I see you are posting helpful hints at the holidays and I’d like your advice on something. I am a stepmom of three children (SD17, SD13, SD8) and have one son (age 11) that I brought into our marriage. We have been married five years and the mother of my stepkids is in and out of rehab and while she lives only a few hours away, she doesn’t see the kids and my husband has full custody.
All of us get along great and my parents live close and they have fully welcomed my three stepkids into the family. We have typical teen struggles but life is pretty good overall.
The problem I struggle with is that my in-laws say they have accepted my son but their actions speak otherwise. When they call, they only ask to talk to their “bio” grandkids, at holidays they always send extra gifts for their bio grandkids and when they visit they do extra for their grandkids than for my son. I may be sounding jealous but the problem is that everything is so even (to a fault) from my parents and their preference for their grandkids shines through and while I don’t think my son minds. What is hard on him is that his middle stepsister constantly points out that she and her sisters get more and that proves their grandma likes them better. She has told my son that my in-laws are only her grandparents and not his. While this also hurts me to hear what my stepdaughter says to my son I haven’t told my in-laws because I think it needs to come from their son but my husband says his mom is not going to change and telling her this stuff isn’t going to make a difference.
Don’t know if this is selfish or not but what is hard on me is my mother in law will make comments like “your son seems to be warming up to me” or make negative comments about my son comparing the kids and I just nod and smile and want to say well the reason he seems distant is because your granddaughter points out all the differences to him and says you are not his real grandmother but I don’t. I know it’s not worth it to say anything. She will be hurt and won’t really hear what I am saying. I do believe she intends well but is just not aware of how her actions can cause issues. Honestly, her actions probably wouldn’t be as noticeable if my stepdaughter didn’t blow things up and say things to the kids…. but when my husband has tried to talk to his daughter and set boundaries she actually does it more. It’s a delicate balance.
Having said that, as the holidays approach I get apprehensive about what my mother in law will do with gifts and how my stepdaughter will try and use it to make my son feel bad. Can you please offer some suggestions? I don’t want this to affect my relationship with my in-laws but I can’t help but get stressed with the division this often brings into our family.
Lisa (name changed to protect the stressed and conflicted)
Thanks for writing in. I’m sorry to hear this is a struggle for you. In-law issues can cause stress and that stress can impact you and your marriage. You are wise in processing this and understanding that words and choices spoken are impacting you.
The truth is we can only control ourself and what happens in our home. You cannot control your mother in law nor can your husband but you can control what is brought into your home with the use of boundaries.
If your in-laws lived next door to you, boundaries would definitely be necessary. Ideally, your husband would set a boundary with his mother, however, it sounds like he isn't willing and you can't force it.
All actions have natural consequences. Your son feeling distant to his “step” grandparents is a natural consequences of the favoritism you describe. You didn’t mention if the mother’s parents are active in the grand children’s’ lives or if your mother in law was a mother figure to her grandkids before her son married you.
Whether consciously or unconsciously some grandparents will try and over compensate if the other set of grandparents go “missing” after their child (bio parent) leaves the family. This is the grandparents acting from their heart but it can send a confusing message to the kids. “Stuff” can never make up for a missing parent or grandparent and others cannot rescue you from pain.
Life isn’t fair and often we have to use those moments to teach our kids those lessons and it can be hard when outside relatives try and make up for it.
It is beyond fantastic that your parents have welcomed your stepchildren into their family and are very even steven. That is great especially because it does sound like they see them on a more regular basis but understand that is probably more of the exception than the rule. Just like most stepmoms feel different towards their stepchildren than they do their biological children so to do most grandparents. While you may feel different about your stepdaughters than your son you most likely strive to treat them the same. Often times some grandparents don’t do that and it is unrealistic to think they will feel the same. The issue is that their actions seem to cause division and that is difficult to process and work through.
It sounds like you truly want to help all your kids and the best you can do is model a healthy marriage built on good communication and faith, being a listening ear to all the kids and not judging and gently guiding.
I hope this was helpful. I thank you for sharing and for allowing me to share with my readers and ask their advice. Fellow stepmoms, do you struggle with issues with your in-laws? Have you had to put up boundaries? What advice do you have for this stepmom? Thanks ladies for supporting and encouraging one another.