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Grandparents & the Invisible Partner

Apr21

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I love your blog and I lived by your pregnancy calendar during my pregnancy! My partner and I have been together for four years and we have twin boys who are six months old.

My parents found out that I was gay at the same time my partner and I began our relationship. They blame her for me being gay and will have nothing to do with her. She is not invited to family events, they will not be in the same room as her and they will barely use her name. This was all hurtful and not okay before our boys were born and though I tried to keep the door to our relationship open if I needed to live a lie to have them in my life…well I just wasn’t willing to do that. Fast forward to my pregnancy (news they did not take well) and the birth of our sons. Now that they boys are here they want to have a relationship with them – and my partner and I would like that as well.

However they are unwilling to see the boys if it means that both mammas will be included. I’m just not comfortable allowing them access to our sons if they are unwilling to call a truce and have both mammas around. They don’t recognize my partner as a parent to our sons. Am I being unreasonable? I’m not asking for their blessing, I’m not asking them to march in a parade with me – I’m just asking that they be kind and respectful to us. How do I make this happen? What am I obligated to do to give my children a chance to have a relationship with their grandparents?

Look, it’s been a looooong spring break over here. I just sent one child back to school — only after realizing on our way out the door that I’d spaced on packing his lunch and we’d left his big week-long homework project scattered all over the dining table — I have two more still home with me and my toddler has already interrupted this column four times already by coming in with different pairs of underpants, wanting to have a conversation about the various superheroes printed on them. (“DIS IS BORE. HE THE GUY WITH DA HAMMER.”)

In other words, I may be crankier than usual, so bear with me when I say SCREW THOSE GUYS.

You’re not being unreasonable. You know how I always gank Liz Lemon/30 Rock on these grandparent/in-law columns and talk about dealbreakers? This — meaning bigotry, cruelty, shunning, refusing to acknowledge or pay any respect to a spouse/partner — belongs on that list.

Grandparents can be a wonderful thing, but these particular grandparents are the exact sort of people you want to protect your children from — the kind of people who view your precious family with hatred and judgment, who want to deny you all your basic rights and want your partner to remain invisible in every way possible, to the point that they’ll only get to know their own grandchildren if they can deny her very existence and…I dunno…pretend you plucked them from the local cabbage patch or something.

I think it’s wonderful that you and your partner have been so forgiving and patient, and are still willing to give them more chances after all this time, especially for the sake of your children. Clearly, YOUR values are in the right priority. It’s a shame that theirs are so clearly not, even as history rewrites itself all around them day by day, state by state. It’s a shame they haven’t joined the throng of folks who have finally let their views and opinions “evolve” on this topic.

It’s a shame, but it’s not your fault.

If they want a relationship with your sons, they need to have a relationship with your partner. They need to acknowledge her and be respectful. This isn’t about using your kids like pawns to barter with, this is about standing up for them and their family. She is their mother too. She counts and she matters.

They are just little babies now, but you will blink and suddenly they will be older and perceptive as all hell, and THEY WILL NOTICE. They will notice that Mamma is never there when you go to Grandma and Grandpa’s house. They will notice that Grandma bristles and makes a weird face every time they bring her up. They will notice even the possible slightest bit of passive-aggressive badmouthing of her behind her back.

(My mom’s mother did this to my dad, by the way, in a blatant divide-and-conquer attempt to win over my half-siblings, his step-children. Her reasons were just as bitter/crazy. And we alllll noticed.)

And then — let’s extrapolate a little — Grandma and Grandpa might start bugging you to let them babysit or take them to family events that your partner isn’t invited to, and you’ll be trapped between a rock (two little boys who think the world of their grandparents and want to see their extended family) and a hard place (just what will those grandparents and extended family SAY to those two little boys about you and your “lifestyle,” when you’re not around?). Maybe you’ll write to another advice column wondering if it’s too late to put your foot down, or if you’re being unreasonable by saying no.

