Grandparents & the Invisible Partner
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.