Childless sister tries to assume coveted title of ‘Grandma’ |
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Childless sister tries to assume coveted title of ‘Grandma’


Dear Carolyn:

Being a grandmother is very important to me. The title of grandma is a badge I wear with a great deal of pride.

My husband’s sister “Charlotte” never married and has no children. She encourages the youngsters to address her as Grandma Charlotte. I resent that she tries to claim my title. I once mentioned this in a casual tone. Charlotte brushed it off, saying some children have several adults they look up to as they would a grandparent.

Charlotte needs to know how much this irritates me. I want to ask her to stop this hijack of my badge of honor.

Do you think my concern is valid? How do I go about this?

— American Grandma

If I say concern over a title — any title — that reaches the point of seething resentment is not valid, then will that change things?

I suspect not, but an overflow of love is among the best problems to have; if there’s any viewpoint that can move you to rethink yours, then, please do give it a chance.

Charlotte’s self-anointing is obnoxious, yes. No question. And her brushing you off after you spoke up was its own violation, because she was alerted to her encroachment and chose selfishly not to back off. She could so easily have said, “Sorry to step on your toes!” and thought up a new title.

Unfortunately, you can be absolutely right and cripplingly petty at the same time. And I needn’t spell out where to file “going to war over who gets to be called ‘Grandma.’”

So your challenge here is to find a way to both honor your feelings and maintain some healthy perspective.

First, I suggest acknowledging why you’re so invested. You clearly see your grandchildren as a culmination of your life’s work or purpose. Of course you feel possessive.

Next, work hard to release that possessiveness. The only thing that actually matters are the relationships you value. It’s the person you are and the people you love who count.

Then, look to the superficiality of titles. “Grandma” Charlotte doesn’t make Charlotte a grandma any more than “Queen” Charlotte would make her a queen. Not to mention, her encouraging kids to call her that is not the same thing as succeeding at it. Ask all the grandparents who have tried to take such control; little kids make their own gravity.

Finally, look to the need Charlotte is trying to fill. She wants to matter. Who can possibly begrudge her that?

Your ached-for campaign to “stop this hijack” and make sure she “know(s) how much this irritates me,” however, carries with it the unspoken message, “You don’t matter as much as you think you do.” Which, if delivered, is likely only to backfire, by intensifying her worry that she doesn’t really belong. A worry she’ll then redouble her efforts to ease.

The most productive thing you can do — and, not coincidentally, the most compassionate — is to be inclusive of Charlotte however you can. “The kids are lucky to have you in their lives, Charlotte. They do look up to you, and it’s obvious how much you love them. What they call any of us is just window dressing.”

Maybe it’ll feel more truthful to you when you hear it straight from Real Grandma’s own mouth.


Dear Carolyn:

My boyfriend of five months just broke up with me because he isn’t sure when (if ever) he will be comfortable that I have a 2-year-old. He has known about my son from the beginning and told me it wouldn’t be an issue, but he wanted to take things slowly.

Our relationship was amazing: He introduced me to his close friends, parents and co-workers, who all really liked me. He never met my son but bought him gifts.

He’s stressed at work so that may play a part. I’m not sure if he will be able to work through this so we can get back together, or if it’s set in stone.

I haven’t contacted him, to give him space to think. I’m feeling a little blindsided and needing an outside point of view.

— J.

Things are always set in stone until the moment they aren’t anymore. Embracing this will spare you a lot of crazy over a lifetime.

As for the reason your boyfriend broke up, please accept it for what it is. It’s not work stress, or a broken promise that your son “wouldn’t be an issue.”

It is, in fact, one of the possible healthy outcomes of “tak(ing) things slowly”: He dated you, remained mindful that you’re a parent and felt discomfort he couldn’t resolve.

How refreshing that he proceeded slowly and tried sincerely to get to know and include you; how refreshing that he took decisive action on his doubts.

This breakup does suggest he was a good boyfriend — which is ironic, and painful now, and still better than the selfish cruelty (to you and your child) of the alternative, of kicking those doubts down the road.

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