How to Form a Relationship with Grandparents

Updated on May 19, 2008
H.O. asks from Minneapolis, MN
19 answers

My husband and I are having a hard time making sure that our son sees his paternal grandfather and step-grandmother. The couple is very busy and, also, frequently babysitting other grandchildren over the weekend. They have an amazing tendency to call at the last possible minute to ask if they can come over and, 3 out of every 4 times they've done this, we've been busy. For today, we were really excited. My father-in-law actually wrote early in the week, asking to see our son today. From the tone of the email, we thought he was coming to us (we're in Brooklyn Park, they're in St. Paul). My kid's having a rough day today, particularly in cars. Lots of crying. His behavior is weird enough that we were considering keeping him home from daycare tomorrow and calling the doctor. Father-in-law just called-- when are we driving out to see them? When he called, I was in the process of cleaning the living room for their visit. My husband is really upset, because we hear from them all the time how we live too far out to visit, that we never come see them, and yet, it's totally okay to ask us to make the drive. There's a lot of history I'm not including here, about traveling between our two homes. I do feel like we haven't totally been doing our part, asking them to stuff, but all us work full time for the school district, we're all exhausted when not working, and my in-laws are incredibly busy people. It's been hard for us to find times that things work out. I'm not even sure I know what I'm asking-- I suppose for advice on how to let my father-in-law and my son have a relationship with each other, without my husband going insane from frustration. I realize this probably doesn't make a lot of sense, but I'm open to suggestions. Any suggestions. I feel so bad for my husband, and so frustrated that the same situation keeps playing out.

I should add that the travel issue isn't an issue for us. We routinely make the trip. It's my in-laws who pretty much refuse to come to Brooklyn Park because they seem to view it as Outer Mongolia. And, apparently, the ghetto. I'm pretty tired of both attitudes. We do about 90% of the traveling to see them.

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So What Happened?

I know it's early, but I wanted to thank people for their input. We have decided to make a point of inviting them to more things, and see if that helps. My husband finally figured out what was mostly bothering him, which is that he feels like his dad is kind of seeing our son as an afterthought, and not a person who is any kind of priority in his life. I'm encouraging hubby to try to talk to his dad about this during the summer, when we are all less stressed. When my husband was growing up, it was his dad that he was really close to, so he's extra-frustrated by this distance and confusion now. As well as frequently confused that it's his mother that we spend the most time with.

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answers from Minneapolis on

I understand. Maybe every other time you go to each others home. Then no one would feel like they are the ones driving all the time. Being busy is no excuse. If they want to see their grandson they should do a little planning and help out too. Good luck!

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answers from Milwaukee on

How about meeting half way for a meal or an outing of some sort. That way no drives more than the other, the visit is on neutral territory and maybe things can progress that way.
Mother of 4
Grandmother of 2
Living 21/2 hours away from grown kids



answers from Minneapolis on

I have to agree with Amy...a 30 minute drive is nothing! I'm not even sure why this is an issue. Our families live 6 and 9 hours away by car, so we'd love a 30 minute distance. It can't be the short drive, there is something else going on.

Get to your true feelings and have your husband do the same. This isn't about you, it's about your son and giving him the opportunity to have a relationship with his grandfather. Offer it up. If he takes it, great. If he blows you off then it's his loss.



answers from Minneapolis on

No matter how hard it is, do your best to accomodate your parents, and at the same time, privately try to impress upon them that you would like to share the load of making sure your son has a good relationship with them. Eventually they will not be so busy, but if you miss the opportunity to set a good example now, when grandparents are old and realize they have time (or that they should make the time) it may be too late and an unhealthy pattern of relating will already been set.

SAHM of seven, our families live 2000 miles away and travel for us is very expensive and difficult, but kids need their grandparents, even if the elders don't always realize it when your kids are little.



answers from Minneapolis on

I have to at least laugh a little at this post...brooklyn park is too far from st is a half hour...

my two boys have to drive for three hours to see their grandparents...I have to drive 5 hours to see my grandmother... beyond where things are open for 24 hours things close at 9pm...

instead of visiting them in their home, always on their terms...invite them to meet you at Como to walk around and usually a good family time...



answers from Duluth on

H., I think you've gotten the best advice, and also sounds like you've had a great discussion with hubby about this issue as well. So hope things work out.

