My in-laws are lovely individuals. They are generous people who are always quick to pick up the tab. Givers of expensive gift cards on birthdays and Christmas. Brilliant professionals that enjoy conversations about a vast array of topics. If you met them you would find them easy to talk to and you might assume that they are adoring grandparents who can’t get enough of their grandchildren…and that’s where you would find yourself dead wrong.

My husband and I have a nickname for my in-laws…we call them “The Observers” a nickname they earned due to the lack of interaction between them and our kiddo. These amazing people do not like kids. I repeat, they do not like kids. When we visit, my child is parked in front of a television in the other room, filled with cookies and Sprite, and ignored by them so that they can have adult conversations with us. Maybe it’s their age. Maybe they just don’t have the patience they once had (per my husband they were never patient) or maybe they are just so far removed from having children in their home that they have forgotten how to engage them. Regardless, when we visit my child is an after thought.

My father in-law, whom I adore, states very clearly that he doesn’t like children until they reach a certain age, something which he is unapologetic for. His behavior states very very clearly that my daughter has yet to reach that age. He wants nothing to do with her. He doesn’t ask her questions. He doesn’t find her amusing. Sure, she’s cute and occasionally will bring a smile to his grumpy old face, but usually it’s a grimace of annoyance. He watches everything she does, quick and ready to discourage and fuss at her behavior. Everything she does seems to meet his disapproval.

My mother in-law is more tolerant and more nurturing…or at least that’s how she likes to appear. She prefers to say “yes” to all requests my child makes but then complains to us about it. She says yes to Cheetos being eaten in her living room then makes comments about the Cheeto dust being on the furniture. TV is allowed with unlimited abandon but then she complains that all my child wants to do is watch tv.

Last night my kiddo stayed the night with them. In an effort to encourage engagement we sent puzzles and games. Did they get used? Well of course not. My child watched tv all night and when I picked her up this morning I was met with two frazzled grandparents who couldn’t send her out the door fast enough. I would LOVE it if my child had a close relationship with her grandparents. They are retired and have ample amounts of time to spend with her. Yet they chose not to. How can my child have a relationship with her grandparents if they aren’t interested in having one until she’s old enough to have interesting conversations?

In 2020 they saw my child via FaceTime conversations or from the end of the driveway due to Covid-19. March was the first time they got to hug hug their granddaughter in over a year. So we can’t understand why they aren’t begging us to keep her. Why aren’t they trying to make up for lost time? This appears and feels like a rejection of our child and it’s breaking our hearts. We can’t understand their ambivalence towards her.

When scientists question why the nuclear family continues to become more isolated I can easily point them to “The Observers”. Gone are the days when grandparents lived in the home and provided childcare so mom and dad could work. Americans do not seem to have these types of relationships with our elders anymore. In my entire subdivision, there is not a single example of a multigenerational family. Our culture has long drifted away from these types of families and I have always blamed the adult children for this, assuming they didn’t want to care for aging parents, but now I’m seeing that the elder parents are to blame as well.

I remember living with my grandparents for a time as a child. My parents were divorcing and they took us in until my mom could get on her feet. I have such fond memories of them that may not have been created had my parents not divorced. Living with them forced us to get to know each other. We had no choice but to work shit out. They weren’t perfect and frankly I can’t remember them asking me a single question about myself, but we had a bond that I treasure, especially now that they are gone and I am saddened that my child won’t have this with her grandparents.

“I’ve already raised my kids” is a reason many families are met with resistance to childcare from aging parents. They don’t want to do the work. Which is half the problem. Helping with your grandchildren should not be seen only as work; it should be seen as relationship building and leaving a legacy. How are we to draw closer as family units if the leaders are choosing isolation? Is there any way to lessen the workloads of working parents when our elders are saying “it’s not my job” anymore and choosing instead to lead lives of leisure? I keep thinking of the two days a week we have to pay for an after-school program to keep our daughter due to our work schedules. That’s two days they could have some time with their grand-daughter but they choose to stay home and watch tv in their recliners. My resentment is starting to build and I can’t help but wonder how I’m supposed to care for them in the future, when I feel abandoned by them in the busiest time of our lives?

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