Mazel tov! You had a baby and your in-laws are now your kids' grandparents! Maybe you're bringing up the rear of a gaggle of grandkids, or maybe, (like me), you're giving them the golden title for the first time. If you're extra lucky (also me), your partner is an only child and therefore, ya know, no pressure to be fruitful and multiply.
As a first-time parent I'm hardly an expert on the topic, but I'd like to share with you a bit about what our family has learned navigating the in-law/grandparent-grandchild relationship and how we have made it a successful experience for all.
Set an intention of balance and inclusiveness
Allow me to introduce you to my mispachah: Aaron and me, born and raised in the Chicago area and committed to raising our family here (currently 1-year old Eleanor and her sibling on the way); Gram and Grandpa Allan (my parents), still living in the house where I grew up; and Grandma and Grandpa, Aaron's parents, who retired to Florida when Aaron and I started dating (it had nothing to do with me, I swear).
Growing up, my dad's parents also lived in Florida, and we sadly did not have a very close relationship with them. We talked to them on the phone every few weeks and saw them about once a year. Our relationship was supplemented by special visits for birthdays and dance recitals and the much-awaited birthday and Chanukah checks -- I mean cards.
Starting a family with the same dynamics (mom's parents near home and dad's half the country away), I was determined that my children would be closer with their paternal grandparents than I was with mine.
Aaron and I knew this would take a conscious effort on our part. We admittedly weren't too worried about our kids being close with my parents -- we see them at least once a week, and Eleanor considers them her second set of parents. But we knew that Tom and Barbara (T&B), who could not be warmer people and more excited to be grandparents, wouldn't have the same privilege of seeing their grandchildren as frequently. Bottom line: Since my parents were opening the season with home-field advantage, we knew we had to try extra hard to bring our A-game with T&B.
Include them in the pregnancy
We set the stage for this relationship as soon as we could: When those two blue lines appeared on the stick, we told Aaron's parents first, figuring that was the best compromise we could do because we couldn't tell them in person. When we knew Eleanor was going to be a big sister, we broke the news earlier that we would have preferred because T&B happened to be in town and we wanted to tell them about this baby in person.
When T&B visited during my first pregnancy, I did my best to include them in the experience of being supportive family members, even when I felt like curling up in bed because concentrating on eating crackers was taking all of my energy. I had a calendar that told a fun fact about the baby's development each day, and it meant a lot to Barbara to read it daily with me, even if it was over the phone when they were in Florida. I was so touched that she gave me a maternity dress she wore with Aaron, and I never got tired of hearing Tom's stories about how much Aaron hated the bath as a baby (he showers now, don't worry).
By the time Eleanor arrived, I felt wonderful that T&B had already bonded so much with her.
Take full advantage of travel and visits
T&B are fortunate enough to be of good enough health and finances that travel to Chicago is relatively easy for them, and we take advantage of that as much as we can. They came up after Eleanor was born and were here for her baby naming. (We picked her Hebrew name, Ariella Tziporah, because both my mom and Barbara's mom are named Tziporah as well.)
Although it has only worked out to visit them in Florida once with Eleanor (those visits are on hiatus thanks to Zika), T&B have been up to visit every few months, and were so excited to celebrate Eleanor's first birthday with her. As I write this post, T&B are in town and I was ecstatic that Eleanor made a beeline for the door when they walked in this afternoon.
Turn technology into an opportunity
One of the most consistent things we do to help Eleanor get to know her grandparents is FaceTime with them every Sunday. To be fair, she goes nuts over the computer because we are mean parents and don't let her have screen time (yes, we know this will change with the second kid), so that may be part of her enjoyment.
Now that Eleanor is getting older, however, I think she's truly starting to appreciate her grandparents talking with and singing to her. They even play patty cake with her over the computer, which is pretty cute to see. It also gives T&B an opportunity to have something unique in their relationship with Eleanor: My parents might get to rock her to sleep on occasion, but they have protected time to video chat with her every week.
T&B also got Eleanor a recordable version of Goodnight Moon, so they can "read" it to Eleanor before bed. While she lately has been eschewing bedtime books in favor of getting to the boob 30 seconds sooner, we are hoping this book becomes a treasured bedtime ritual that makes her feel connected to her Florida grandparents.
Looking ahead, l'dor vador
As Eleanor continues to grow up, understand the concept of distance communication and develop the all-important object permanence (Gosh darn it, now you know the Cheerios exist even when I hide them!), we know her relationship with my in-laws will be more give and take and less one-sided. We know the day will come when we run out of stamps from mailing T&B so many pictures that she's drawn for them and that she's running out the door to go to swim class so she can practice for Grandma and Grandpa's pool.
I am fortunate to have started with a wonderful relationship with my in-laws, but I know that's not always the case. Whatever your circumstance is with your in-laws, make sure you give your kids the opportunity to at least feel positively about them. You may be frustrated with your position as a son- or daughter-in-law, but remember that your in-laws are also your child's grandparents.
The grandparent-child relationship is an incredibly special one, and you owe it to your kids -- and your in-laws -- to give it a chance. Sometimes things take a little more chutzpah than we've anticipated but, just like birthday and Chanukah checks, good things come to those who wait -- and make an effort to bring their family together.
Read more stories in the "Bringing Up (Jewish) Baby" blog series at www.oychicago.com/baby.
"Bringing Up (Jewish) Baby" is being produced in partnership with jBaby Chicago, which helps expectant parents and families of newborns and tots (0-24 months) make connection, build friendships and engage in Jewish life in Chicago.