This article was originally published on This Life in Progress and has been reprinted here with the author’s permission.
I am a divorced mom of two young girls. I remarried two years ago, to a terrific man who had not been married before. My husband adores my daughters and treats them as his own.
The problem is his parents, my new in-laws, do not. While they are supportive of our relationship, and love us all very much, they often treat my daughters as an afterthought. My husband’s nieces and nephews get the full grandparent treatment – humblebrags on Facebook, birthday celebrations, and school event attendance, but my daughters do not. My daughters have noticed the difference, and are uncomfortable with it.
We’ve tried talking to my in-laws, and they’ve agreed to try harder. They don’t have a mean bone in their bodies, but now things feel artificial and weird.
What can we do to make sure my in-laws treat my daughters as full members of the family?
I’m sorry your girls are feeling hurt. Blended families are fraught with complexities first families just don’t have. That can be hard on everyone, especially kiddos.
As a divorced and now remarried mama, you have a unique view of the differences between first families and blended families. Your husband and his family don’t have that perspective. That leaves them fumbling in the dark, knowing that your family is somehow different from the other first families they know, but not sure how to navigate that. It’s awkward for everyone involved, as you’re seeing.
That said, there is so much good news in your situation. Your in-laws are open to conversations about this; you know they are well-intentioned and love you and your daughters. Unlike many blended families, you are not managing a first wife and family on your husband’s side, so your in-laws are not grappling with divided loyalties, as so many do.
Still, your girls are hurting. Here’s what I think you can do to help.
Keep an open dialogue with your husband’s parents. Explore each other’s expectations. What do they want from the relationship with your daughters? How do they compare it to the relationship with their biological grandchildren? Share your expectations with them (again). Talk about where you agree and where you differ, and why. You might have this conversation several times as things evolve, and that’s okay.
Comment kindly on the love they show the other children in your extended family, and gently show them ways to extend the same love to your children. For example, if your nephew receives lots of social media love on his birthday, make sure they know your daughter’s birthday is coming and tell them how much she loves seeing posts from you.
Acknowledge when they meet your expectations, and thank them. Keep them informed on milestones in your girls’ lives; make sure they know about birthdays and school events well in advance.
Stay grounded in the knowledge that you and your girls are wanted. Make sure your conversations are genuine and come from a place of love. There’s no place for snarkiness or passive aggressiveness here. Be clear and kind in your conversations.
Your husband has a role to play here too. He can take the lead on conversations that you are hesitant about. His acceptance and love for your daughters is a wonderful example for his family.
Continue reading on This Life in Progress.