I’m Not Ready To Be Gramps

I have really enjoyed listening to your podcast. The inquiry I would like to make is regarding grandparenthood.

Here is my story: my 29-year-old son has recently chosen to get married to his living-with girlfriend in August 2024. (Great news) He tells us that the doctors have told him that due to STDs that he is infertile. She has 3 daughters, from 2 baby daddies. Both are having less and less to do with the girls. The first is a “wimp”, and second is a “thug” (to use your podcast labels). Currently since being with these 3 young girls (age 4, 5 & 9) my son has acted more like a Dad to them than either of the biological fathers. Often the girls are calling him Daddy. You have often mentioned the responsibility of men to care for their “woman” & for children. Here he is stepping into the situation and assuming the responsibility with their mother to raise these children. Choosing to do the right thing in the absence of these other 2 men.

My struggle is as they get married, and as my son assumes more responsibility, and likely never has children of his own (which would be grandchildren of my own – whereas these 3 girls are not “descendants” as he is not the biological father) is there anything from ancient Jewish wisdom for me? I am struggling with “enfolding” them into my “family” as their Grampa. Why am I having such hesitancy to “graft” them into my family tree? I would welcome your thoughts.

Thank you.

David

Dear David,

As often happens, we have more questions for you to ask yourself than we have answers for you.

You mention that it is great news that your son is getting married to a woman who has children from two previous relationships. It seems that your son, too, had previous relationships outside of marriage that resulted in his being sterile due to STDs. We conclude that these are two individuals who have followed troubling and damaging life paths and are now changing trajectory and choosing to move together in a new direction.

While your son is stepping up to the plate in accepting responsibility, we wonder if you are convinced of this woman’s sincerity. Truthfully, we would be more sanguine if they were not living together before marriage. The fact that they are, raises questions in our minds as to what the basis for the new direction they are taking is.

Having a successful marriage is challenging even in excellent circumstances. Here we have a man and a woman who do not have the best track record as well as three children whose background has not been stable, and you have an even more challenging situation. What is their impetus for wanting a different path? Assuming the best of intentions from both adults, what is in place as the foundation, support, and mentoring that will guide them as they hit the inevitable rough spots?
All that is on them. But now looking at it from your perspective, we wonder if you are perhaps not convinced that this will be a long-term relationship.


Have you mourned the loss of a dream of biological grandchildren? A childless couple who joyfully anticipated biological children, but when that doesn’t happen chooses to adopt, can establish a beautiful family and wholeheartedly love their adopted children, yet before adopting there is an acknowledgment of a sense of loss. This is true for grandparents as well. It is hard to move on when we haven’t accepted the sorrow that accompanies recognizing what we anticipated will not be.

There is an additional factor with grandparenthood. You will not be in a position to ensure that this family endures. Should you give your heart to these children, you run the risk of having a broken heart if the marriage does not survive.

We suggest that you distinguish between your feelings and your actions. These little girls deserve to feel welcome and warmth in your presence. You can easily make that happen. Frankly, that is the decent thing to do whether they are potential grandchildren, neighbors, or grandchildren of friends. Children should be treated well. So smile, buy them small gifts, stock up on their favorite foods. At the same time, you aren’t under any obligation to manipulate your emotions and try to force yourself to feel love. We expect that, should the marriage flourish and should you spend time with this new family, you will gradually find yourself feeling closer to the children. That may well turn into seeing them as a continuation of your family. It does not have to be the instantaneous feeling that can (though it doesn’t always) spontaneously well up when you look at a newborn’s face and see hints of yourself and your family.

Be patient with yourself, kind to the girls, and if your son and future daughter-in-law allow, provide mature guidance as to how they can set themselves up for a greater chance of success.

Wishing you well,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

This Ask the Rabbi is dedicated in memory of Shoshana Karsenty, age 85, who was murdered by Hamas terrorists on October 7, 2023. Her daughter and son-in-law were murdered the same day. Shoshana was an artist. Her house was burnt to the ground destroying most of her paintings.

And with prayers for the release of all the hostages, and among them Alex Lubnov, age 32, whose wife just gave birth to their second child, having not seen or heard from her husband now in his fifth month of captivity.


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