One of the biggest factors in my husband’s and my decision to have a child was the proximity of my in-laws and their enthusiastic promise to help us with childcare. They lamented how little they’d seen of their other grandchild because he lived in another state, and they were effusively outspoken about how they looked forward to being able to share these milestones with us and our expected baby.
As luck would have it, my husband worked for his father’s business, and we were relieved beyond measure when his mother said she’d watch the baby while my husband worked so that I could work, too. As terrified, financially insecure parents-to-be, their affirmative support was the balm we needed to soothe our multiple anxieties.
Throughout the pregnancy and up to birth, my in-laws were attentive and helpful. I grew more close to my mother-in-law than my own mother. Slowly, though, things began to change. My mother-in-law only appeared to be interested in the baby for photo ops that she instantly posted to Facebook. Anytime she was responsible for the baby at all, she made sure to detail all the cries and inconveniences newborns bring — immediately followed with how much she loved every minute of it. When he was there working, she’d call my husband into the house whenever a feeding, changing or the like needed done… to the point where he couldn’t keep up with his work. It slowly devolved into him visiting his parents to “babysit” his own child.
Confused and hurt, he began staying home. His father ultimately gave his job away to one of my husband’s childless acquaintances who lived in a bachelor pad with several other guys. The burden of supporting the family fell solely into my lap.
I was sincerely understanding when Grandma didn’t come to my baby’s first birthday party, something my friends found unconscionable. By the time she didn’t come to the second one, I wasn’t surprised. By then, I’d realized her grandparenting is limited to blips on social media that, ironically enough, reinforce her reputation as a devoted grandmother.
When I disclosed how absent my husband’s family is to a friend who doesn’t know them personally, she was shocked. What?? she shrieked, as if my divulgence involved celebrity paternity or something equally unbelievable. They look like they’re so involved on Facebook! They’re always posting pictures of their grandchildren! My friend couldn’t believe they had never called to chat with my son or ask how he (or we) were doing. She couldn’t believe they’d been to our house just once in more than two years, while my parents called daily and drove the equivalent of a day’s work round-trip to visit every few months, even bringing us groceries when the company I worked for folded.
Once, during a particularly dry spell when we’d neither seen nor heard from our in-laws in nearly six months, his mother texted him to ask him for a picture of the baby. He sent it, and minutes later, the picture appeared on Facebook, making it appear as though they were together.
Thoroughly mind-fucked, we nosed around with some of our other relatives and discovered that their behavior wasn’t limited to us. One grandchild they initially mentioned being sad about missing actually lived in the same town with them for a time, an even shorter distance away than my husband and I do. And it was the same then: assistance offered, but only begrudgingly given, to the point that this relative, like us, ultimately stopped asking for help or assuming it is even a viable option.
The incongruence between my in-laws’ words and actions stings me, but it’s caused my husband real grief. The very people who raised him, who espoused eternal support and the importance of family, have left him feeling heartbroken, rejected and abandoned. And we both feel they’ve rejected their grandchild.
Neither of us thinks it’s on purpose. They aren’t purposely trying to hurt us or purposely ignoring their grandchild(ren). Still, it’s impossibly hard to reconcile the people who celebrated your pregnancy and promised support with the people you don’t feel you could call on, even in an emergency. The realization that we’re truly alone in all of this has been heartbreaking, but it’s also brought us closer as a family. As painful as it is, my in-laws’ total lack of involvement has helped us focus on what we have, as opposed to what we don’t. Hopefully, as more time passes, it will become easier to see it that way instead of as a profoundly painful loss of family.