My wife is expecting our first child. My parents are divorced and both remarried; her mom died when my wife was a teenager and her dad remarried. Our policy is that all our parents and stepparents are “Grandma” and “Grandpa” regardless of step-status.
Recently, we referred to my mother as Grandma. She announced that instead, she’d be [baby-talk-version-of-grandma-with-random-vowels-tossed-in]. I asked why she didn’t want to be Grandma and she answered without hesitation, it was clearly something she’d thought about, that because she is the only “real grandmother,” she should get a special name.
I told my mom she was out of line and wrong, my wife’s late mother was still a “real grandmother,” and I knew she didn’t like it but my stepmom and stepmom-in-law are valued members of our family and grandmothers to this child. She did drop it but didn’t apologize, insisting it’s factually accurate, even though my wife was really upset.
My sister-in-law threw us a baby shower last weekend and my mother spent the whole party loudly referring to herself as [nickname] and, when questioned, smugly responded she’s the only blood grandmother. We pulled our clearly-hurt stepmoms aside, apologized, and insisted we’re not in agreement with my mom and trying to get her to stop.
After the party, I let her know how far out of line she was and how we’re not going to use that name, but she said basically that it wasn’t her fault they were oversensitive and that’s what she wanted to be called.
How do I get my mom to back off this stupid toxic nickname? And more importantly, how do I help my wife through all this? She’s already having a tough time going through pregnancy without her mom, so all this “real grandma” stuff is twisting the knife.
— Special Name
How profoundly sad.
Your mother sounds insecure in her worth and terrified of coming in seventh in some imagined grandparent derby.
The way she has chosen to act on that fear is awful, arguably evil. What else can you call her informed choice to inflict this pain on your wife? But it does at least appear to be an act of frailty at its core.
Which is why it’s unfortunate that your most effective option is to exclude your mother if she keeps resisting inclusion.
But first, rewrite the name rule. Let all of them choose their own. That’s a form of equality too. (See: Sneetches.)
Then, to her: “Love defines ‘real’ to us, not blood. Claiming ‘real’ just for you may comfort you, but it undermines our beliefs, our values and our family. You’re my only mother, and I love you, but I can’t include you in our child’s life if you continue to make this claim. Think about it, and let me know what you decide.” You see her solo till she drops it.
That, or you all unify: Any parent or grand- who hears her say this asks her to stop. Plainly, firmly, now.
This, after all, is how you “help my wife through all this” — by making sure people who undermine her emotional health specifically, and your family’s harmony in general, aren’t allowed any traction. None.
If she digs in, then she stays in the hole she dug.
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