Don't want to repeat what's already been said, but I would also say this... I also live in Brooklyn Park, and at least 3-4x/month visit St. Paul, as I used to live there and love their kid-friendly offerings. If your son can't handle the 1/2 hour in the car, have you tried treating it like a "long trip", using snacks, special toys, watching a portable DVD player or iPod, listening to kids music, or driving during his nap time so he sleeps thru' it? I personally liked the suggestion to meet 1/2 way, although that might be easier said than done.

Good luck!



answers from Wausau on

dear H.,
A friend of mine uses a web cam to stay connected with her daughter's far-away grandparents.

We have great grandparents and other relatives who are far away, and I keep lots of photos around for my son to look at, and I help him make cards and letters to send. He is only 2 but he enjoys making a picture or putting stickers on paper for his great great grandma and putting the stamp and address label on the envelope. Our relatives send him cards and letters frequently, over email and snail mail. (E-cards are very fun to send and receive). We also do phone calls. Whenever any of the relatives are in town, we make a point of spending as much time as possible with them. Same for when we are in their area, which is rare because of finances.

Another thing that I've found is helpful, since our in-town grandparents are usually very busy and not available, is we "adopted" a grandma. We found ours through my mother. Nana Storm was a volunteer at my mom's work. She had no grandchildren and so we met and hit it off and when my son was born, she became his surrogate grandma. He is actually closer to her than to his "real" grandparents, since he spends more time with Nana than anyone else (other than me!).

I am perfectly ok with him being closer to Nana than to my parents. He thinks of Nana as "his" grandma, and so she is just as much his grandma as my mother is. I guess what I'm saying is, try to maintain ties and build bonds between your child and his grandparents, but also, substitute your own extra "grandparents" or special adults to be in your child's life. While blood relations are important, I believe what is really important is the close bond between the child and the adult, whether they are related by blood or not. Sometimes you CAN choose your relatives!

If you don't know of anyone that you are drawn to to become a substitute grandparent, you can always check with your local Little Brothers Friends of the Elderly organization or other similar organization.

I am not trying to say blow off your actual relatives, just that sometimes it's ok to foster a relationship outside of blood family, so your child has someone who is reliably there for them who they can become close to. "Adopting" Nana Storm was the best thing I have ever done for my son, and I do not for one second regret it.



answers from Minneapolis on

H., I have a similar situation with my father and step-mother. We live several states apart, but that doesn't change things much - they have cancelled visits at the last minute, they rarely call, we need to make the effort. What I've finally done is just change my expectations. I've come to terms with the fact that my dad doesn't really realize that his behavior is hurtful. I think he would like to have a closer relationship with his grandchildren but his day-to-day life seems to be hard for him to put aside.

For now, we just take what we can get and enjoy it for what it is. My kids don't seem to be bothered that they see some grandparents more than others - they're still happy to see Opa when they can and they don't make comparisons to the other grandparents.



answers from Minneapolis on

Ok, Let me tell you what I have experienced. My parents are great! They will come help watch the kids anytime I need help. They live in St Michael and we are in North Mpls. So 30 minute drive. About what it is for you. And they will come here for B-day parties, Babysitting, but not for just a visit!!!! Ever! They are uncomfortable. I can tell even though they do not say it. I know I will probably be the same way when I am older. They want their grandkids to come over for a visit, the same way they took their kids to see their parents, and so forth and so on. I love visiting my parents house. And no, the car ride there is never much fun! But really it is not that far. I have a 2 and 4 year old that pick on each other the whole way there and back and sometimes the screaming matches drive me up a wall, but it is all worth it to be able to hang out with them. If I know that traffic is going to be terrible and will take longer than usually I put in the DVD player and then have to find something they will both like. My in laws live in South Carolina. They come to visit often, usually two weeks in the summer, and two weeks at Christmas. We have been there twice. Once when my 10 year old was 4, and once just after my 4 year old was born. With five of us, it is just way too expensive to fly everyone out there, and the only time we have enough time to drive out there is over summer break as my husband is a school teacher too. They used to ask when we were coming there, but now they just plan the trips. They have come to understand that they have more money and free time than we do, and they want to have the time with us, so they make it happen. It can be really frustrating if you let it be, but I think you need to just accept your in laws the way they are and plan to visit them. St Paul is not too far.



answers from Davenport on

It sounds like your husband needs the relationship before your son can have one. My husband and his father have a history to the point he moved out on his own when he was 17 years old. About 10 years ago my husband and his father started taking a fishing trip together to Canada for a week. Fishing is something they both really enjoy. They also take a couple of other guys (buffers). This trip happens to fall around Fathers' Day each year. Is there something that your husband and his father or his mother could do like this?

