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Distant Family Members

What to Do With Family Members Who Are Distant From Your Kids

When people become parents for the first time, they expect that family members both immediate and extended will be thrilled to be a part of their new little one's life. How often do you hear about a doting grandmother or grandfather? Pretty often. A new baby brings a lot of joy for the family. Yet many moms and dads are the sad "owners" of family members who are totally absent from or who aren't too excited to be a part of their children's lives. It can be profoundly disappointing to discover that some family members don't find your child/children to be the apple of their eyes. And why wouldn't an aunt, brother, cousin, or grandparent be over the moon about your daughter or son? I wish there was one answer to that painful riddle, but there isn't. There are different reasons for different situations, but here are a few possible reasons why Grandma might not be so "grand" over her grandkids, as well as a few ways for you to manage the situation, as well as your feelings.

Mental Illness/Substance Abuse

The Reason and Actions:
If a family member suffers from depression, a mood disorder, substance abuse, or any type of addiction, whether it's gambling or eating, he or she may not be uncle of the year. It has nothing to do with you or your child and everything to do with the issues that person is facing. It may seem like a small deal — being depressed or anxious, but depression and anxiety can cripple a person until he/she is used to avoiding social situations . . . including your children. For me, I know a family member who is dealing with depression, and while it's a very "light" depression, it takes a bit of coaxing to get the person out to see me and my daughter. Does it disappoint me? Yes, but it's not that we aren't good enough as people, but that the person is dealing with a mental state that can't just be snapped out of.

Prepare yourself to do one of two things: If the person is incredibly toxic and dangerous to you and your kid, stay away until that person has gotten help. If the family member is not a danger, plan to coax, prod, and ask to visit him or her. Make the first step. This may mean making the first step all the time, but it's necessary if you want your kids in this family member's life.

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Your Feelings:
If you're dealing with this scenario, remember that it's not about you or your children — it's all about this other person's issue.

A Family Fight

The Reason and Actions:
Let's face it: we don't always get along with our family as much as we love them. Fights and breakdowns in communication happen. An argument could easily spur your family member from seeing your little one. What can you do about this? Well, if the fight is a small spat, you need to push it aside for the sake of your kids. A lot of women have issues with their mothers-in-law, and after going through a divorce, my strained relationship with my former MIL has gotten much better. If it's a small fight or the family member is good to your child, push it aside for your kids' sake. No matter how maddening this person might be, at the end of the day, if your child has a good relationship with the person, it's crucial to keep in contact, even if in small doses.

Sometimes, though, the fight isn't a "wee" battle, but instead, you may be dealing with a destructive or unkind family member. If the relationship is so toxic that it causes you or your children to feel negative about yourself or depressed, you need to consider putting space between you and the other person. If the individual fights with you around your children or the family, you also need to set boundaries and say enough is enough. Tell the person that when he or she is ready to be kind and consider your feelings, you will let the person back into your family's life. But until then, you have to protect your heart and possibly your children's.

Your Feelings:
It is extremely painful to have bad relationships with family members that you may have tried to resolve numerous times without success, so allow yourself to grieve this. However, you should remind yourself that this person is difficult with you or your kids because of who this person is inside. And if the problem with your relative is due to your actions, you need to consider how you can change so your children don't miss out on knowing someone that might have a great camaraderie with them. Remember, some people click, and others do not. Your son might gel with his grandfather, even if you don't.

Needs Invitation

The Reason and Actions:
Perhaps your disinterested family member is not as disinterested as you think. Some people — most of us — are extremely busy. This isn't a good excuse, of course, but perhaps your cousin, sibling, or aunt needs a gentle reminder that "Hey, the kids haven't seen you in a while. Can we get together?" When you finally see this cousin or brother, explain how important it is for your children to know him or her. Ask to see the person more often and share that it matters to you. You may see this person do a complete 360 and become a huge part of your child's life!

Your Feelings:
Don't be embarrassed to share how you feel or reach out to this person. If you wait too long, you may develop resentment toward the individual, and it will impact your child in the long run. At least give it a try!

Uncomfortable With Your Child or Your Parenting

The Reason and Actions:
A family member may avoid you and your children because A, the person doesn't like your parenting strategy or B, the person is uncomfortable around your child due to a developmental issue, disability, or "difference" of any kind.

What do you do in this case? Unless you truly do need to change your parenting style (in the case, consider this person's criticism), then write this person off. In my strongly stated opinion, if this family member can't accept or handle your son's autism, your daughter's lesbian identity, or the fact that your youngest has ADHD, that person needs to go. The problem is 100 percent with that person, not you or your kid. That family member is missing out on knowing and loving someone wonderful.

Your Feelings:
It stinks to experience this. Allow yourself to grieve, and know that in the long run, that person is missing out — not you or your child!

No matter what the reason, an uninvolved family member really hurts everyone involved — your children, you, and your spouse. Know that you aren't alone, and find joy in the people who are actively participating in your children's lives!

Image Source: Corbis Images
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