Grieving The Relationship I Thought My Children Would Have with Their Absent Grandparents

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This evening as I tucked our five-year-old into bed her tears starting falling again as I had to answer the same question, I’ve had to answer several times before.

“Mommy? When can we go to Grandpa’s?” It hits me when I least expect it. She hadn’t mentioned my dad in a few weeks, but it’s always there in the back of her little mind. I reminded her about how his dog started biting her brother (this was well over one year ago) and until Grandpa would choose to put the dog away while we were there that it wasn’t safe for us. I don’t have to remind her of this as she knows that is why we can’t go there. But every time I see a glimmer of hope in her eyes wishing that I would give her a different answer.

I know how she feels, and it’s awful.

A few nights before this, my oldest son asked me why we don’t see grandma very often. At this point it had been over a month since we had spoken with my mom. I tell him (again) that I’m not sure why we don’t see her much. But the truth is that I do know why. She is a toxic person, and we don’t get along very well. We never have after my parents divorced when I was a child haven’t gotten along since my parents’ divorce when I was a child.I hoped that it wouldn’t always be that way – all teenage girls have trouble with their moms. I thought it was normal and that we’d grow out of it. That somehow things would change as I grew up and had a family of my own.

But it hasn’t.

The older I get and the more parenting stages I pass through, the less I understand my parents. They’re actively choosing not to be involved in the lives of their three grandchildren. It’s impossible for me to understand since all I’ve ever heard from people that are grandparents is how great being a grandma or grandpa is. I wasn’t close with my grandparents, but I saw friends who had amazing and close relationships with their grandparents.

Grandparents are supposed to be fun. They’re interested, engaged and attend every school event, party, and game possible.  I wanted my parents to have this with my children. I thought it would come naturally. But instead, I’m left grieving the relationship I thought I’d have with my parents as adult as well as the relationship I envisioned for my kids to have with them. I feel hurt. I feel sadness, betrayal, anger and confusion.

As I write this I wonder if I’m being too harsh or if I’d be hurting my parents’ feelings if they read this. But then I stop and think that this is the point. This is how things are. I was raised to be a people-pleaser and to feel responsible for their emotions. I can’t give them validation, and I especially can’t give them validation through my children.

So, to my parents that are choosing not to be involved:

You can post the pictures that I send to you (with no response back) of the kids so your “friends” will think you’re an amazing and attentive grandma.

I’ll never ask you for help or for anything because I know at some point it will get held against me or I will have to find a way to repay you to show you my gratitude. I feel free knowing that I no longer depend on you for anything especially financially. There is nothing you have to hang over my head to make you feel like I need you. It’s crushing because while I no longer need you, I want a good relationship with you. I often wonder if I’ll feel guilty after you pass away. Will I always think that I should’ve done more or tried harder?  

I wish I had a close relationship with you, Mom. I see many of my friends refer to their moms as their best friends. They are so grateful for their moms after they’ve had babies. I’m incredible envious of my friends that have this because we don’t have that, and it’s painful. It is also what drives me to be a better mother to my daughter.

I love everything about the holidays except when you both make me feel guilty for not choosing to come to your houses first thing Christmas morning. I really don’t like it when you try to guilt me into going to spend Christmas with our extended families. They understand why we aren’t there, so why can’t you?

It made you so angry two years ago when we told you that we won’t be loading up our three kids anymore to make all of the stops. Christmas morning (and all day) is a special time reserved for us. I want to let our kids feel the Christmas magic of staying in their jammies all day and not being herded around seeing people just because of a date on the calendar.

The times that you do choose to be involved are short, inconsistent and confusing to us all. You’re hurting my babies. You’re missing out on the most forgiving and pure form of love in the world. Love that you don’t have to earn from my children. They give it freely, but I won’t let them experience the level of hurt or feelings of not being good enough like I have.

I never wanted to isolate you but this is a two-way street and I cannot be solely responsible for your relationship with my children. I have to break the cycle and protect them and their emotions. Because in our home, all emotions are okay. We don’t stifle them or punish for feeling them.

I don’t speak negatively about you, but I am done covering for you and making excuses for your lack of time and attention. I can’t do it anymore. It’s a difficult place to be in as mother trying to protect her children but also as a daughter trying to accept that this is the way life is with you.

I see you give your time and kindness to others and wonder why we don’t get the same. I miss what life could be with you. The only thing that give me solace is that I’ve been blessed with the most amazing in-laws that have more than exceeded my expectations as grandparents.

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