I didn’t want my children to lose their Grandma even though I was losing my Mom.
The first time I met my future mother-in-law, in an upscale Jerusalem restaurant, she told me, “I’ve been waiting 20 years to meet my daughter.”
As a mother of three boys, she took me into her heart – and her home – unconditionally. I was to call her Mom, my father-in-law Dad. My picture was on their mantelpiece before I even entered their home for the first time, and my tastes evaluated and assessed so that the sheets in the room when I came would be to my liking.
I was lucky – my mother-in-law was not possessive of my husband, her youngest son. Although she wanted us to get married in August, she allowed us to choose a springtime wedding date. She apologized for my father-in-law’s occasional teasing (“Avigail, you’d better watch out, you’re going to lose your shadow if you don’t slow down one day”), and took me clothes shopping every time we visited, bringing me gifts like costume jewelry and scarves whenever she came to see us.
My marriage fell apart and I was suddenly no longer welcome in what had become a second home.
Then my marriage fell apart after six years and I suddenly found myself relegated to the position of ex-daughter-in-law, no longer welcome in what had become a second home. Faster than you can say “It’s been nice knowing you,” I’d become persona non grata, the woman who’d said goodbye to her son.
Bewildered and crushed, I hung up the phone with her for the last time, wondering what had happened to the woman I’d called Mom. Slowly, I realized that this was one of the casualties of the divorce: not just a loss of a life partner, of dreams for the future, and of companionship, but also of extended family and happy times together.
Painful as it was, however, I knew one thing: my children wouldn’t lose their Grandma, even if I’d lost my Mom. While they did visit her when they were with their father, those visits were few and far between, so I made sure to send birthday cards each year, complete with their awkward scribbles, and they received theirs in return. Pictures were e-mailed back and forth, and I had them call her occasionally before the holidays, though they were too young to talk much, so we had to give that up.
And things changed with time. As the pain of the divorce has receded, visits have become more frequent, and my children are old enough to talk to their grandparents on Google Hangouts without my involvement. Somehow a switch has occurred in my relationship with their Grandma, too. Rather than being rebuffed or ignored, I’m recognized in my new role: mother of the grandkids.
It’s not the same as it was when she brought me little gifts or took me out for coffee, and I know those days will never return. But today, my former mother-in-law can thank me for making her visits to my children go smoothly, and even wish me Happy Mother’s Day.
I know that not everyone has it this easy. From the vantage point of experience, I’d like to share some keys to making the transition from former child-in-law to parent-of-the-grandkids smoother.
Give it time. Don’t rush the connection. In the aftermath of a divorce, everyone is vulnerable and in pain. Allow yourself the time to grieve, and allow your ex-spouse’s parents the time to grieve too. Turn a blind eye to things that may be said in this time of heightened emotions; people may say things they don’t mean.
Be the big one in the picture. You may despise your former spouse, but if you cut his or her parents out of your child’s life, the one who will suffer most will be your child. Don’t allow your anger to destroy your child’s relationship with her grandparents.
Keep the channels of communication open. It’s possible that the situation will be too raw and fresh in the beginning to allow for comfortable interactions. Be careful not to take any action that you may regret later on. By staying calm now, you’re paving the way for future interactions.
Never badmouth your children’s grandparents in front of the children. All children need grandparents. You may feel that your ex-in-laws have done you a wrong turn or two, but they can still provide your child with love and attention. Don’t allow your own experiences to taint your child’s view of them.
Smile and be polite, no matter how hard it is. In the long run, your child will remember who kept her life calm and pleasant and who didn’t. If you invite her grandparents to birthday parties and school events, your child will always treasure her memories of those times, instead of the opposite.
It’s not easy to navigate the complexities of a former relationship. Anyone who’s been through a divorce can attest that the pain lasts much longer than you think it will, and the scars are very real. Yet even if you’re no longer a child-in-law, you can still do your part to keep the relationship as friction-free as possible — so that everyone involved can benefit.
For more guidance for anyone touched by divorce, visit www.HealingfromtheBreak.com