Our Parents' Marriage & Relationships

Parent Q&A

  • Hi - my mother has been dating someone for almost a year. She has a history of jumping into relationships quickly and then them ending abruptly. She has him moving in with her - though that is not surprising (she has had 3 other "fiances" though she hasn't gotten remarried since my parents split 30+ years ago). My question is this - she has encouraged my two kids (6 and 7) to call her boyfriend Grandpa. I think it is weird for them to call him "Grandpa" and I worry about how that could impact the kids if they breakup. I also know that my mother will likely be upset if I bring this up to her so I want to make sure my concerns are valid befor likely causing issues. This guys *seems* fine, I just hardly know him and don't like the familiarity of the term "Grandpa" for someone I dont know that well. 


    Just calling someone "Grandpa" doesn't give them special privileges. Just make sure that you explain it all to your kids. You don't know him well, and you don't know how trustworthy he is. He may never earn your trust. But just to keep the peace, call him "Grandpa." Assuming that he wants to be called that. 

    As a divorced grandmother who has post-divorce relationships I would not want my grandkids to call my fiance "Grandfather", or Abuelo, or Papi (spanish for grandpa). Even yestereday my son was explaining to the five year old twins that their grandfather (dec) loved them very much. Some day they will understand the family tree. Mileage may vary.

    I would compromise and call him Grandpa Joe (or whatever his name is). You kids will hear everyone calling him Joe and will probably call him Joe most of the time too except when you say "please call him Grandpa Joe when Grandma is around because it makes her happy". Then if your mother starts dating someone else, that person can be Grandpa Mike or whatever. Your kids will not be more or less attached to the person because of a name so I wouldn't worry about that. I would worry more about your kids getting very attached to him and them they break up, but that is a different question. You could also explain to your child that this is Grandma's boyfriend and they are not married and he is not a blood relation and explain the difference between their blood grandpa, your father, who will always be their grandpa no matter what, and this person who Grandma is dating who is much newer to your family (and by implication more tangential). Kids eventually get it. We have a similar situation and around 7 my kid started to understand that his blood grandpa died before he was born but he gets some of his genes from him and so do his cousins, but this other person who is newer to all of us (married to grandma in our case) is not a blood relation but we still call him Grandpa Joe.  

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Where can my 73yo aunt meet men?

Oct 2013

My aunt is a dynamic and active 73 year old who is looking for activities to do where she can meet men! She likes to go to museums, lectures at the Commonwealth Club, the symphony, jazz, and she loves to travel. She would like to find people to do these things with! Any ideas are very welcome! Thanks.

The Red Hat Society is an organization with chapters all over the country for women over 50.They mostly just do social things together and when they do they wear red and purple clothes.There are no men but maybe she might meet men through these women contacts. Ellen

Tell your Aunt 'to go for it'. My husband and I are looking into a Del Webb retirement community that has all kinds of activities. You own your own home, and it is a place to meet new people 55+. There are several single people there, and they have activities just for them. We are looking @ So. Carolina Del Webb-- 1500 acres of lakes and trails, and over 100 groups to join- travel groups, crochet, kyacking , tennis, choral, quilting, line dancing- in other words- a very ACTIVE community. If this doesn't appeal to her, then there are tons of on-line dating groups for older people with her interest. Whatever she does, tell her not to stay home- get out and enjoy life with others !! judy

Elderly Father and New Girlfriend

April 2013

I need advice regarding how to both emotionally and logistically deal with my elderly father's new relationship. My father has had several strokes and lives in a private personal care home. We had to move him there after he fought bitterly with his own mother, whom he lived with for about 10 years after his first stroke. His mental and physical health has really declined in the past year.

Recently, he met a woman ten years younger (in her early 50s) at the doctor's office and now he has asked her to marry him. I spoke to her on the phone recently, and I am definitely not convinced this is the love of a lifetime, as they both claim. Her house is in foreclosure, she works odd jobs, and I think she sees my dad as a retirement plan. His resources are a lot more limited than he admits; we have to manage his finances to the penny to pay for his care. They are talking about getting an apartment together very soon. The girlfriend has started disparaging his current living situation. She was defensive on the phone to me, not a good sign of someone with good intentions. My dad has become paranoid; he's not talking to his lifelong friends who have told him they won't take him shopping for engagement rings. This is all heartbreaking, because I cared for him for 10 years until I had children of my own and had to pull back. I have a 3 year old and a 6 month old.

