Dear Carolyn: Both of my parents are deceased, and my father remarried after my mother passed. I have not always had a great relationship with my stepmother but it has grown to one of mutual respect and understanding. She has since remarried, but my siblings and I include her in family decisions and functions.
My issue is that my wife does not want “that woman” to be called Grandma by our two children, who are both under 2. I want to be able to respect my spouse’s wishes and have asked for a reason but have not gotten any real response beyond, “She’s not your mother,” and, “We don’t want to equate her with my parents.”
She’s not my mother and I don’t want to equate her with my in-laws — she is always going to be farther away and less involved — but my reasoning is: 1) It would really hurt her to be told we won’t call her that, and 2) IT’S JUST A FREAKIN’ NAME!!! (I try to be more reasoned with my wife.)
My wife apparently feels strongly about this but so far I have put my foot down. My wife says I am choosing my stepmother over her. I feel that can’t be it, there has to be some reason, but don’t get anything beyond the “She’s not your mother” argument. Help.
Either your wife can’t stand your stepmother and this is just where she’s massing her troops, or there’s a whole lot of snarled and matted Stuff behind your wife’s fixation on a title.
That choosing-your-stepmother-over-her charge she lobbed at you is not only emotional blackmail, but it’s also batnuts enough to suggest the latter — that there’s some history to your wife’s Grandma fixation. Still, simple dislike could certainly suffice, if it’s intense enough; presumably you have enough context to piece together the source.
It’s actually easy to dodge the name issue, though, verging on ridiculously so; countless beloved grandmas are called something other than Grandma. My little universe alone has hosted Nanna, Nanny, Nonie, Mema, Mimi, May-May, Yia-Yia, Grandbum, and a Grammy/Gramma or few. No Grandmas.
Toddler mispronunciations, meanwhile, are a cottage industry when it comes to producing family nicknames.
So figure something out. And in doing so, save your energy for whatever the bigger issue is behind your wife’s startling contempt. One way to pry it out is by agreeing with your wife: “You’re right. She’s not my mother.”
Don’t lobby against your wife (or for your stepmother) so much as you lobby — kindly — for love and inclusion: “But she matters to me”; or, “She’s the only parent I’ve got left.”
And/or: “I see her as another person in the world to love our kids. I don’t understand how that hurts them, or you, or your folks.”
And: “Love isn’t a zero-sum game. Making room for my stepmother doesn’t displace your parents.”
And: “Whenever you’re ready to talk about why you feel so strongly about this, I’m ready to listen.”
I am, too, by the way — so if your wife ever does come up with a real explanation, feel free to throw some details at your nosy local advice columnist.
E-mail Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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