They can see your boys, but you both have to be included. They need to come to your house and behave like grown-up, respectful houseguests. Your partner gets invited to gatherings and acknowledged to friends and family. No more shunning or ignoring. Fine, no pride parades or rallies, but let’s try to aim for “begrudging acceptance,” perhaps. (Baby steps!)

It might not happen, yes. Even the barest bit of acceptance and human decency might just be beyond them, since they’ve been so entrenched and committed to this behavior for so long. (And for what? To prove a point? Punish you? Punish her? To show the world what fine upstanding moral people they are?) (OH THE IRONY.) I’m hurting on your behalf just thinking about this situation, but I still want to hug you and then hold you by the shoulder and tell you over and over again that this is not your fault, not your doing. You’re not “obligated” to let them treat your family like crap. And you’re not “denying” your children anything by refusing to tolerate their grandparents’ intolerant treatment. You’re actually doing the right thing.

About the author

Amalah

http://www.amalah.com
Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy's daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it's pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.


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31 Responses to “Grandparents & the Invisible Partner”

  1. Eiko Apr 21 at 4:32 pm Reply Reply

    My heart aches for you, and also for your partner. I can’t imagine being the parent of a new baby — much less twins, and the insane effort and love that involves — and then being told you are not one, you do not exist. A thousand times yes to what Amy said. Bigotry gets a firm NO.

  2. Jeannie Apr 21 at 4:39 pm Reply Reply

    I second everything Amy said. If they can’t behave decently towards the people  you love and who make you — their daughter — happy, then maybe they aren’t people who should have a close relationship with your sons. 

    IMO you are being very reasonable and kind, and your partner too is being very understanding. But I think there’s a limit, and perhaps bigoted unkindness is that limit. 

    Good luck!

  3. SarahB Apr 21 at 4:48 pm Reply Reply

    Everything Amy said plus: Lawyer up.

    What if something happens to you, the birth parent?  What if your parents try to get custody and shut your partner out?  

    Do whatever legal paperwork you need to do–second parent adoption, I’m guessing, if your state doesn’t allow same-sex marriage–to protect your family from anyone who might threaten your partner’s rights as the non-biological parent, and that includes the grandparents.

    I hope they come around.  

    • Tiffany Apr 21 at 8:47 pm Reply Reply

      While you’re at it, do second-parent adoption even if you ARE legally married where you live, because you could travel or move to a jurisdiction where your relationship is not recognized. Hopefully one day soon families like yours won’t have to jump through a berjillion legal hoops to cover all your basis in making decisions for your children, but we aren’t there yet.

      (Here in DC where I live, the married same-sex spouse is automatically regarded as a parent with the same legal standing as the biological parent, but just 10 miles away in Virginia? Eh, not so much. Protect your family.)

    • Ali303 Apr 22 at 2:58 pm Reply Reply

      Oh, AMEN on the lawyering up. It doesn’t have to be super-expensive (contact some local LGBT groups who can point you toward legal assistance ) and get it all in writing.  

      Sadly, your partner may not be recognized by your state’s laws as the children’s mother. God forbid anything happened to you, you’ll want the peace of mind of knowing that they will stay with their family. 

      And, in the end, can I just say that I think the fact you’re still trying to salvage a relationship with them is very commendable? Lots of love to you and your new family. :)

  4. E's Mommy Apr 21 at 4:58 pm Reply Reply

    My partner’s parents blamed me at the beginning of our relationship as well. It sucked. Fortunately they either got over it or keep it to themselves, because they would not have a relationship with their grandchildren if they hadn’t decided to accept me. You don’t have to have a relationship with them if they won’t accept your partner. Find other people who love you and your partner and your kids, they don’t have to be biological family.

    And yes, what SarahB said. Lawyer up! Have your partner adopt the kids, and until that happens name her as their legal guardian if something happens to you. If the two of you are not married get medical and legal power of attorney for each other so that your parents can’t keep her from seeing you or making decisions for you if get hurt or sick and end up in the hospital.

