Care and Feeding

I’m Worried Our Unique Family Structure Is About to Cause a Big Problem

How will our kids navigate this?

A couple of gay grandfathers plays with their grandchild. One is blowing bubbles.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by ggeeggjiew/iStock/Getty Images Plus and dobok/iStock/Getty Images Plus. 

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My husband and I were both adopted as babies by gay couples. It’s how we connected in college—we bonded over this commonality! We love our fathers very much.

Now we are thrilled to be expecting twins, who will of course have four grandfathers (all four are wildly excited). I am worried about what our children will call each of them, and especially worried that the names they’re called will affect their grandchildren’s relationships with them…

If one is Grandpa, that makes it seem he is the main grandfather. And my fathers are Jewish, so if one of them is Zayde, he will be the one associated with my children’s Jewish identity. I’m tempted to designate them as Grandpa Henry, Grandpa Charlie, etc., but that seems confusing, especially for a toddler. What should I do?

— Confused in Connecticut

Dear Confused,

Listen, pregnancy is a weird time, when every decision about what’s ahead can seem fraught and even perilous—I get that. But you are making a worry mountain out of a completely worry-free molehill. For one thing, four grandfathers is only two more than two sets of straight couple-parents provide, and we don’t usually think of “who gets called grandpa” as a hugely pressing problem in families arranged that way.

In my family (just for instance), one grandfather was called Papa and one was called Grandpa. My two grandmothers, on the other hand, were Grandma Yetta and Grandma Millie—and no, this was not confusing for me at all, not even when I was a toddler. Many years later, when I was pregnant, I asked my mother-in-law what she’d like to be called, and she requested Nana. Had she asked to be called Grandma, she would have been known as Grandma Gerry, and my mom as Grandma Sheila.

In other words: Go ahead and ask the four future grandparents—it’s a nice gesture. And if all four grandfathers would enjoy being called Grandpa, add their names. (By the way: In my husband’s much more formal Southern upbringing than my NYC Jewish one, his two grandfathers were both Grandpa but with their last names appended; ditto the two Grandmas.) If your parents prefer Zayde, let them be Zayde Mark and Zayde David. Or maybe all four parents will have preferences you don’t even know about yet. Maybe they want to be Granddad, Pop Pop, Pops, and Papá. Or Granddaddy. Or Baba. Or Papaw. Or maybe none of them care one way or the other what they’re called—in which case go ahead and pick an honorific and add each G-pa’s name. This is going to be fine.

— Michelle

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