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Carolyn Hax: She’s annoyed by how welcoming her dad is to his stepkids

(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)
4 min

Adapted from an online discussion.

Hi Carolyn: I feel like a jerk for being annoyed at how welcoming my dad has been to his stepkids and their children. My parents divorced as I finished college. I have lived abroad for the past 12 years. In that time, my dad remarried and his wife has four kids who all live locally. I’ve met them a total of 8-10 times — at Christmases, etc. They all have children who my dad and his wife are very involved with.

I am pregnant with my first child (the first among my siblings) and I find it so obnoxious when Dad mentions something about “our seventh grandchild,” etc. To me, it's his first one.

I want to have a better attitude. But I don’t know them, and he seems to expect me to feel like my upcoming kid is just one of the gang, and I don’t. Any advice?

— Annoyed

Annoyed: Just this, for now: What would you have him do?

This is not rhetorical — I'd like to hear your answer. The way I see it, he is these kids' grandparent and so he doesn't have a lot of room to behave any other way than the way he's behaving. That would mean any changes need to be on your end, in how you frame this.

But if I’m missing something and you do think there’s something he can and should do differently, then I’ll rethink my answer.

Carolyn: I did not mean to come off like such a [glassbowl]! I know I wouldn’t have him do anything else. I think it just feels like a disconnect. I told him I was pregnant and he said, “Oh, your stepsister is too — it’ll be twins!” And I’ve met her maybe four times? Yes, and also given away some of my baby clothes and toys (which I was saving for my own kids) to these other grandkids, which made me go cry in the bathroom.

This pregnancy feels so new and special to me and it’s just one in a line to him, I guess. I’m 3,000 miles away, so they’re going to know him better, too.

— Annoyed again

Annoyed again: Okay, yeah, he gave you a lousy first reaction. I’m sorry. You wanted him to yourself for this one moment.

If it's any consolation, a lot of first reactions to big news are weird, disappointing, off. It's not just you and it's not just in this kind of situation. Plus his enthusiasm for everyone seems heartfelt.

Anyway. It sounds as if he is so immersed he has no conception of your not being so. More a failure of empathy/imagination on his part than anything. He just doesn’t know, gut level, that your idea of family didn’t change with his — and bears some grief for your old family, maybe, as you enter this stage of your life. Maybe, in a quieter moment, tell him this.

Re: Annoyed: I empathize in that you’d expect your dad to be more excited for you — his own daughter having a baby! However, your dad comes off a whole lot better than my mother-in-law, who has pressured us with increasing intensity to have a baby so she can have a “real” grandchild, despite being “grandma” to five of her husband’s grandchildren.

— “Real”

“Real”: This gets at both sides with impressive efficiency, thanks.

Re: Annoyed: Been there. My mom died when I was in my mid-20s and my dad remarried less than two years later. From the jump, he was completely enthusiastic to blend the families, and never wanted to talk about my mom. It was hard.

My advice, though, is to try to be grateful. It’s a real blessing for your dad to have close family with him — now, and as he ages.

— Been There

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