DEAR CAROLYN: I'm a divorcée with two kids. I am with an amazing man I'm marrying once it is safe and responsible to do so. He loves and cherishes these kids as if they were his own. I get along famously with his mother, and she adores the kids. She engages with them even more than my own parents do. When the kids are in bed, though, or when we are visiting without them, she continually expresses that she really isn't their grandmother. That she never will be because they aren't "blood." It is always, "blood is more important." I come from a family that has lots of divorce and remarriage. I have grandparents I would never consider "not my grandparents" because they don't meet this "blood" requirement. I have "blood" grandparents I never knew. She has been pushing us both to have children together, but we are in our 40s, don't want the kiddos to feel we are replacing them, don't feel we can handle the financial burden of more children and don't want to be in our 60s when these hypothetical children graduate from high school. We are both baffled about her digging in on the subject. We have tried many, many times to explain they don't understand the difference and won't remember a time without her. She is unwilling to accept it. I'm afraid she will let this slip, that they aren't as important as her biological granddaughter. They will be devastated. I'm at a loss.
More Than Blood
MORE THAN BLOOD: This sounds like two problems, actually — that she wants you two to have another child and dwells on the "not blood" thing in making her argument for that.
I can't defend her position on either one of these. Pressuring people to produce children resides near the top of my Oh Hell No list, as does applying a tiered-value system to children (by DNA or whatever else) as if they're seats in a stadium.
It's not clear, however, that either of these really broken viewpoints actively needs to be fixed.
She will have to drop the first one eventually, when you can no longer conceive children (assuming you even can now). So don't be shy about accelerating that bit of inevitability on her behalf: "It is not happening, and I know you're disappointed, but it's final and not open for discussion anymore." You can say this with an abundance of kindness and sympathy while not budging a millimeter.
You can also trim that to, "We can't." That your "can't" is financial, where typically people think biological, is both immaterial and not her business. Can't is can't, and yours to cite without apology.
The second problem is one that time might handle better than you can. If you hadn't explicitly corrected her misconceptions, then I'd say to do so, warmly and emphatically.
But you've done it, and she still has hopes and fears.
So starve the hopes and let the bond she's nurturing with your kids — and time, and patience — address her fears.
And remember, by your description, she's framing this as feeling lesser herself, that "she really isn't their grandmother" (my emphasis) — and doing beautiful things if not always saying them. If she slips around your kids, then reassure them — she fears she matters less, not that they do.