By Heidi Stevens, Tribune Newspapers
May 30, 2012
Grandma has remarried, and your kids don't like the new guy. Can you ask her to leave him home when she visits?
(from our panel of staff contributors)
By all means! And ask her to change perfumes, start sending all birthday gifts in the form of Amazon gift cards and give up her love of prime rib, which your kids — generous, accepting souls that they are — find barbaric.
— Steve Johnson
Unless his visiting would endanger the children somehow, the answer would be no. Children (and adults) need to learn that grandma gets to love the person she loves, flaws and all. None of us is perfect, yet we all deserve and desire love and acceptance. We aren't always going to get along with the partners our loved ones choose, but we all need to make an effort to be tolerant and welcoming.
— Dodie Hofstetter
To the extent that you would honor your mother's request to leave your wife at home when you come visit, sure. In other words, no.
— Phil Vettel
"This is one of those great opportunities for kids who confuse discomfort with pain, or irritation with suffering, to grow hardier and more flexible," says clinical psychologist Wendy Mogel, author of "The Blessing of a Skinned Knee" (Scribner).
Mogel says she actually loves this new husband, sight unseen, for all the lessons he can teach. Among them:
Grandma gets to be happy. "Respecting him respects her," says Mogel. "Asking her to come without him and pointing out his flaws insults her and creates another layer, in addition to all the ones kids already have, of entitlement and me-first-ness. As though they can't ever be in any situation that doesn't delight them."
Go along to get along. "The particular qualities he exhibits may be the same ones their first boss has one day," says Mogel. "Whatever it is that feels culturally different or spiritually different than the family is accustomed to is a great opportunity for your child to get ready for a college roommate, or for the teacher in high school who they think doesn't like them or pronounces words funny or is boring or talks too loud. He's great practice for in-laws."
First impressions aren't everything. "How many of us have a friend in adult life who we didn't like when we first met them? We wrote them off or had a bad impression and then grew to love them? They may or may not come to see his virtues, but that's an added bonus if they end up liking him."
It's important, Mogel says, to keep your response simple when the kids start voicing displeasure at the anticipation of a visit. No need to launch into all the important life lessons they can gain by tolerating him, which risks treating him like a research project, rather than a human.
"Keep it about grandma," says Mogel. "'I'm so happy she's not by herself and that she has companionship. She has someone to look after her and for her to look after. All people want that and need that.'"
And take a moment to check your own reactions to the new husband.
"The children may be carrying some of their parents' feelings that could have to do with everything from how much grandma's available to baby-sit to inheritance to her unflagging interest in every detail of her grandchildren's lives," Mogel says. "There could be some envy or feeling of rejection that the parents are feeling, and the child becomes the mouthpiece."
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