How do I tell Ethan that his dad’s parents are assholes?
Ethan is seven years old, and completely naïve about the tension between the former in-laws and me. He doesn’t know that we’ve never liked each other. Doesn’t know that even his dad didn’t like them. Doesn’t know about the foul behavior at the funeral (WTH steals a crucifix from the coffin?!) or that there hasn’t been any meaningful outreach from them since January.
And most of the time it doesn’t matter. They were never a major part of his life. He saw them once, maybe twice, a year, and they never really engaged with him, just watched him play from across he room. They’ve never called to talk to him or came to a school function or sporting event.
But last Wednesday, Ethan’s school had a grandparents’ day. My mom went and had a lovely time playing games and enjoying snacks with her only grandson. Ethan made a very sweet card for her – and he also made one for Mike’s parents.
He brought it home and asked if we could send it to them.
Truth is, they moved and I don’t have their new address. Super truth: I could get the address if I really wanted to… IF I REALLY WANTED TO. But I don’t want to.
I grew up with one set of asshole grandparents, too. I saw them on occasion, and my parents never swayed me in one direction or another in terms of my feelings for them. I knew some of the horrible stories about their behavior during my mom’s childhood, but my parents were cordial to them.
(SIDE NOTE: My dad’s mom was an amazing grandma, and I miss her very much. My mom’s grandparents – my great grandparents – were incredible, too. From these three amazing people, I learned what “good” grandparents were, how loving they could be. What a real grandma and grandpa can and should be.)
When I was an adult I chose to cut off ties to my mom’s parents completely. There were two situations that made me realize that these were not people I wanted in my life:
- My grandmother spread a horrible lie about Mike and his behavior at my cousin’s wedding. Not only was the situation untrue, but the person who was supposedly the victim of Mike’s outburst was not even at the wedding.
- My grandmother confronted me at the funeral of my grand grandfather, wagging her finger in my face and screaming, “Who do you think you are?” simply because I went over-and-above to find his favorite flowers. (All of the yellow roses in the area were gone – sent to California for the Rose Bowl. I made a few calls, worked some of my professional contacts, and found yellow roses for the funeral arrangements.) This woman went on to accuse me of performing sexual favors to get an internship at one of the world’s top companies in my field.
That was it. When they sent holiday cards, I marked them “refused, return to sender.” They were not invited to my wedding, not informed when Ethan was born, not invited to any celebrations.
I realized in my twenties that genetics does not make someone worthy of the title “grandma” or “grandpa” (or any other familial title…). Someone genetically linked to you might be a good match for a kidney transplant, but that doesn’t make them a nice, loving person. And you DON’T have to surround yourself with assholes – genetically linked to you or not.
(SIDE NOTE: About three years ago, my parents patched up their relationship with my mom’s parents. I was as polite as necessary when forced to be around them, but I did not go out of my way. I did not attend the funeral of my mom’s mom a few years ago, who was the major source of the drama and conflict. And while I do not have a strong desire to have a close relationship with my mom’s dad, he will be spending Christmas at my house, as she requested. I still do not call him “grandpa” as that is a title he does not deserve – I only refer to him by his first name, even to his face. My kids call him “great grandpa” and when they are older, they can decide for themselves if they want a relationship with him.)
That’s kind of the approach I have with Mike’s family. I won’t proactively reach out – I have no reason to. Hell, I have NOTHING nice to say to them. They know where I am, how to get in touch with me and the kids. Ethan and Lauren will know the stories when they’re older. They can decide for themselves if they want to (try to) have a relationship with them.
Until then, I have a grandparents’ card on my kitchen island.