'Nana Acts Like the Mom'

It is commendable that you have embraced this stepmom role so enthusiastically too, and your boyfriend's daughter is very lucky to have you in her life. But, she is also lucky to have her grandmother, as you appreciate too.
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Reader Unmommed writes,

My boyfriend and I live together. His daughter lives with us. I love her. Her mother is out of the picture due to mental health issues and she is not safe to be around. I act as her mother. She has expressed in many ways that she wants me to fill that role from celebrating Mother's Day, to attempting to call me mom (it didn't stick given she had called me by name for so long)... Life is good.

His parents are wonderful and I know I lucked out in the in-law department. But his mother's refusal to acknowledge that she is a grandparent and not our daughter's parent causes some angst. At first it was just that she was spoiling her too much. He still has to periodically reprimand her about that. Also, many times we have been told there is X (insert basketball game, birthday party, etc.) happening and plan Y is being enacted for it and we, the parents, do not even know anything about X. We are just expected to go along. If we are not able to or are unwilling to, then we are the bad guys in saying no and/or have to hear our daughter say: But Nana said, Nana can take me, Nana can pay for me...

Just this morning, as I was driving her to school, she asked me if it would be ok if she lived with Nana next year so she could go to the new high school that was being built; that Nana said it was ok. Excuse me?! That really upset me and I spoke to my boyfriend about it who acted like it was not a big deal and said he had already shut it down. But I am angry that she even thought it was ok to entertain/come up with the idea and tell our daughter it was ok. Are you kidding me? To me this is not just toeing the line it was jumping over it. My boyfriend says that I am making it into a bigger deal than it really is because she isn't moving. I told him that it wasn't the hypothetical that I am upset about; that clearly his mother thinks there are three parents in this family instead of two and she needs to take a few steps back. So how should I handle this?

Dear U,

I understand why you are so upset. It is commendable that you have embraced this stepmom role so enthusiastically too, and your boyfriend's daughter is very lucky to have you in her life. But, she is also lucky to have her grandmother, as you appreciate too. If her mom had mental health issues and is out of the picture, your boyfriend's daughter likely was in a very hard and possibly even traumatizing situation for some time. Even if not, she is probably one of the only kids she knows without a loving relationship with a biological mother. She needs all the love she can get from other loving female figures, like both you and her grandmother.

From your perspective, you want to be her mom and to have all of the decision-making power that comes with that role. But Nana was there for her son and her granddaughter when the chips were down, and she filled the mom role for a while, to everyone's relief. Now, she isn't going to move to the background unless she is 100% positive that someone else will be there for her grandchild. Her number one priority is her granddaughter's health and happiness, and she wants to be sure that no matter what happens, her granddaughter knows she can rely on Nana.

You didn't mention how long you've been with your boyfriend or whether you guys are planning to marry, but it would be very hard even for a second wife who adopted the child to get an upper hand on Nana in this situation. I also believe that your boyfriend is trying to smooth out this situation because he is eternally grateful to his mom for stepping up when he was basically a single dad, so odds are he will not be great with enforcing boundaries.

I think your best bet is to have a sit down talk with Nana, where you openly and kindly tell her how grateful you are for her involvement, but that sometimes you feel sad because it seems like your daughter listens to Nana more than to you, and that you feel very left out when you don't even know about activities that Nana takes her to do. Use empathy and validation during this conversation, and do not in any way take an attacking tone. I believe that if you reach out in kindness and love, and with a genuine desire to understand and bond with Nana, she will calm down a little bit, because she will trust you more.

This situation is very similar to what you'd have if your husband was divorced and it was a more usual situation where they were co-parenting equally. In fact, it may be good to think of Nana as a co-parent, because before you entered the picture, that's who she was. So, try to reframe this situation and treat Nana like a biological mom after divorce, and you're with the biological dad. Respect her, try to set boundaries if you can with openness and empathy, but overall realize that it's not like she is pretending to be a third parent, she actually kind of is a third parent. Sucks, but at least she's not an ex-wife that's still in love with your husband or a step-mom who gets drunk and says bad stuff about you.

Good luck, and till we meet again, I remain, The Blogapist Who Says, Also, When Your Kid Gets Her Driver's License, You Won't Know Where The Hell She Is Ever Anyway.

This post was originally published here on Dr. Psych Mom. Follow Dr. Rodman on Dr. Psych Mom, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest. Order her book, How to Talk to Your Kids about Your Divorce: Healthy, Effective Communication Techniques for Your Changing Family. This blog is not intended as diagnosis, assessment, or treatment, and should not replace consultation with your medical provider.