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I recently married a man who has six grown children and twenty grandchildren. He’s a wonderful man and I’m grateful we found each other. We don’t have any children living at home. I have four grown children and eight grandchildren. His wife passed away several years ago and getting remarried was something that was tough for his children. They’ve been warm and loving to me, but I know that I can never replace her, nor do I expect to. He loves his children and grandchildren, but he’s not very good at keeping in touch with them. He has asked me to keep track of all of their birthdays, send them cards and gifts, and keep up with their lives. My guess is that this was something his deceased wife kept up with and updated him on how everyone was doing. When we first married, I worked hard to do this, as I thought it would help the family grow closer to me, but now it feels unmanageable. I feel like the gifts I’m sending are impersonal, as I don’t really know these families very well. I don’t see him making any real efforts to connect with his children or grandchildren. I don’t feel like the family wants me in that role, but he wants me to act like their mother in this way. What is my responsibility here?
Your intentions of wanting to keep in touch with his family in the beginning of this marriage came from a sincere place of wanting these children and grandchildren to feel comfortable with you. That’s certainly one way to build closeness with them, but it’s not the only way. It sounds like you need to begin a conversation with your new husband about how these expectations are affecting you. I’ll suggest some points you might want to consider as you approach him.
You appear to be someone who wants sincere and authentic relationships with your family members. These new family members are strangers to you and you’ve discovered how important it is to you that your gifts and expressions come from a place of understanding and connection. It might be easy to assume that your struggle in sending these gifts is a lack of time or desire to be in touch with everyone. However, I believe your struggle is coming from this realization that these gifts and sentiments don’t match the reality of your relationship with these children and grandchildren. If that’s the case, then perhaps you might want to build connection with each of them in a different way until you feel a more authentic bond. And, when you feel you know each of them better, I imagine it will be easier to send notes and gifts from a place of real connection.
Another point to consider is that this is an opportunity for your husband to look at his relationships with his children and grandchildren. If his late wife was the relationship manager, it’s a wonderful opportunity for him to build individual relationships with each of these family members. I’m certain each of them will love having a personal connection with him. Imagine how special this would be for his family if he took over writing these handwritten cards and selecting gifts for each child and grandchild. If he finds himself in the same dilemma where he doesn’t feel he has much of a personal relationship with each of them, then he can explore how to improve that.
If your husband doesn’t show any interest in being involved, then maybe sending gifts and cards doesn’t work for him. Just because this is how his late wife always did it doesn’t mean that this is the only correct way. Yes, the children and grandchildren may have come to expect it, but, as the father, he now gets to decide how he will best bless his posterity. You can offer your input and ideas as you both seek ways to give and support the family.
It’s also important to make sure this approach is unified and fair to all family members. Is he willing to do the same for your children? This discussion needs to be bigger than just his side of the family. Your marriage will feel more peaceful and supportive if both of you have a unified approach to giving gifts to all of your children and grandchildren.
If your struggle is simply logistical, then don’t be afraid to ask for a different arrangement. Instead of delegating everything to you, perhaps he goes with you to select gifts, or writes the cards while you wrap the gifts. There are plenty of ways you can send messages of love and connection to your children and grandchildren. It’s a lot of work to keep track of more than two dozen birthdays throughout the year. I’m sure this was an area that he hasn’t had to think about and assumed it would continue forward now that he has a new wife. There is nothing wrong with slowing down and thinking through the best way to handle these relationships.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at firstname.lastname@example.org
About the Author
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, UT. He is the owner of Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com) and the founding director of LifeStar of St. George, an outpatient treatment program for couples and individuals impacted by pornography and sexual addiction (www.lifestarstgeorge.com). He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, available at Deseret Book, and the audio series “Strengthening Recovery Through Strengthening Marriage”, available at www.marriage-recovery.com. He also writes a weekly relationship column for the St. George News (www.stgnews.com). He holds a bachelors degree from BYU in communications studies and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Auburn University. He served a full-time mission to the Dominican Republic. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.