Adapted from a recent online discussion.
In lieu of grandparents, extend your family circle
Q: A lot of the things I said I'd "never" do, I've done. One was to marry someone whose family didn't like me. After having two long-term relationships where we all got along great, and one where his mother was evil to me, I swore I wouldn't go through that again.
Now I'm years into it and realizing how much this is wearing on me. I think because I'm faced with watching my own parents age, and my mother is in very ill health, I'm really seeing that after they're gone, we've got no one.
And yes, his parents are actively hostile. Therapists have told us to stay away from them because the grandparents won't acknowledge our child's health diagnosis. My husband is supportive, but I'm still struggling with not having any real "grandparent" presence in our lives. Any suggestions? I'm sure others have gone through this.
Carolyn: Too many to count. Some suggestions:
(1) Stop looking back. You chose your husband because you loved him and thought he'd be a good mate, right? And he is, apparently, since he's backing up you and his child by standing up to his parents. You gain nothing now by second-guessing your decision. What's done is done. Despite what people always say, you married him, not his family.
(2) Start looking around. I realize it's going to sound weird to advise you to shop for surrogate grandparents, so I won't, but I will suggest you give the nonfamily people in your life a chance to serve in many of the roles that we normally assign to family without much thought.
What is it grandparents (and uncles/aunties) do, after all? Primarily, they give your kids someone besides their parents to love them and feel invested in their well-being. That's so powerful. They're also keepers of a piece of your history. So if you have extended family or good, old friends who feel a genuine bond with your kids, consider making them a bigger part of your life. There's nothing that says "Auntie" Ann can't come to milestones like recitals and school ceremonies.
Even if no one like that lives nearby or even leaps to mind, that doesn't mean it's impossible. Be patient and open to the idea, and remember there are others in the "we've got no one" boat who might need you, too. It often doesn't occur to people to invite nonfamily to a holiday dinner, say, when such an invitation would be the gratefully accepted beginning of a beautiful friendship.
Anonymous: As a woman who will never have biological children, I would love it if some of my friends let me take on more of a surrogate-aunt role to their little ones. Granted, some families have plenty of real grandmas and aunts, but quite a few don't.
Carolyn: Thanks for speaking up. Don't be afraid to offer to help with the kids, or go with the family to the zoo, or ask to see the kids' soccer game/school play. If you were to offer to bake for school bake sales, you might be sainted on the spot. There are countless ways to show a genuine interest in friends' kids, and therefore countless opportunities to extend your family through these friends.