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Dear Carolyn

My in-laws are divorced, yet each is disconnected from my children’s lives, despite living no more than 15 minutes from us. My own parents live an hour away yet visit frequently, help out and never miss a chance to see them in performances or sports competitions. The difference has become noticeable to all three, who are now in elementary school.

Now here is the core of the issue. I married into a highly dysfunctional family, and the result is my kids now suffer. As an only child, I had dreamed of marrying and creating a warm, extended family for my children with loving aunts, uncles, cousins and especially grandparents. On my side of the family, my cousins, their kids and my aunts and uncles embrace and celebrate my children.

How do I resolve this? How do I explain to my children, who deserve to be loved and valued by the people around them, that these relatives are the losers in the equation?

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— Disillusioned Mama

DEAR DISILLUSIONED MAMA: You want to lay this all at your in-laws’ feet, and from your description, their behavior sure makes that tempting. We’re talking grandkids here! Who doesn’t love grandkids?!

Your in-laws, that’s who. Or, they love your kids but love themselves more. Or love them plenty but are morons at showing it. Or love them in the abstract but find kids annoying.
Who knows.

Here’s what we do know: You dreamed of a warm, extended family for your kids. Then you married into a highly dysfunctional family. And you didn’t adjust your dreams accordingly.

So while your in-laws are fully responsible for their stunted excuse for grandparenting, you are responsible for continually setting them up to fail — and continually exposing your kids to that disappointment.

Please just let go of the idea that your husband’s family will ever play their designated role in your dream. When you always hope for a gallon, you’ll never be pleased with a pint.

When people disappoint you in significant ways, you have a choice: carry on without them, or reset your expectations to reflect what they actually give. Since they’re your husband’s parents, and more oblivious than evil, attempting the latter makes sense.

That will require you to make changes, since you can’t make anyone else change. I suggest several:

Where your in-laws impose on you, cheerfully stick to your plans. “Darn, we’re serving the turkey at 6, not 3. We’d love to have you here, though, so do holler if your plans change.”

Where they disappoint your family, use them to instill coping skills in your kids. “I’m disappointed too. But you know what? This is how they’ve always been. That reminds me not to take their choices personally, and just accept them as they are.”

And finally, where they anger you: Remember your own words. They are the losers in this equation. Show them — and model for your kids — compassion, while also embracing your cousins et al as all the extended family you need. Your dream of a loving family did come true, just not exactly as you had in mind.

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