First child is being left out of second marriage

After five years of single parenting,  my son remarried. We were so pleased for him. He and my daughter-in-law then had a son together. We were over the moon when this happened.  What a gift to have two grandchildren.

What is troubling, is that my son and his wife seem to spend all of their attention on my grandson: the child they had together. They feed and clothe my granddaughter. They send her to school, enrol her in dance and such. It all sounds good, but apart from those kinds of things, they treat her rather poorly. All of their attention and nurturing goes to my grandson.

My poor granddaughter can do nothing right. It’s like they tolerate her, but she really is not part of their family. She has gone from being just the brightest spark you can imagine, to a little girl who really does look sad, and is starting to act out. It is heartbreaking to watch, particularly since her biological mother is not involved. She really doesn’t have a parent that seems to be interested in her. When we tried to talk to our son and his wife about this, they got very angry and defensive. It was made it clear that if we wish to see the grandchildren, we best not be commenting on their parenting. We are so sad that she is so sad. I’m dreading her getting older and asking us why they just don’t seem to care about her. What can we do to address this situation?

This sounds like a very difficult situation indeed. Few things are more heartbreaking than to see a child go from being a bright spark, into a sad and acting out child.

In this situation there are parenting, grandparenting, step-grand parenting, and step-parenting issues. There are biological child and natural child issues. There are gender issues. It is really complex!

It sounds like your initial goal, of getting your son and wife to look at their parenting, was not a useful goal. The reaction you received was anger and defensiveness. This may change in time, but for right now, the goal of having them change their parenting style might not be useable. There may be all kinds of reasons for this, given the complexities of this situation. Some you may understand, and others you may not. And it really doesn’t matter. Until anger and defensiveness are not the response you get, there is no room to maneuver with that goal.

So, what about looking at a goal that is more related to your granddaughter? It sounds like you want your granddaughter to sparkle again. You note the ways in which she is “taken care of”: food, clothing, shelter, school, dance lessons. These are important things. You also allude to a sense that she may feel like she does not belong, that she may feel unloved, and sad and acting out, as a result.

What would it look like to have the focus: the goal, be to ensure that your granddaughter felt loved, and had a sense of belonging, without it needing to be specifically from her parents?

It is best if those things come from a child’s parents. No doubt about that. But at the same time, children are also able to take in these things from other sources, like their grandparents, friends, friends parents, teachers, etc.

Dealing with this situation may mean that you look at your own role as a grandparent, and decide what things you can do to increase her sense of being loved and belonging. As a grandparent, play dates are possible. One can be interested in those dance lessons, and attend special events, or even lessons, if that works for you. Regular communication strengthens bonds. Allowing her a place to express her feelings can be very special. (The book How to Talk so Children Listen and How to Listen so Children Talk is terrific for right now, and might help answer the question about how to address her questions as she gets older.)

It might be helpful to google “resilience in children” for other ideas of how to both help her get her sparkle back, as well as develop ways to strengthen it in this very complex situation. Focusing the goal on your granddaughter, rather than changing her parents’ parenting, may help them to ease up, and perhaps treat her differently – or not. Either way, it will be better for your granddaughter to have you all in her life. She needs you all.

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