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My own absentee grandparenting story…

Posted Jul 17 2009 10:16pm

I have really avoided writing about this for some time because truthfully I didn’t think anyone would understand how I felt. But then I saw this essay on Babble.com today from Amina Sharma and it felt good to know I’m not alone - although my story is a bit more severe.

I felt really close to my own parents for a really long time. I used to think that if I hadn’t been born to my parents, I would have chosen them to hang out with. I still think that sometimes. Although those times are now very rare.

As I write this, I have a newborn in my lap snoozing away and a toddler laying her pretty blond head on my leg, waiting for her noodles to cook. And it makes me sad to think that not only will my own parents never share in the joy of these lovely young children - my youngest bundles of joy will probably never meet them - and I may never see them again.

I expected too much, I think. I expected that my parents would come for visits and be grandparents. But even when we only lived three hours away, we still only saw them once a year - and only if I initiated it. As anyone who has read my book Without a Net can tell you - I was the black sheep of the family. I was the not normal one. I got married and had kids starting at the age of 19. The only job I ever really wanted was that of mom - and that was unacceptable to my family. I was mocked mercilessly for choosing kids over career. Even my own mother - herself a stay-at-home mom - was patient but said painful things after an evening of drinking.


But I always loved being maternal - even if I wouldn’t admit to it at 15 or 16. My parents, busy with their new careers and tired of being parents, had me purchase the Christmas gifts and stocking stuffers for my much younger sisters. I loved playing mom to them: taking them to the kids’ movies, hanging out with them, you name it.

And when I was married and pregnant at 19, my parents graciously let me stay at their house with my new husband (I was scared and wanted company). But that’s where the graciousness ended. Soon after giving birth, the talk of jobs (for me, my husband was employed) and daycare and going back to college all began again. I just wanted to stay home with my baby. After we found an apartment everything was good again and my parents once again wanted to be grandparents - cuddling my new son, buying him gifts - you name it.

But I was reminded often not to even think about asking them to babysit, because “I had all those children, I could take care of them.” And I don’t mean babysit like all day day care - I mean, not even a dinner out alone with my husband!

John and I never had a weekend alone until his father and step-mother came and took all the kids away one weekend for my birthday. We haven’t been alone overnight since!:-)

And that’s about where it all ended. By the time I was pregnant with Alex, I became the running family joke and by the final three came along it was always, “don’t you know what causes that yet?” And then there were the complaints about how much Christmas and birthday gifts cost for all of my children…even though I always just asked that they maybe send a card (because my kids love mail) instead of presents.

I couldn’t even get them to stop smoking in the house if we came over for a visit. “It’s my house, I’ll smoke if I want.”

What hurts the most is when they even forget to call on one of the children’s birthdays. I used to send them reminders by email. But even then, they didn’t remember always, so I gave up. They always remembered the oldest kids - the ones they “liked.” But it almost seemed like any child I had with John, my second husband, was not included.

It saddens me because I have very fond memories of my own grandmothers. My father’s mother was much more active in my life and always remembered a birthday or holiday - even though she didn’t have a lot of money. She was famous for her wonderful chocolates and would take me to all sorts of places - including the bar where she was a bartender. She was great fun. When I was a page in the U.S.Senate, she often brought me and my friends all kinds of food from the store - and took me back to her apartment, letting me sleep until noon and eat whatever I wanted. She even chaperoned a Rod Stewart concert for us - Rod Stewart was her favorite performer.

When I had my first two kids, she came to my apartment twice a week and took us out to the store or just to McDonald’s. I didn’t have a car, so it was a welcome respite. I drove for her, but when she would drive, it cracked me up to hear her yell at the old people driving around - telling them to turn their licenses in!

Both of my grandmothers remembered every birthday and I even received cards with a dollar or two enclosed for every holiday - including Halloween and Easter. I thought that’s what grandparents did. That’s the kind of grandparent I want to be.

But, because of other stuff I won’t get into just yet, I have been shunned from my family - and because of it, poor little Seamus didn’t even rate a card - or a phone call - upon his birth. It makes me cry to write it down. I am so overwhelmed with sadness by the shunning from people I once loved so dearly that I can’t even fathom it. My little brain can’t process the information except to write it out.

Fortunately, my children are not lacking grandparents. Now that we are back in Wisconsin, we have John’s dad and his wife who are wonderful grandparents. Even when we were in Vermont, they never forgot a birthday! Now that we are here, they try and come up (we are about 2 hours up the road) around every child’s birthday and do all the grandparenty stuff that kids need.

I was going to try and make an all out blitz and beg for them to forgive me for my failings and to please pay attention to their grandchildren, but I don’t know. I mean, while I have been angry at my children - and my 17 year old has been particularly challenging - I can’t fathom just cutting them off. I can’t imagine just being happy to never speak to them - or any children they have - ever again. I so enjoy my children. Just them being around makes me a happier (98 percent of the time!:-) person. To shun them or cut them out of my life for whatever reason seems so impossible. Even Matt (the 17 year old) who said some horrible, horrible things to me last year and was being manipulative and downright mean, has come around and we have a new peace between us. I always tell him I love him and that I miss him. I want him to know always that he is loved and has a home with us.

I’m a forgive and forget kind of person. I can’t hold a grudge for very long - like 10 minutes tops. So to have grudges held against me is painful. But again, it’s not about me. It’s about the kids - and I hate that they are punished for my perceived failings as a person.

Like the woman in the essay on Babble, I too wanted to just cut the cord and never speak to my parents again - or let my children speak to them. I am refusing any and all gifts from them because I believe that if one is “remembered” on a birthday, they all should be. My husband actually suggested that he buy extra presents for them on their birthdays and at Christmas so that they wouldn’t feel ignored, but I don’t know if that’s a great idea. I simply told all of my kids who are old enough to email that they could continue to communicate with their grandparents either that way or by phone or whatever, but that I thought it was unfair that only some of them received gifts. The older ones thought that was fair. I was impressed by their understanding and loyalty to younger siblings.

In the end, I guess I can’t force any type of relationship on either my parents or my children with them. My parents have chosen to not pursue a relationship with me. Perhaps one day that will change, but I can’t force it. I’ve tried, it doesn’t work. I pray that my own children will never know this type of sadness. I hope more never to cause it.

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