislike about someone are simply extremes of a characteristic we actually admire. Is your daughter-in-law assertive? Decisive? Are those qualities that you can respect?
• What pleasant experiences have you all shared as a family? Remind them of how much fun you've enjoyed together.
It may not be easy to create this list. If you're convinced that your daughter-in-law is controlling and rigid, it will be easy to miss those moments when she's flexible and kind. So keep an open mind.
Come back to shore, put pride aside and take the initiative to reach out to your daughter-in-law with gestures of kindness.
• Surprise her with a bouquet of flowers and a card — "Can hardly wait to meet the baby! You'll be a great mom!"
• Call her from the grocery store to ask if she needs anything.
• Stop by to drop off lunch or a copy of her favorite magazine.
She may not be as receptive as you'd like — at least not right away — but don't stop trying to forge a bond. And allow your daughter-in-law to be herself, "warts and all," without judging her harshly.
By coming out of the undertow of your negative outlook and looking for ways to motivate your daughter-in-law to naturally let down her guard, you might be able to ease yourself into her life — and the life of your brand-new bundle of joy.
How well do you get along with your grandchild and other family members? Want to know if your personalities mesh?Find out here.