We have been married for 15 years, with two teenage girls. We have live 3-6 hours from our parents for 13 years. My kids have spend a week each at my mother-in-laws house every summer since they were 4 and 5. This really helps bond them. They are also close to my parents. When they were 4 and 5 we made the 3 hour drive about once a month to spend time with family. We did this until they were 10 and 11 when there lives got really busy with sports and such.

I know this was long winded, but I hope it helps.



answers from Lincoln on

I see you as incredibly blessed. My parents live hundreds of miles away, as do my husbands. We do not often see grandparents or any family, for that matter. The distance between Brooklyn Park and St. Paul isn't that far, in the grand scheme of things. I think you need to make plans with them...2x a month, every other week, which ever day is convenient for both parties. It's getting nice out-you could meet at a park (in between) for a picnic, that way your son gets to play (and has something fun to look forward to) and gets to spend time with his grandparents.



answers from Minneapolis on

We had a similar situation with both my and my husband's parents. From what you wrote, and based on our experience, I suspect for your in-laws this isn't so much about seeing your grandson as it is about control. If they really thought it was important to see your grandson, believe me, they'd find a way to get to your house no matter how far.

You mention there's some sort of history here. I believe it. Some families unfortunately will resort to using the children in the family to exert control and or opinions about unrelated things that are bothering them. For us, my in-laws never liked me for a whole host of reasons too long to go into. For my parents, my mother had trouble "letting me go" after I got married.

Don't beat yourself up about long hours and not be able to connect with them. I'm going to guess this issue is theirs and all about them, not this smokescreen issue they've created.

If you're doing all you can to be inviting and accommodating, then you've done all that you can and should do. If not, invite them to your house regularly, plan a big family gathering where they're center stage. Put the ball back in their court. If they don't show up, or come up with reasons why they can't come, then its their problem, and you can remind them of that. They won't like it, but it will force them to either shape up or force them to bring up the real underlying issue that's bothering them.



answers from Rapid City on

I think it's a bit much to demand that parents travel with small children. My daughter being an exception, most kids don't handle long trips very well at all, and it's unfair to expect them to. Make an effort to invite the GPs to see your son more often, or ask if they could meet you guys half way. If they truly want to spend time with him, they'll make an effort. If they don't, you can give up the guilt and frustration.



answers from Milwaukee on

Hi, I am glad to know I am not the only one with Grandma/Grandpa/Inlaw issues! I have been struggling with the dynamics of my own family and my husbands for years. No matter what the situation I am constantly drawn back to asking what can I control and what can I not.
I am only in control of myself. I cannot control my parents or my husband or his family. I now have a general rule or boundary. Ideally, I communicate what I need/want and then let it go. For example you could directly tell your in laws you would love for them to see your son and have a relationship with him. Also if you have not already let them know that calling at the last minute is really difficult for you. Then, plan in advance a time to get together. Maybe you could ask them if they want alone time with your son or a group gathering. I am lucky that since we moved closer to my in-laws we are all getting into a routine. They come and take our two children out on Saturday nights. That way we(my husband and I) get a date night and they get one-on one time with the kids. This is nice but they have to want it too. My parents, for example, look at it like babysitting and that is not what they are into as far as bonding with our children. So as far as that goes I work on accepting people as people and it is not my job to change them. It is hard sometimes to see my parents distance themselves but it is their choice. They are older and busy and are not making my children their priority. I must learn to accept that or go crazy trying to control and change everything. Good luck with your journey. P.S. Another thing...I am learning all about what I want to be like when I am a Grandparent and can't wait. Well, actually I can.



answers from Minneapolis on

Ok, I read all your responses & just want to add a little. I agree that you should invite them regularly to your house for a visit, dinner, etc. If they don't come, at least you've made the effort. If they ask why you aren't visiting them, make sure they are "inviting" you. Let them know you need to prepare for & plan things with children. If they cancel out often, let them know that you fully understand their reasons, but that it is difficult for your child to. Let them know that you know their intentions are not to hurt your child's feelings, but that is what is happening.

