Saturday, June 26, 2010

When Grandparents Are Left Out...

Judging from my own life, I can tell you that Grandparents can be a treasured part of a child's life. They add a dimension that a parent isn't able to and often can be a safe place for children when the world around them seems to be so chaotic and out of control. I lost my Grandparents quite a few years ago, but I have very fond memories of them and I still remember things we used to do and things they used to say to me that make me feel great. If you are a Grandparent, I would encourage you that you are such a necessary part of your family and important to your grandchildren on more levels than you may even know. Just the experience that you have, the stories that you can share and the things that you can teach your grandchildren will become wonderful memories they can revisit in years to come. You are a window into a world that they will probably never get the chance to experience without you, and that is worth more than words can tell.

Today's question is from just such a Grandmother who is finding her relationship with her grandson being cut off and she is very distressed. Although there are always two sides to every story, for one reason or another, Grandparents can find themselves in this situation all too often. Frustrating as it is, there may be ways to work out whatever the complications are, if both sides are willing. Although I empathize with the woman who wrote me, I also know that there is a reason why her daughter is behaving the way she is. Perhaps it comes from her home of origin, perhaps it doesn't, but whatever is happening here, both sides need to be heard and a solution found for the betterment of the child in question. I'll let you decide:

"My question is a rather painful one. I have a daughter who is single, who has a son. She's 28, a smart young lady, very self supporting and someone I am proud of, however....She has deep control issues. This pattern has cost her plenty over the years but refuses to see them or address them. I was a huge part of my grandson's life while she was going to school to get her degree in nursing. I took care of him while she attended school and work. He is a pure joy. Since getting her degree and now working full time as a RN, she refuses to let me see my grandson. She gets upset about little things and instead of coping with them, she uses her son and a lever to hurt her family. I have not seen my grandson in close to a year. Each attempt is shot down. I am not the only one in the family she reacts to this way. If you cross her, she controls everyone by refusing to allow contact with her son. I have told her she is only hurting him, however, she replies, "she's the mother and she makes the decisions." In the last four months I have tried to spend time with my grandson many times and she's refuses. She reacts the same way with the rest of the family too. I'm worried about my grandson's mental health. It must be hard on him being 8 and losing contact with his family. We all have tried to talk to her about this and she gets upset and hangs up or shuts the door. She reacts the same way with his father. However, he is sadly losing interest in doing battle with her and has moved on. He has his own issues and chooses not to fight her anymore in court or out. This young man is being slowly cut out of everyones life. I agree she is the mother and can make decisions, but she is only hurting her son. Any suggestions please?"

It is always hard answering questions of this type when you don't have a lot of background on the situation. As I said above, adult children often take on characteristics with their children that they learned growing up from their own parents so it could be that this mother doesn't see the hurt that she may have caused in her daughter's life and that her daughter is trying to protect her son from experiencing hurt in his own life. However, as most of us who are parents of grown or adolescent children have learned, that is a job that we will not accomplish any time soon.

If any of you are like me, when your children were born you thought that you could build a platform under them that they could be launched out into life from, that you could give them the benefit of your experiences, they would learn from them and not make the same mistakes that you did. LOL :) In a perfect world, that may be but as a very wise friend shared with me once, I am the product of the learning I did throughout my life and my children need to learn similar lessons. We all have to learn about life through personal experience. It would be great if we could always benefit from the experience of others, but that doesn't seem to be the way God ordained it. We must experience life for ourselves, so the best we can offer our children is the benefit of our life experience and walk alongside them as they figure out the solutions to the problems they have. Isn't that how God works with us? He seldom fixes the problem for us, but He gives us wisdom that we can apply as we solve life's problems for ourselves.

Read through the answer that I provided this Grandmother and see if you agree or not:

"This must be very difficult for you and the rest of your family. It is clear that you have strong feelings for your grandson, and I do agree that when relationships with grandparents are healthy ones, grandparents add a wonderful dimension to a child's life. It is sad that this is happening.

Most control issues come from a place of great fear. There are usually significant issues of woundedness that cause people to try to control their world like you describe. Unfortunately, there are not too many ways around her decisions because, as you said, she is the mother.

One way in is to appeal to the courts and try to win visitation rights as a grandparent. Although you might gain your rights, most likely your relationship with your daughter would suffer. However, there could be a possibility that you could ask for arbitration or family counseling as a means to work this out and that could be an asset. This is not my area of expertise so I would direct you to a family law attorney for more information.

From a psychological point of view, I might suggest evaluating your relationship with her and trying to find any areas where she may feel controlled or has felt controlled. The idea is to create a safe place where she doesn't have to resort to those controlling behaviors. As I said before, control comes from fear, but it also comes from a lack of trust. Has she been hurt by the family? Does she feel controlled by you or others in the family? Does she have reasons not to trust you? When I say that, please understand that her reasons don't necessarily have to be valid. Does she have perceptions of problems with you that would cause her not to trust? Have you asked her what her reasons are for not allowing you to see your grandson? She must have some reasons that she can articulate. If she does, that is a place to start. If her reasons are valid, acknowledge them and own any part of them that you can. These are ways to build a path back into her life and with that, your grandson.

Unfortunately, when someone is controlling like that, there is little that you can do unless they are breaking the law or abusing the child. It is a difficult situation and always a slippery slope when dealing with someone else's fear. There are always other reasons for people to behave like this, but the ones I have indicated here are the most common."

If you have a different perspective, I would encourage you to leave a comment that might help others who read this blog. It seems as though our world is changing and life is becoming so much harder for people. It is a sad reality and one I hope and pray can be turned around sooner than later.

I'll leave you with this last bit of humor. Bill Cosby had a wonderful way of taking the difficulties of life and making people laugh. In this video, he talks about Grandparents and Parents and children, but underneath it all is a possible connection to the discussion that we are having here. See if you can pick it up.


Anonymous said...

What comes to my mind when I read this is, she is doing for her son what she wanted done for her. Was there something that she needed to be protected from as a child? That's not based on anything but what came to mind when I read it.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if during the early years of being a "huge part of her grandson's life", that her daughter, very busy with school, studies, and work, felt her mother was "taking over her role as a mother". Now, she will not allow her son to be exposed to his grandmother for fear it would continue. I would think the 8yo needs a babysitter now and then. Obviously, something happened where the daughter may have felt threatened by her mother's bonding with her son. Even if other members of the family had access to her son, the grandmother could then have the connection again. The daughter is adamant this is not going to happen.