When you're a solo single mom, it generally means dad is not around or you're a choice mom. In my case, dad is not around. He's alive and well, living in another state with his family. It was his choice to not be involved, and since I don't hear from him, I can only assume, at least for now, he hasn't changed his mind. So I was a little surprised when I found out his family wants to be involved in my son Jack's life.
About two years ago, I received an email from my literary agent, who received an email from someone claiming to be Jack's great grandfather. I've been single mom blogging for what seems like forever, so it could have been anyone. But the thing that made me think it was not a hoax was the last name attached to the email. It was the correct surname of my ex's father. This was probably his grandfather, and thus, Jack's paternal great grandfather. Oh boy.
And it was. At first I was skeptical. Why, after so many years would they suddenly want to be involved?
"Single moms should proceed with utmost caution when the bio-dad's family wants involvement and the bio-dad does not," advises Dr. Leah Klungness, Ph.D, psychologist and the author of "The Complete Single Mother."
"Explaining bio-dad's relatives to your child is challenging," says Klungness. "These relatives will need to fit into the comforting narrative you have shared with your child. And they must adhere to this story when spending time with your child. Your child does not need the confusion of mixed messages from adults. This is an essential boundary. Your child; your rules."
As a single mom, I wanted my son to have the opportunity to speak to his great grandparents. I did explain to them that their grandson (bio-dad) left when I was pregnant and has never met Jack. They were not happy! I honestly have no idea what story he tells people, but that's the truth. I told the great grandparents not to talk to Jack about my ex and that I was going to tell my son the people he was going to say hi to on the phone were our special friends from California. They obliged, and the first call went off great. It was quick, sweet and inspiring.
But what if the people who want to meet your child live nearby?
"If possible, a brief, informal, in-person visit on neutral territory is likely your best bet," says Klungness. "This gives you the opportunity to see how these people interact with your child and how respectfully this person follows your lead."
Remember, there's huge potential for an upside here.
"More people to love your child, possible break for you while your child is lovingly taken care of, and most importantly, a connection to their biological heritage," says Klungness. "This will be someone to talk about family history with and share stories about other members of the extended family."
The great grandparents send generous gifts and holiday cards that I save for Jack. In return, Jack draws and mails pictures to them. Jack's photos are on display in their home and a snapshot they sent us is on our fridge. It's a win-win, so if you're trying to decide whether to navigate the trenches of communicating with paternal family members, I can only say, give it a shot!