What can I do to protect him? I need ideas about what I might say to him, or to this girlfriend, that would bring them both into reality. They cannot solve each other's problems by shacking up. If they did live together, it would end badly, and we'd have even more pieces to pick up. He doesn't live in CA.

Please, is there any hope? Worried Daughter

Hi, I had this situation with my father-in-law several times. It always ended up with him and his girlfriend fighting and her true colors being revealed to him. In the meantime it was so stressful and heartbreaking for his adult children to watch. It was hard on everyone because we all felt we had to shelter the grandkids from this behavior.

It sounds like you and his friends are aligned and hopefully he will see the problems before it becomes too serious. There is a fine line between worrying about someone and giving them advice and letting them have the dignity to figure out their own problems. Tell him you are worried in a respectful way. Give him any information you or other family members or friends hear about her, but try not to tell him what to do. Hopefully he will hear enough from everyone and see enough and decide to break it off.

Lonliness and fear are huge motivators and he may be hoping she will take care of him. He may actually move in with her and then finally realize the problem. I hope not as it will be more work and stress for you to get him back into a good place but it can always be done. I know that is not very comforting and I wish you luck. Kris

I feel compelled to respond, because my husband is 60 (about the same age as your ''elderly'' father) and I am 52 (the age of his ''girlfriend''). If your father is legally competent I tend to think you should let him make his own decisions/mistakes. You can tell him what you think, and also warn him what you won't be able to fix for him if this all goes where you think it's headed. But once you've done that, I'd leave it, and have the best relationship with him that you can under the circumstances. If you think he is truly cognitively impaired (as opposed to simply having bad judgment), you can try to talk to his doctor. Not sure how far you will get with that, however, unless you have a power of healthcare. The younger woman

If you have control as guardian of your father's finances, you could simply lay the facts on the table and be supportive of their relationship, while laying out clear boundaries about not having him move. If she is looking at him as a retirement plan, she'll shift gears. If they have great connection, she'll adjust her expectations and the relationship will have its own life. Your role as guardian is ethically bound so in some ways your hands are tied and you cannot - no matter how much you wish to- let him move or overspend if that is misuse of funds for his lifelong well-being. If you have no control over legalities, I'd breathe deeply, love your dad, and hope someone else has great input! best wishes! Kate

First off, your father deserves to be happy, especially at his age even if his physical and mental health are declining. If this woman makes him happy, there's not much you can do. Maybe you could suggest to them that they live together first and then think about marriage a little later. Since you manage his money, you should let both of them know what the financial situation is and how much money they have to work with. If his girlfriend really is in for the money, maybe this could be a reality check for her.

Either way, I think you should lay all the cards out on the table financially, and then leave the rest to them. Even if you don't approve of this woman, your father's happiness is ultimately what should matter. Father is not in this situation yet....

I'm not an expert on elder abuse. Maybe just a call to the girlfriend with a snapshot of his limited assets and tight cash flow? - one idea

You mention that your father has had several strokes. You state that your father lives in another state. Most states have laws that require a person to have contractual capacity to marry. If your father lacks the requisite mental capacity he may lack the legal capacity to undertake a marriage. Lynn

Helping my parents in an unhappy relationship

May 2007

My parents, in their late 60s, are going through a real rough patch after 40+ years of marriage. My mom has had some health issues and my dad isn't coping particualrly well, having been cared for by my mom all his life. She's not perfect, though, and tends to harp on him and criticize endlessly. Now, each time I see either one alone all they do is complain about the other and when we are all together, there is a lot of tension--so much so that we are avoiding them. (This isn't what I had in mind when I moved into their community.) So far I've lent good marriage books, tried to get them to engage one another instead of me, and told them to both seek counseling, separately or together.