    Congratulations on your new babies!

    • Holly Apr 21 at 6:16 pm Reply Reply

      Oooo! SUCH a good point. I cringe at the thought, but they probably would. Snakes.

  5. Stephanie Apr 21 at 5:35 pm Reply Reply

    Having just finished a routine Living Trust/Will and figuring out potential guardians, I know now how important it is that you legally have everything figured out – not just making your partner have guardianship for your children, but also for your own health care directives/financial guardianship/conservator. This is super important. I did not know that your spouse is not automatically your conservator in the event you can’t make health or financial decisions – you don’t want to wind up in a situation in which your parents would prevent your partner from making decisions.

    Other than that, every Amy said. I’m so sorry you’re going through this from your own parents.

  6. Ann Apr 21 at 5:42 pm Reply Reply

    Bravo, Amy! 

  7. Grammy Apr 21 at 6:28 pm Reply Reply

    This is a real grandmother here, so you should listen to me because I’m older and blah blah blah.

    Grandparents who would deny one of a child’s parents should NOT be allowed contact with that child. Either your parents can do whatever they need to find it in their hearts (and brains) to seriously accept that you have chosen your partner and they, therefore, should graciously accept her into the family, or they have no business claiming grandparental rights. That’s all.

    None of us get to select the partners our adult children choose (at least in this country). If you were not gay, your parents would most likely not like the man you chose. People who think they should have more control over others are often that way. Don’t allow them to poison your children’s minds with bigotry of any kind. The loss of knowing their grandparents will not be anywhere near as bad for your boys as the constant message that there’s something wrong with one of their moms.

  8. Paige Apr 21 at 6:29 pm Reply Reply

    My parents hated my husband, didn’t come to our wedding, never invited him to holidays etc… I fully expected them to not be involved when we had our first baby but my parents realized they had to set aside their feelings about my husband if they wanted to be involved with their grandson and they totally stepped up. Your partner comes first, before your relationship with your parents so don’t feel guilty for one second about setting rules and boundaries. You will never regret standing up for your partner and your kids will benefit much more from healthy immediate family relationships than relationships with toxic grandparents. Good luck, I know it’s a stressful situation to be in.

  9. Grammy Apr 21 at 6:37 pm Reply Reply

    Also — there are plenty of wonderful people who become surrogate grandparents just because they’re friends or neighbors who actually love children and have the time and capacity to play that role for children who either don’t have living grandparents or don’t have access to them.

    In your circle of friends, allow the older woman next door to bake cookies for your kids if she wants to, or the older fellow across the street to show them how to fix their bikes or the couple down the street to let the children select a pumpkin from their garden at Halloween time. Those are enriching relationships. And, as you well know, it doesn’t require any blood relation to love and nurture a child!

    • Kat Apr 22 at 6:17 pm Reply Reply

      I’m with Grammy. I am fortunate enough to have great parents and (mostly) great in-laws, but our sitter is actually an older woman down the street. She absolutely ADORES our son, and he gets quite a bit of grandmotherly love from him. She comes to his birthday parties and has become part of his extended family in so many ways. I think she gets just as much out of this as he does, which is really wonderful to see.
      On your parents – I am so, so sorry. Stuff like that is unacceptable, I’m with Amy. You are totally within your rights to say that in order to see those babies, they need to get over their own opinions and respect the happy, wonderful little family you have created. End of story.

  10. Feisty Harriet Apr 21 at 7:28 pm Reply Reply

    I’m with Amy and the other commenters here. Stand your ground. Lawyer up. Protect your children. Your parents should not be allowed to poison your kids against you or your partner. NOT OKAY! And honestly, I can’t imagine this situation ending any differently than that if they are allowed unsupervised time with your boys. You don’t get to pick and choose which parts of family you want, you pick the WHOLE family or you don’t get the cute little grandbabies.