About the travel issue: honestly 30 minutes isn't that far! M. mom lives 2 hours away & comes to our house every to every-other week end to see our children and stays for 1-2 days!!! She's amazing. M. dad lives about 5 minutes away & probably only sees them once a month or less (for about 20-40 min). I'm not in the business of inviting myself to other people's homes (even M. own parents). So, if they want M. family to visit, they know they need to invite us! Whether we are able to work it into our schedules or not is another story. What I'm trying to say is that M. mom makes the effort to have a relationship with our girls & they love her so much, but M. dad doesn't make as much of the effort & when he does come to visit, sometimes they won't even go to him--which shows him that he isn't around enough! If your in-laws can't see that they are damaging the relationship they have/could have with your son, it is their problem! Just don't dwell on it around your son. He may not even detect it unless you or your husband discuss it around him often.

M. in-laws live in Colorado (we're in MN) and they've been to visit 3 times in the past year to see our children, and we're planning a trip there at the end of this summer.

Now I think I might be rambling. I hope I helped a little & good luck with everything!



answers from Omaha on

Boy, do I sympathize with you!! Been there, done that!! We have 2 boys and for the past 5 1/2 years, have lived out-of-state (7 hours) from BOTH sets of grandparents. Even when we lived in the same city, it was always our "duty" to visit my in-laws' house. (They rarely came to our house, even when they were invited for parties, etc. They even chose NOT to attend our son's, their first grandchild's b/day, in favor of a vacation! I won't get started on that one!)

Anyway a few years back, we drove the 7 hours and were supposed to have a get-together with my SIL's family and my in-laws. Everything was set--or so we thought. The in-laws REFUSED...(at the last minute!!) visit their daughter's house b/c (as they put it), we should have come to them! (We were visiting SIL's family b/c they had 3 very young children, including 8 mo old twins at the time.) It was devastating for our then 7-year-old son, who couldn't understand why grandma and grandpa wouldn't drive 30 minutes to see him! We were only in town 2 days (for a wedding) so their refusal meant that we did not see them AT ALL on that trip. (We are now only able to make one trip in to visit PER year.) It's not like the in-laws are extremely old or in failing health--they weren't quite 60 at the time! We lived in our new home for nearly 5 years before my in-laws made the trip to visit us, after at least 3 times saying that they were coming, only to cancel a day or two before and disappoint my boys. (My parents have come several times during the past several years.)

I admit my husband is not the best at communicating with his parents. He wants a good relationship, but just doesn't work very hard at it. It seems like everything is always tense when we're together and b/c of this, I have an EXTREMELY hard time convincing him to make even the one visit per year! It's always one excuse after the other. I'm not particularly thrilled about visiting his parents either, but not visiting means not seeing ANYONE, including ALL of our family and a lot of friends.

My advise is to keep trying. Even though it's not much, I try my best to keep my in-law updated with e-mails about the kids, or sending pictures to keep them connected. It's a challenge, under the best of circumstances, when you live any distance away, but even worse when there are other obstacles in the way! Good luck to you :)



answers from Des Moines on

Perhaps you could have a standing date once a month, like the first Saturday or something like that. You could alternate a day at Grandpas with a day at your house. If something comes up that the standing date doesn't work (vacation, illness, etc.) then you can cancel or reschedule with some advance notice. You can just explain to your FIL that your son really does better with a dependable schedule and that you think this would be a good way to make sure he gets to see him frequently. Plus, if he agrees it's a step toward acknowledging your son as a priority, at least on that day.

After 10 years my in-laws continue to surprise me with new ways to make me crazy too. :)



answers from Minneapolis on

There is no "right" relationship for kids to have with grandparents. Please let go of the stress of trying to "make" this happen. I agree with Annette's advice to invite them on a regular basis and leave it us to them to visit on those days if they can. Ignore their excuses and manipulations. If your son doesn't have other grandparents, look for older adults in your community who would love to have a "grandson" come visit. We can pick our own families...

My daughter has only one living grandparent who lives 1 1/2 drive away. They see each other sporadically, but have a nice relationship. Frequency of meetings does not determine a relationship, authentically being together does. If your son's grandfather doesn't want this, you can't make him want it.



answers from Minneapolis on

Invite them to dinner one night each month, with two weeks notice, and let go of the rest. When they ask why you don't visit them, let them know you are busy. Once they get into the routine of visiting once a month it will get easier.

Grandparents DO make favorites with their grandkids. My parents almost never visit my kids (2-4x in 2 dozen years). We go over to my sister's house, where they DO visit, in order to see them now and then.

But, we are busy enough without all that visiting. So we just go about our lives and enjoy them when we can. Just seeing grandparents doesn't make kids love them. It's when grandparents go out of their way to enjoy their grandkids that these relationships really have meaning for kids. I can see the difference between the relationship that my sisters kids have with them than mine do. Oh well...

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