I am a divorced mom of two young girls. I remarried two years ago, to a terrific man who had not been married before. My husband adores my daughters and treats them as his own.
The problem is his parents, my new in-laws, do not. While they are supportive of our relationship, and love us all very much, they often treat my daughters as an afterthought. My husband’s nieces and nephews get the full grandparent treatment – humblebrags on Facebook, birthday celebrations, and school event attendance, but my daughters do not. My daughters have noticed the difference, and are uncomfortable with it.
We’ve tried talking to my in-laws, and they’ve agreed to try harder. They don’t have a mean bone in their bodies, but now things feel artificial and weird.
What can we do to make sure my in-laws treat my daughters as full members of the family?
I’m sorry your girls are feeling hurt. Blended families are fraught with complexities first families just don’t have. That can be hard on everyone, especially kiddos.
As a divorced and now remarried mama, you have a unique view of the differences between first families and blended families. Your husband and his family don’t have that perspective. That leaves them fumbling in the dark, knowing that your family is somehow different from the other first families they know, but not sure how to navigate that. It’s awkward for everyone involved, as you’re seeing.
That said, there is so much good news in your situation. Your in-laws are open to conversations about this; you know they are well-intentioned and love you and your daughters. Unlike many blended families, you are not managing a first wife and family on your husband’s side, so your in-laws are not grappling with divided loyalties, as so many do.
Still, your girls are hurting. Here’s what I think you can do to help.
Keep an open dialogue with your husband’s parents. Explore each other’s expectations. What do they want from the relationship with your daughters? How do they compare it to the relationship with their biological grandchildren? Share your expectations with them (again). Talk about where you agree and where you differ, and why. You might have this conversation several times as things evolve, and that’s okay.
Comment kindly on the love they show the other children in your extended family, and gently show them ways to extend the same love to your children. For example, if your nephew receives lots of social media love on his birthday, make sure they know your daughter’s birthday is coming and tell them how much she loves seeing posts from you.
Acknowledge when they meet your expectations, and thank them. Keep them informed on milestones in your girls’ lives; make sure they know about birthdays and school events well in advance.
Stay grounded in the knowledge that you and your girls are wanted. Make sure your conversations are genuine and come from a place of love. There’s no place for snarkiness or passive aggressiveness here. Be clear and kind in your conversations.
Your husband has a role to play here too. He can take the lead on conversations that you are hesitant about. His acceptance and love for your daughters is a wonderful example for his family.
Talk to your daughters. Remind them it’s okay for them to feel sad and left out. Reassure them that families take time to form, no matter their composition. Remind them that stepfamilies can hard for people to understand. Without overdoing it or rescuing them from their negative emotions, assure them that you are all wanted and loved. Encourage them to keep talking to you, and support them as they navigate their discomfort.
Look for ways to continue to build the bond between his parents and your girls. Spend time together as often as everyone is comfortable with. Explore ways for your daughters to spend time with their stepgrandparents. Start small, perhaps with a regular ice-cream date or FaceTime call. Encourage your in-laws to choose a book to read with your daughters, either out loud when they are together or alone each at their own pace. Carve out a regular date night for you and your husband and allow his parents to babysit. Allow them to form their own unique relationship at a pace they set together.
Be flexible. The relationship you’re imagining may be exactly where you end up. Or not. In our family, the children prefer a friendly relationship with stepgrandparents that doesn’t replicate the one they have with other grandparents. Other families prefer no distinction in extended family relationships. Both answers are correct, as is everything in between. What matters is that the relationship formed between your daughters and your husband’s parents is genuine, caring and meets each person’s expectations.
Be patient. Family bonds take time. Things may seem weird for a long time. Things may get better and then take a giant step back. Your daughters may go from wanting a relationship to rejecting one. That’s all normal. Remember, everyone is experiencing this for the first time. Be kind to each other.
You have so much love and positive energy on your team, I am confident this will resolve in a way that makes your sweeties more comfortable.
Sending you all the love and strength I have,
Looking for support as you navigate your own sticky family situations? Join The Tribe, the exclusive This Life in Progress membership community. Tribe members get access to a private support forum, monthly mini-courses on hot topics, regular live Q&A with Kate, and more! Join the Tribe and get your first month free with no obligation to continue. Click here to start today!