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Dealing with in-laws and grandparents: The Royals version

You think YOU had issues dealing with family members after your child was born? Neil Hedley asks, can you imagine being Will & Kate?
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Neil Hedley, July 17, 2013 2:58:02 PM

The future heir to the throne is born and now, Will and Kate’s new life as parents has all the ingredients you’d want for a hilarious sitcom. You’ve got two families coming together to celebrate the birth of the new prince, and the usual tension that follows as the grandparents suddenly become big parts of each other’s worlds, but wait – one set of great grandparents includes the Queen of England and yes, Grandpa is going to be King.

In all the hoopla surrounding the Royal Birth (which I’m going to capitalize because I figure if the news networks need to show fancy graphics and fonts every time they walk about it, the least I can do is throw in a couple of upper-case letters), let’s not forget the family frenzy that’s likely going on behind the scenes.  After all, in-laws are in-laws, and grandparents are grandparents, and that doesn’t change just because one takes a helicopter to the delivery room, or runs to the corner store for milk in a horse-drawn gold-plated carriage.

So in an effort to help Will & Kate – which would be a great sitcom name – to navigate the sometimes – and inevitably – choppy waters of in-law and grandparent relations, I thought it might be good to offer some thoughts about how we handle things in the real world, in case they can adapt these ideas for their own situation.  (Will?  Kate?  Consider it my gift to the little fella. And please don’t have me beheaded for calling him “fella”.)

The name
My daughter is named after her grandmothers.  She has the same middle name as her maternal grandmother, and her first name is a modified version of my mother’s name.  That’s just how it goes on her Mom’s side of the family.  Everybody is named after somebody else.  With the Royal Baby, I can only imagine the different naming strategies at play.  Because no matter what name they choose, someone’s going to be left out and offended.  At least Kate’s parents are from England; if the parents were from another country, it’s quite possible the battling over the “naming rights” like the kid was a sports arena might end up starting a war.

However sometimes, parents just pick names they like, that may have no connection to relatives at all; and it’s worth noting that although naming a child after a relative is a lovely, noble thing to do, it can wind up causing hurt feelings or other awkwardness.  Personally, I’d much rather my future grandchildren actually come visit me regularly, and be thoughtful and kind to me, than have them named after me as some sort of imposed tribute they have no control over.  Since Will and Kate are “celebrity parents”, there is every possibility that they’ll name their child “Tree Bark”, or “Moon Rocket”.  Ultimately, there’s only one person who’s going to live with the name forever, and that person’s perspective should be the only true priority when picking a name.

“Helping” too much / Unsolicited advice
According to author Andrew Morton, king of the unauthorized biography, Angelina Jolie has 25 staffers who help her take care of her children.  At least, with that large an enterprise of people who all work for you, if someone isn’t performing the way you want, you can fire them.  How, exactly, does one tell Great Grandma to butt out when Great Grandma is the Queen?

A surprising number of articles over the years have talked about how a great deal of the friction between couples and in-laws has its roots in the notion that one side either disapproves of, or is “pushing out” the other, when in most cases, nothing could be further from the truth.  As with so many things, clear communication is key.  And “communication” means that both sides get to express themselves, and both sides get to have their feelings understood. 

Some families claim a great deal of success by having the “we’re going to raise the child the way we see fit” conversation shortly after the “guess what, we’re pregnant” conversation.  If everyone goes in to the situation knowing what to expect, you reduce the chance of hurt feelings later.  And it doesn’t hurt to throw the grandparents and great grandparents a bone every now and then, by genuinely seeking out their counsel on things.  Make a list now of things you will want their advice about.

Holiday time / gifts
If you’re the Middletons, how on Earth does a barbecue at your place compare with going to hang out at Buckingham Palace?  And do you really think you have a shot at getting better baby gifts than the future King of England?  Parents in these situations can help head off potential damage in a few ways.

As with everything else, communication works as a great preventative.  Stress that the true worth of a gift isn’t in its monetary value – more often than not, it really is the thought that counts.  Because expensive toys break just as easily as the ones from the Dollar Store, and the expensive ones are harder to replace; experiences, however, can last a lifetime, and as we get older their value in our memories tends to increase.

Make it clear to the in-laws and grandparents as well that you’re eager to start your own family traditions, so rather than fight about whose castle you go to for which holiday, have the holiday gatherings move to your own home.  For the first few years, you can even adjust the dates if need be. (Do you really think a two year-old will notice the difference if Christmas Day gets celebrated on the 26th?  Or for that matter, if it’s on each of three days?)

It’s not about winning
Ultimately, these situations go better when everyone stops competing to protect their perceived “turf”, and puts the best interests of the child, and the wishes of the parents first.  And as I’ve said a couple of times before, the more honest, open, two-way communicating you do now, the easier things will be later.

And if all else fails, Will & Kate, I have a hunch Canada would welcome the three of you with open arms any time you felt a need to “get away from it all”.

MORE THOUGHTS FROM NEIL HEDLEY:

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