    Ugh, I’m so sorry you’re dealing with this. I have a friend in a similar situation and it was such a long, hard, slow process (that has yet to reach resolution).

    xox

    • Emily Huston Apr 25 at 7:55 am Reply Reply

      Yeah, I do in favor of other commenters here. In such situation, one should take their ground and should take lawyer help once required. I can’t imagine how painful situation you are passing across. 

  11. Becky Apr 21 at 8:07 pm Reply Reply

    I commend you and your partner for being as understanding and open as you have been. But regardless of their values, beliefs, principles, whatever excuse they’re standing behind, their behavior is unacceptable. It wasn’t acceptable when it was just you and your partner, and the fact that they didn’t wise up after the arrival of two beautiful grandbabies is downright insane. 

    The only thing children really need from their grandparents is unconditional love — and if they could be that stubborn in withholding it from you and your chosen life partner, then I can’t imagine them being a great source of it for your children. I hope for everyone’s sake they eventually come around, because I can’t imagine how painful this is for you. But you should feel zero guilt for drawing a line in the sand on this one … maybe it will be the punch in the gut they need, and if not, I hope you find others in your circle or community to be surrogate grandparents.

  12. Cobwebs Apr 21 at 8:31 pm Reply Reply

    My parents live on the other side of the continent. My ten-year-old son has met them exactly twice. He doesn’t seem to be any worse off for knowing only one set of grandparents, and I don’t feel any particular guilt about their lack of contact. If your parents come around; great. If not, well, as Amy gently points out, your kids certainly aren’t going to be harmed by a lack of contact with hateful bigots. The family you choose for yourself trumps any family that’s an accident of birth (blood may be thicker than water, but so’s phlegm).

    And as several other commenters have suggested, lawyer up, immediately. The last thing you want to happen is for your kids to be taken from their other parent and raised by people who would, y’know, take your kids from their other parent.

    • Debbie Apr 29 at 6:08 pm Reply Reply

      Hahahaha! Phlegm! Perfect.

  13. jill Apr 21 at 8:33 pm Reply Reply

    Nicely done, Amy. I love you when you’re cranky. 

  14. Amy M Apr 21 at 9:01 pm Reply Reply

    Such great and smart commenters! I am in a mixed race marriage and we’ve had a similar struggle with his parents. He informed them BEFORE we got pregnant that if they wanted any relationship with our child they needed to fix things with us. They didn’t and our daughter has met them exactly once. (I might have wanted to stop in and show them what they are missing out on) My daughter doesn’t know anything different that what she has which is a lot of people loving her and us and they aren’t people that I have to worry what they might say to her behind my back. Your parents will have to figure this out for themselves and until then your only job is to enjoy those babies and be happy with your partner!! (and lawyer up and all the other great advice above)

  15. Athena Apr 21 at 10:46 pm Reply Reply

    This makes me feel practically doormat-y. In my case the issue is poly, not gay, and because the birth mother is me and not their daughter, they won’t even accept/acknowledge the *kid*. Which, I’m sure, will totally be a serious problem when she *is* the birth mum and we’ve already decided: NOT OKAY.

    That said, I’d be fine taking them ignoring my husband and I, the ground condition on making “not okay” into “okay” isn’t our acceptance, but accepting our *children*. All of them, not just the ones that happen to be biologically related (all the more absurd for one of the grandparents in question being a stepmum to the mama in question).

    I guess it comes down to, as Amalah said, baby steps. Parents being selectively ignored looks a whole hell of a lot better when the battle you’re steeling to fight is the grandkids themselves being selectively ignored.

  16. Rachel Apr 21 at 10:51 pm Reply Reply

    I agree wholeheartedly. Children don’t need grandparents who mistreat their parents. What if one of your children is gay? Would you want them to take in the message that its okay for someone to treat them like this?

  17. Jessica Apr 21 at 11:01 pm Reply Reply

    I’m going to offer a little different perspective. In-laws have issues all the time, but that doesn’t mean that the grandparents get cut off from their grandchildren. If I was the ignored partner, I would still want my children to have a relationship with their grandparents and would probably send the kids with their other Mom to see them.

