Carolyn Hax: Grandparental bliss upended by son’s girlfriend’s kids


Dear Carolyn: We raised our granddaughter, now 8, for three months when covid came.

Then our son’s girlfriend came along with two kids. To our son’s girlfriend it was okay for a while, our visiting with just our granddaughter, but not now that they’re two years together.

Our granddaughter was raised to know politeness. She knows her table manners. My son’s girlfriend’s kids, 9 and 7, are destructive, rough around the edges, and horribly piggy when it comes to table manners. They literally eat with their hands. To eat a piece of pizza, both of them resort to grabbing the piece of pizza with their whole hand and then shoving it in their face. They also take their other hand and pick at said piece of pizza. On top of that, they take that second hand and wipe their face with it, now smearing pizza all over their face. When guided to use a fork or a spoon, they try for a bite or two and then say they aren’t hungry anymore, clearly because they don’t want to suffer through eating with a utensil and getting asked, prodded, and insisted several times to do so.

The boy is destructive and touches and picks up things inside and outside the house with the intention of destroying or breaking them. The girl is a glom and runs around yelling and screaming. She demands the same attention that our granddaughter gets when Grampy is having a conversation and lap time. It is difficult to teach our granddaughter things when the girl is a complete distraction to our granddaughter.

Why should our granddaughter be robbed of this special relationship just because, all of a sudden, Dad got together with a girlfriend who has two other kids?

We really want our granddaughter to have a special relationship with us and continue as the kind, soft, well-mannered child she is.

— Frustrated Loving Grandparents

Frustrated Loving Grandparents: I want world peace and a castle.

But I have to live in the world I’ve got. You have the same limits, and the sooner you accept that, the happier everyone in this story will be.

That means finding a way to be grandparents to whatever children are in whatever your son defines as his family.

· Your son’s decision to blend these two families.

· The added work of two more kids.

And you are free to feel what you feel and think what you want. Yours are real concerns and I am sympathetic. However, they are also a combination of “not up to you” and “best not acted upon.”

Since the former is self-explanatory, I’ll focus on the latter.

All three kids have had even less say in this arrangement than you have. The ill-behaved ones also didn’t decide to have whatever experiences they had, whatever guidance they (never) received, and whatever wiring they were born with to produce the challenges they face. (Certainly no kid wants untreated fine-motor issues, which sound possible from your talk of dodged utensils and broken objects.) So when I read your account of how the nurtured child on “Grampy’s” lap suffers the corrupting side effects of those nuisance children and their unmet needs, I want to bleeping cry.

You, because you are on the scene and because you are here asking — the wrong question, but still — have a chance to be one of the adults who does right by these kids. All of them.

You can help the less socialized two by recognizing all children deserve not only to be valued and cherished, but also warmly taught. We could stop here. This is everything.

You can also help your “real” granddaughter, though, by modeling generosity, flexibility, patience, maturity and love whenever you interact with what is now her family. Currently you are teaching her … well, not these things.

As a bonus, you can help your son by not pulling against the blending process. They have enough natural obstacles without your adding your contempt to the mix. “Piggy”? Sweet sobbing deities.

You can also help the world, no exaggeration. Struggling kids are either everyone’s responsibility now or everyone’s problem later.

And because there’s no more powerful motive than a selfish one, you can help yourselves, too, by resisting the lure of the easy thing — “visiting with just our granddaughter” — and pushing through to the compassionate work of being present for all these children, just because they’re children. For one, you won’t tax your son’s patience to the point you’re no longer welcome.

More important, you’ll be better people for it. As these kids warm to the more hospitable environment you help create for them, you’ll feel better for it, too.

When no one else is around — and I mean no one within an acre of earshot — sure, you can howl about the weight and injustice of this added work. It will be hard. No illusions here.

But then come back to your son and his family ready to be family. Because no child deserves to feel like extra, unwanted work.

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