My Mother-in-Law Dislikes Step Grandchild

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

From the U.S.: I have 6 kids. Three are from my previous marriage and three are from my husbands first marriage, he was widowed when the kids were 2,2,5. All of my kids have suffered loss. I have adopted the kids and we are raising them very intentionally as one family. I love them all and that is our commitment to them. It has not been easy handling a family of this size. My husband and I work very hard to do it well but we are doing it and everyone is doing well. The problem I have is with my Mother in law. She treats her non biological grandchild ( she actually does not consider them grandchildren at all) distinctly differently. (examples: from not displaying pictures of them, unequal gifts, unfair discipline, general lack of interest to outright directly unkind treatment). I have noticed this for years and hoped it fade. The kids are all very good and loving children and love each other as full siblings for which I am very proud.

Recently she and her husband were left to care for the kids while we were away and she was very rude to my son. She yelled at him while he was playing with the other boys even though he and the other kids tried to explain he had done nothing wrong ( they were playing with a ball and he took it from his brother to see if it had air in it, they are 9 and 12 years old and do not require constant supervision but she watched them like a hawk if the child she does not care for is playing) and while they were out at a restaurant she told a waitress that three of the boys are brothers and the other was “just a step brother. I am angry and do not know what to do. I cannot stand the idea of being anywhere near her. She is not the type who apologizes and is very intentional in her behavior. This is not a slip up, she simply does not like the three kids who do not share a blood relationship with her son. How do I manage this? I am afraid this will impact our family, hurt our kids and my marriage.

A: Your mother-in-law is missing the chance to be in a loving relationship with three more children. What a loss for her! My guess is that she isn’t going to listen to you. But she may listen to her son. He has embraced all of these kids as his own (as have you). He needs to protect them all as well. That means having a difficult conversation with his mother about treating all of his kids as her grandchildren, regardless of bloodlines. None of his kids is “just” anything. To love him as her son means to respect his choice, to love the children he loves, and to respect you as his wife. I hope your husband can enlist his father’s support as well.

If she won’t or can’t change, it’s important that you and your husband to talk with the children. Kids, even middle school kids, usually accept the judgments of older people in their family. Make sure they understand there isn’t anything wrong with them and that it is grandma’s loss that she can’t see them for the wonderful children they are. Make sure they understand that in your eyes how people come into the family doesn’t matter. Family is a way of feeling, not a function of genetics.

Unless and until she changes her attitude and behavior, I don’t think it wise to leave the kids in her care. The kids certainly see the unequal treatment. It’s to their credit that they stood up for one another. But they are too young to be expected to just let her unequal treatment roll off them. It’s enough that they learn to be polite around her. It’s potentially damaging to their self-esteem and their relationships with each other to ask them to accept her as an authority figure in their lives.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 7 May 2014

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2014). My Mother-in-Law Dislikes Step Grandchild. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 24, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2014/05/07/my-mother-in-law-dislikes-step-grandchild/

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