    • C Apr 23 at 2:56 pm Reply Reply

      In-law issues do happen all the time. However, this isn’t about a parent disliking a son/daughter-in-law because of a personality conflict or a specific incident, but hatred of them because of what that they ARE. Would you want your children children spending time with them if they were white supremacists or rabidly anti-semitic? Hatred and bigotry towards someone based on skin color, sexual orientation, country of origin, religion, whatever is not innate, but learned. I don’t spend time with people like this, and I certainly wouldn’t want my children spending time with people who will impart these sort of views regardless of the familial relationship.

  18. liz Apr 22 at 1:24 pm Reply Reply

    Definitely do get proxies, guardianships, etc. done ASAP. Though, be aware that the Virginia amendment actually specifically makes enforcement of those things uncertain. The second paragraph reads, 
    “This Commonwealth and its political subdivisions shall not create or recognize a legal status for relationships of unmarried individuals that intends to approximate the design, qualities, significance, or effects of marriage. Nor shall this Commonwealth or its political subdivisions create or recognize another union, partnership, or other legal status to which is assigned the rights, benefits, obligations, qualities, or effects of marriage.”

    That has been read by some courts to mean that proxies etc are invalid when they create a next-of-kin relationship between partners of the same sex.

  19. V Apr 22 at 4:11 pm Reply Reply

    If I was your partner I would be outraged, how DARE they exclude her, how dare you let them. Stand up for your parter, and your children. Partner/spouse first always. I would have left you by now if it was me, who is your priority here? Your bigoted parents or the woman you love?

  20. DontBlameTheKids Apr 22 at 10:01 pm Reply Reply

    Agreed. Tell them to take that hate and shove it. No way would I allow my children’s parent to be treated like garbage. 

  21. Olivia Apr 23 at 10:26 pm Reply Reply

    I’m so sorry your parents ate doing this to you and your partner. It’s not okay, and I wouldn’t give in to them. Perhaps you can leave the door open for them to be better by continuing to invite them to your home or future birthdays, etc.

    So, not exactly the same, but my mother had to cut off visits with a great aunt and uncle of mine. They are terrible bigots and after my (half) sister was born they told my mother I could visit (because I’m white) but they didn’t want to see my sister because she’s half Hispanic. Mom told them it was both her daughters or none. They chose none, and I firmly agree with her. No good would have come from me being exposed to people like that even in the name of family. Today I have a beautiful multiracial family, and I give them the middle finger.

  22. JenVegas Apr 24 at 4:01 pm Reply Reply

    Oh my gosh, this is awful and I’m so sorry you and your partner have to deal with this. It’s just unfair and ugly.
    I totally agree with Amy when she said screw those guys!
    You and your partner are obviously in a loving and committed relationship. If your parents are unable to act like decent human beings and honor this relationship in the most basic sense of the word (like you said, not asking them to march in parades with you) then they do NOT get to have a relationship with your children. People who act like that around grown ups should not be entrusted with the impressionable minds of YOUR CHILDREN. If your kids need grandparents you can come over and borrow my dad and his husband. They are wonderful grandparents to my kid and I am happy to share.

  23. Kate Apr 25 at 11:19 am Reply Reply

    As the daughter of a gay couple who went through something similar I agree with Amy 100%. My situation is a little different in that the grandparents in question are not my biological grandparents and cutting them off entirely wasn’t really an option because their daughter had three older kids from her marriage who already had established relationships with them. Plus, I think my parents always sort of figured they’d come around but I’m in my 30’s and it hasn’t happened yet. They still just sort of tolerate my parents relationship and have never treated me or my younger sister as their grandchildren (no holiday presents, no trips like they took their biological grand and great grandchildren on, we’ve always called them by their first names etc). I’m kind of over it but I can tell you it’s still a source of strain and conflict in my parents relationship. 

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