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How can I get my daughter's grandma to accept her?

David Woolley/(c) David Woolley

Group Therapy is a relationship advice column that asks readers to contribute their wisdom.

A reader writes: I live common-law with two wonderful gay men who are legally married. We have been together 12 years and I have borne each a child. My parents and Tony's parents have been amazing in their support. But Geoff's widowed mother hates me, and won't even acknowledge her grandchild. She has driven Geoff to tears and rejected my mother's mediation efforts. I would write her off, but I worry about the emotional impact on my little girl. What should I do?

Write her a letter

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Write a letter to your mother-in-law. Tell her you would like very much to have her in your daughter's life, and acknowledge the unique situation. Ask her to reconsider. Tell her that she need not relate to you and any visit could be arranged with Geoff, who wants to share his joy with her. Then, if this letter - or a second one a few weeks later - does not have any effect, count your blessings! It would be nice for your child to have one more doting grandparent, but it's not an absolute necessity. You are lucky that the rest of your family is so understanding.

Pat Parsons, Vancouver

Leave the door open

Do nothing except leave the door open. This is between Geoff and his mother. When your little girl has questions about why Grandma X doesn't visit, you and Geoff should have a united answer that is not focused on your child, because it is not about her. Then leave it at that until the next question and the next age-appropriate answer is needed. An absent Grandma she never knew will not leave a significant hole in her life unless you make it a focus.

Darby Brown, Kitchener

Focus on the others

Grandparents play many different roles in the lives of their grandchildren. Some are engaged in the process while others are not. It seems as though Geoff's mother has decided which "type" of grandparent she wishes to be, so instead of trying to win her approval I would surround your daughter with all the love from everyone else in her life (including her other grandparents).

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Sarah Butler, Toronto

The final word

Pat, Darby, Sarah: I applaud your open-hearted approach to our letter writer's dilemma, but isn't there an elephant in the room here? Don't you have one or two questions with respect to our friend's domestic situation? Questions like, say: Are you sure you're understanding the term "common law" correctly?

Common law is a legal term (hence the "law" part), which essentially means "marriage" minus the cake, bridesmaids and embarrassing speeches by family members. Unless our legislators have adjusted the Criminal Code of late, the institution of marriage continues to assert a strict "three's a crowd" policy.

So I'm going to assume you were using "common law" euphemistically to mean something like "in a big, happy baby-making threesome." And it sounds like your family of five would be doing fine if not for this angry-Grandma issue.

Does it need to be that much of an issue? As Pat and Sarah observe, your daughter is lucky enough to have more parental and grandparental attention than most children - there's a heck of a lot of doting going on. Is there really any compelling reason to strong-arm a closed-minded woman into a relationship she has made clear she has no interest in?

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You say you'd write Geoff's mother off but you're worried about the "emotional impact" on your daughter. What impact? According to you, this woman has never even acknowledged the child's existence. Your daughter can't miss the love of a grandma she's never had.

It sounds as though it's Geoff for whom the situation is a real problem. I sympathize - he wants his mother to know and love his daughter. As Darby says, the issue is really between them. He needs to accept his mother's attitude, painful as it might be, and together you must decide what attitude your family will adopt in response.

Will you continue to appeal to Geoff's mother's better angels and suffer rejection after painful rejection? Or will you decide to get on with your happy, if unconventional, family life and draw all the love and support you need from there?

Lynn Coady is the award-winning author of the novels Strange Heaven and Mean Boy.

Next week's question:

I've known my boyfriend for several years, but because he felt his conservative family would never accept anyone from another culture and religion we were just friends until a year ago. Since we acknowledged our feelings, we've been in a wonderful relationship. He gets along well with my family and we have many mutual friends, but I've only met his brother. Now we're thinking about a future. I have no problem raising kids in his religion, but he's worried about the effect my more liberal family might have on them. Is this a deal breaker?

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About the Author
Relationship Columnist

Lynn Coady writes the Group Therapy column for The Globe and Mail's Life section. She is the award-winning author of the novels Strange Heaven, Saints of Big Harbour and Mean Boy. Her most recent novel, The Antagonist, will be released this September. She lives in Edmonton, where she is Senior Editor of Eighteen Bridges magazine. More

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