Grandma’s hate­ful claim of ‘blood’ hurts all con­cerned

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - TELEVISION - CAROLYN HAX Chat on­line with Carolyn at 11 a.m. each Fri­day at wash­ing­ton­post.com. Write to Tell Me About It in care of The Wash­ing­ton Post, Style Plus, 1150 15th St. N.W., Wash­ing­ton, D.C. 20071; or email tellme@wash­post.com

DEAR CAROLYN: My wife is ex­pect­ing our first child. My par­ents are di­vorced and both re­mar­ried; her mom died when my wife was a teenager and her dad re­mar­ried. Our pol­icy is that all our par­ents and step­par­ents are “Grandma” and “Grandpa” re­gard­less of step-sta­tus.

Re­cently, we re­ferred to my mother as Grandma. She an­nounced that in­stead, she’d be [baby-talk-ver­sion-of-grandma-with-ran­dom-vow­els-tossed-in]. I asked why she didn’t want to be Grandma and she an­swered — with­out hes­i­ta­tion, it was clearly some­thing she’d thought about — that be­cause she is the only “real grand­mother,” she should get a spe­cial name.

I told my mom she was out of line and wrong, my wife’s late mother was still a “real grand­mother,” and I knew she didn’t like it but my step­mom and step­mom-in-law are val­ued mem­bers of our fam­ily and grand­moth­ers to this child. She did drop it but didn’t apol­o­gize, in­sist­ing it’s fac­tu­ally ac­cu­rate, even though my wife was re­ally up­set.

My sis­ter-in-law threw us a baby shower last week­end and my mother spent the whole party loudly re­fer­ring to her­self as [nick­name] and, when ques­tioned, smugly re­sponded she’s the only blood grand­mother. We pulled our clearly-hurt step­moms aside, apol­o­gized, and in­sisted we’re not in agree­ment with my mom and try­ing to get her to stop.

Af­ter the party, I let her know how far out of line she was and how we’re not go­ing to use that name, but she said ba­si­cally that it wasn’t her fault they were over­sen­si­tive and that’s what she wanted to be called.

How do I get my mom to back off this stupid toxic nick­name? And more im­por­tantly, how do I help my wife through all this? She’s al­ready hav­ing a tough time go­ing through preg­nancy with­out her mom, so all this “real grandma” stuff is twist­ing the knife.

— Spe­cial Name DEAR READER: How pro­foundly sad.

Your mother sounds inse­cure in her worth and ter­ri­fied of com­ing in 7th in some imag­ined grand­par­ent derby.

The way she has cho­sen to act on that fear is aw­ful, ar­guably evil — what else can you call her in­formed choice to in­flict this pain on your wife? — but it does at least ap­pear to be an act of frailty at its core.

Which is why it’s un­for­tu­nate that your most ef­fec­tive op­tion is to ex­clude your mother if she keeps re­sist­ing in­clu­sion.

But first, re­write the name rule. Let all of them choose their own — that’s a form of equal­ity too. (See: Sneetches.)

Then, to her: “Love de­fines ‘real’ to us, not blood. Claim­ing ‘real’ just for you may com­fort you, but it un­der­mines our beliefs, our val­ues and our fam­ily. You’re my only mother, and I love you, but I can’t in­clude you in our child’s life if you con­tinue to make this claim. Think about it, and let me know what you de­cide.” You see her solo till she drops it.

That, or you all unify: Any par­ent or grand- who hears her say this asks her to stop. Plainly, firmly, now.

This, af­ter all, is how you “help my wife through all this” — by mak­ing sure peo­ple who un­der­mine her emo­tional health specif­i­cally, and your fam­ily’s har­mony in gen­eral, aren’t al­lowed any trac­tion. None.

If she digs in, then she stays in the hole she dug.

Wash­ing­ton Post Writ­ers Group/NICK GALIFIANAKIS

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