Don’t Call Me Grandma
Dear All-Knowing Amalah,
I (unlike everyone else, it seems) get along wonderfully with my MIL-it’s my own mother that is the problem. I am her only child and she must have everything HER! WAY! ONLY! even though I have a college degree and am happily married and own my own house…but this is a battle I have been dealing with since I was about 12, and only tangentially related to why I am writing you.
My husband and I have been training our dog to know everyone’s names in the family (for health issues, long other unrelated story), and we decided it would be easier to train him on grandparent names than teach him their regular names and then have to retrain him whenever we have a child. I jokingly told my parents and in-laws that the dog was their ‘grand-puppy’ and what did they want him to call them etc. My in-laws (who are super-dog-loving people) thought it was adorable and told us their preferred “grandparent name.”
My mother, on the other hand, promptly announced that she would NEVER. IN. HER. LIFE. be called anything like “Grandma” or “Gami” or “Nana” or whatever. I was startled by this, as she loves children and I always assumed she would be happy to be a grandparent. She said she was too young, and any children I have will call her “Aunt.”
Now, I’m pretty relaxed about a lot of things, but there is no way my children are going to call their grandmother “Aunt” anything. My family is confusing enough for a child without trying to figure out why they call their mom’s mom “aunt.” I know a lot of kids make up their own names for their grandparents, and I’m happy to go with whatever our future children call her, but you have to call the grandparents something before the kid can talk, right?
Also, I’m sorry, but the woman is 60 years old (don’t tell!). She doesn’t have one foot in the grave or anything, but she’s not exactly a spring chicken either. So I suppose my question is…how should I approach this? Should I just ignore it until there is a real child, and not some phantom-future-child-potential? It seems kind of silly to make such a fuss over what we call her to the dog, but I’m afraid that it will only get worse when there is a real baby involved.
IG. NORE. For now. I certainly understand (and sympathize with) the fact that you and your mother have a difficult history, but this really sounds like a case where both of you are maybe creating problems for yourselves. You both are kind of making a Big Deal over something that really isn’t. At least not yet.
The dog is not her grandchild, so I actually understand why she doesn’t want to be referred to as “grandma” around…a dog. She might love children, but isn’t so much of a “dog person” as your in-laws so your request struck her as strange, and something she just isn’t that into. (Note that while we love our pets, my husband and I were never the sort to refer to ourselves as “mommy” and “daddy” — except occasionally, jokingly — in front of them before we had actual children. While I know plenty of completely sane, non-bonkers pet owners who do that, it just wasn’t for us. To each their own!)
Obviously, her reaction was completely over-the-top: A simple “yeah, I’m not so into that, please teach the dog my given name, thanks” would have been sufficient. Is she perhaps a bit of drama queen, about other things too? But I guess…I just can’t take her pronouncement that she’s honestly going to expect her grandchildren to call her “Aunt Whatever” that seriously. Or at least weigh it as a Serious Issue That Must Be Seriously Dealt With Now Because SERIOUS.
Because once you have a baby, you have my full permission to tell her that’s completely unacceptable and you aren’t going to confuse your child that way. The end! You’ll be the one referring to the grandparents by their titles more than they will, most likely, and can teach your child to call them whatever you want. (And even then, you may end up surprised: Ezra calls my mother-in-law Honey, despite never hearing her called anything but Grandma.) (AND IT’S SO ADORABLE.)
For now, I wonder if she’s just trying to get a rise out of you, or thought your request was ridiculous (or a joke) and decided to respond in kind. Or maybe she’s just having a belated mid-life crisis and got angry that you were trying to prematurely “age” her even more. (Not that I think that’s what you were doing! Just trying to get in the mind of someone who immediately jumps to the worst conclusion, a little bit.)
If I were you, I would respond to her crazy proclamation with little more than an eyeroll and move on. Hit the mental snooze button on this battle. It sounds like your relationship is difficult enough, without making a big federal case out of this particular weirdness. Teach the dog her actual name, and your in-laws’ their chosen grandparent names. Make everybody as happy as possible, for now.
And if in a year or two or three you get pregnant and your mother’s bizarre proclamation continues? Go ahead and keep on ignoring it. Instead of Aunt Whatever, refer to her as Grandma Whatever. Sorry, Mom, no deal. Either come up with an appropriate option yourself (like some toddler-tongue-friendly play on her name?), or deal with being called Grandma, because we’re not doing the aunt thing. No and nope.
Hopefully, when we’re talking about a Real Live Human Grandchild, she’ll be a bit more open and accepting of her role as loving grandmother. The dog may be an apple but your actual child will be an orange, and her reaction will be a little less…fruitcake, if you know what I mean.
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