I believe that parents shouldn't use their kids as marriage counselors. Do others agree? If so, how do I maintain that stance and still be supportive? How much unconstructive frustration/complaining do I have to bear witness to? Any advice from others who have found themeselves dealing with a similar challenge is most welcome. Stuck in the middle (again)

I think it isn't right for your parents to bring their marital problems to you. The exception would be if, in getting older, one had difficulty meeting the needs of the other. That's a yuck conversation but one would have to have it (ie nursing care, home health aide etc). But if they are looking for you to talk to the other, intervene, or agree about the other's faults then this is inappropriate. One of my parents did this to me throughout my adolescence and into my early 30s until I learned to , excuse the cliche, set boundaries. This parent would even try again in the guise of mentioning a mental health concern, it it would turn into a whine session about a confrontation where both parties seemed to me at fault. So I learned to stop those too. You might think of something like, ''You and mom/dad chose one another; but I have no choice but to try to have a good relationship with both of you for the rest of my life. Talking this way puts me in an awkward position with Mom/Dad. I can be a great resource person in terms of suggesting books or therapists, but I cannot be your ear or therapist. That's what friends are for, or support groups.'' Pad it with lots of I love yous and an ''I statement'' about how upset and demoralized it makes you feel. Pop in some guilt about imagining their grandchildren w/ divorced grandparents or some such. And ask them to respect your feelings. You are an adult in every respect but this one. At 60 w/o alzheimers or other disease they still can be the parents and protect you. By 75 or 80 you may have to listen to more than your share, but by then one can only hope that you'll be able to let it slide off your back. been there

The psychological term is ''parentification,'' for when the child becomes the parent to the parent. This is not healthy and this is also much different than when mom or dad is too old to take care of themselves. It sure sounds like this is a pattern in your life, and I would guess that a therapist (I am not one) would tell you that the only way to stop this cycle is to stop participating in it, completely. I can't tell you what to do, but I can tell you that I made the conscious choice NOT to be my father's father, and, while it is sometimes hard to watch him live with the dumb choices he makes, it is quite a relief to know that I am HIS son, and HE is MY father -- not the other way around. Standing my ground has not always made him happy, but I know that I have made the right choice. Father doesn't always know best

Hi, wow, your parents sound just like my in-laws! Although, I think that their marriage has been relatively ''unhappy'' all along. They live locally, and I spend more time with them than my husband, because we have kids that I am home with. I am trying the provide a nice relationship with them and the kids, so I see them at least once a week.

The constant bad-mouthing, is always from my mother-in-law, and is very tiresome and irritating. I have to say that I am very impressed that you have put effort forth in trying to help them save their marriage--that is very kind of you. I also wonder if that, in their minds, has given them permission to continuously turn to you.

I have only found one thing that stops my mom-in-law from the trash talking, and that is not responding. I used to try to actively listen, look at her, nod my head, ask questions, ect. I thought that by doing this I was showing her respect and in some way helping her work through it ... wrong. I was just giving her permission to use me as a person to vent to. I decided that I do not have to be that person in her life and I really like her husband so I don't want to hear it anymore.

Now, whenever she starts up, I give her very little response. I do not keep the eye-contact going, I do not nod, ask questions, ect. I sit quietly and let my gaze focus elsewhere. As soon as she changes the subject, I swing my attention back and engage in the converation 100%. ... So far, it is working. After she has rambled on about him for minutes, with no respponse, she will quiet down and say, ''oh, well, we don't have to talk about this.''

Just remember that only they can save their marriage, and it is not fair that you get stuck in the middle. anon

I know it's hard to see your parents be unhappy, but the most helpful thing you can do is let them be adults. And there's no need to let them talk about each other behind the other one's back. It's taken me a while, but I'm learning to redirect the conversation when it turns to complaining about the other parent. Sometimes just a simple statement, like, ''I don't really want to talk about mom/dad right now, what have you been up to?'' helps. Just something to redirect the conversation. You've already shown them where to find real help, now you need to let them decide what to do with it on their own. learning to be a good daughter