Question: “My partner and I have been together for three years, and we’ve recently purchased a house and welcomed a baby. My parents are very helpful and supportive, as are his mother and step-father. It should be known that my partner’s biological father walked out when he was about as old as our baby is now (3 months). He has since been a very absent and neglectful parent. I’ve only met that side of the family a handful of times. When my partner told his dad that he was going to be a father, he responded by saying congratulations but then we never heard a peep from him throughout my entire pregnancy.
After our baby was born, they took a trip our way, and we had a short visit. They brought gifts and insisted we come visit next time we travel near them (our other parents live in the same area), and we did visit them the next time we went home. We thought it was just going to be my partner’s dad and step-mom, and we were surprised when we arrived that they had invited the whole extended family. There were at least 15 people! With our then-three-week-old baby, COVID and RSV are top of mind for us and we were not prepared to walk into a crowd like that. We managed through the visit but were very happy to get back to my parents house.
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Shortly after the second visit, we were surprised when my partner didn’t get a phone call, text or card from his dad on his birthday. We thought with the new situation it could be an opportunity for his dad to form a real relationship with us, and my partner was left hurt once again. I’ve seen how much my partner’s biological dad has disappointed him and how much that’s affected him. I want to protect our baby from that same hurt and disappointment. I feel like if we didn’t reach out to them, we’d hear from them once or twice a year. Am I wrong for not putting in any effort to continue the relationship?”
Answer: “I don’t think you’re wrong for wanting to stop putting effort into a relationship with your partner’s biological dad and step-mom. Based on everything you describe here, this seems like a performative relationship and not one formed on respect, love and genuine care. When you took your 3-week-old to visit them, and they had the entire family there, did they take a bunch of pictures? Did they go above and beyond to demonstrate that they’re the most doting, involved grandparents? If so, this and the fact they didn’t care to reach our during your pregnancy or after the visit makes me wonder if it was all for show.
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Relationships are a two way street, so if you’re the only ones putting in effort, it doesn’t feel great. Your partner has been hurt and disappointed so much in the past, and even though it may be expected, it usually doesn’t hurt any less. I wouldn’t overextend yourselves going forward, but keep a line of communication open. Send holiday cards, birthday updates or anything you feel you have the energy to do, but don’t go above and beyond. Let them put in some work to demonstrate they care and are not in it for themselves or a performance. If they can continue to demonstrate they’re respectful, dependable grandparents then they deserve more effort, but until then protect yourselves. The holidays are coming up and your little one’s immune system is still maturing, so don’t let them ambush you again if controlled contact with limited groups is a boundary for you.
Hope this helps and wishing you the best,
Morgan Absher is an occupational therapist in Los Angeles who hosts the podcast, “Two Hot Takes” where she and her co-hosts dish out advice. She writes a weekly column, sharing her advice with USA TODAY’s readers. Find her on TikTok @twohottakes and YouTube here. You can reach her by email at Mabsher@gannett.com or you can click here to share your story with her.
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