Your daughter won’t speak to you and because of that, you haven’t seen or heard from your grandbabies in over six months. You’ve sent them cards and gifts, but heard nothing back. When you try to contact them via phone or text, you don’t get an answer, and you have been blocked on her Facebook and Instagram. What’s a devoted grandparent to do?
I know that what I am about to suggest is probably furthest from your mind, but have you thought about simply respecting your daughter’s wishes rather than ignoring them? I know that sounds counter-productive, but the truth of the matter is that if you believed you had the wolf trying the blow your house down, would you be opening the door to him? Or would you be increasing and improving your defences?
Yes, I know, you don’t believe you are the wolf at the door, you are her parent and the grandparent of those darling children. You love them, you have their best interests at heart, and for some unfathomable reason, your own child has turned her back on you and slammed and locked the door! What can you do?
Whether your goal is access to your own child, the grandchildren, or both, the first thing you need to understand is that you cannot get what you want by further alienating your own child. She is the gatekeeper, the person who grants or withholds access to herself and to those precious grandbabies and without her cooperation, you get nowhere.
Okay, I know that some states have grandparent’s rights in their statutes but taking that route is ill-advised at best. First of all, it will permanently alienate the parent, your child—if you have any hope of repairing the relationship with your child, this will forever kill any possibility of that. Secondly, very few states have these laws and among those that do, the chances of you prevailing are very low—especially if the person you are suing is your own child. Finally, it will take a lot of money for your adult child to defend against such a suit, money that could be better spent taking care of those grandchildren—and that is a fact that will not be lost on the court. If you hope for a reconciliation—or at least to gain access to your grandchildren, then the image you portray is critically important, and presenting yourself to a court as a person who is willing impoverish the parent of your grandkids in order to get your own way is not going to polish your halo.
The first thing you must understand—and understand clearly—is that you are not entitled to a relationship with your grandchildren. You may not like that, you may not want to believe it, but your dislikes and disbeliefs don’t influence the truth of it. You have no right, either morally or legally, to insert yourself into another family’s life. Even in states that provide for grandparents’ rights, those rights are very narrow and circumscribed and the only grandparents who actually have to those rights are those who have successfully had them granted: prior to a court granting you those rights, they don’t exist. For the most part, access to the children of other people is a privilege granted to you by the parents or guardians of those children. And that privilege often comes with rules—i.e., no sweets, no snacks after a certain time, prescribed bedtimes or other things you may dislike or disagree with. The fact that you are the grandparent does not give you leave to disrespect the structure the child’s parents have created and if you do disrespect them—like trying to make a vegetarian child eat meat—the parents may limit or even end your ability to see the children, which is well within their rights.
You need to understand that you are not in control of the household of your adult child nor should you be. A lot has been discovered by doctors and scientists since the last time you and I were parenting young kids. Things we thought were harmless or normal have been discovered to be harmful; things we considered harmful—like “spoiling” a child with “too much” attention—have been found to be beneficial. Your way is not the only way to care for children, it may be far from the best way, and it’s not your call anyway. If you refuse to respect the parent’s instructions not only are they well within their rights to limit or even end your association with the kids, a court will most likely agree with them—and then instruct you to pay the other party’s legal costs.
Having been the parents and in charge for so many years, it may be difficult for you to accept that your children are now in control and you must take instruction from and obey them. You want to remain in control, as you have always been, but you can’t always get what you want: some things are simply beyond your grasp. You can’t lasso the moon, you can’t put Reagan back in the White House, and you can’t change another person to be who you want them to be or make them act the way you want them to act, not even your own adult child.
You can, however, change yourself. I am not saying that it is easy, but you can do it and, if you want to have a relationship with your estranged child and her children, that may very well be what you need to do. Some problems cannot be solved by throwing money, in the form of loans, gifts or lawyer’s and court fees, at them and resolving the issue of the alienated adult child is one of those problems that money not only cannot fix but may actually make worse.
You must also grasp that your perception of a situation or event is not the only one—there may be other, equally valid—in fact, even more valid—perceptions out there than your own. In other words, it is entirely possible that you are wrong about how you are seeing the situation. If you are not willing to accept that possibility, then you will be fighting an uphill battle. Just feeling or believing you are right is not enough: there was a time when we fervently believed in the existence of the Tooth Fairy or Santa Claus, but later discovered they weren’t real. No amount of believing on our parts, however, conjured them up: we believed with our whole hearts and it wasn’t enough to make it so. And so it is with your perceptions—no how fervently you believe you are right, you may still be wrong and if you want access to your adult child and her children, you need to become intimately familiar with that concept.
You also need to understand that it is very unlikely that your adult child is going to simply capitulate to your demands, so you need to do some soul-searching and determine what it is you really want. Do you want to have your own way or do you want access to your child and/or grandchildren? Think about which is most important to you because they may very well be mutually exclusive: in order to have access to your child/grandchildren you are probably going to have to compromise and, by its very nature, compromise means giving up some of what you think you want. Ask yourself this: what am I willing to give up to just see the grandchildren for five minutes—just five minutes. If you aren’t willing to give up all of your demands and expectations to have just five minutes—and not necessarily five minutes alone—with them, then you want your own way more than you want to see those kids and that is going to work against you.
Perhaps the most important thing for you to understand is that adult children almost never cut off their parents without a) thinking about it for a long time; b) trying to get their parents to understand their issues; and c) trying to get their parents to work with them in resolving their issues. Too often I have had letters from estranged parents/grandparents lamenting their child having cut them off “suddenly and with no explanation” when, in fact, it was neither sudden nor was it unexplained.
Some of these estranged adult children have spent years—literally years—trying to get their parents to address issues only to have their issues minimized, dismissed or even laughed at. The fact that something is unimportant to you in no way means it is unimportant to others: an issue you have dismissed as “petty” may be of earth-shattering importance to your adult child and your dismissal is, at the very least, hurtful.
The most common complaint I hear from estranged adult children is a lack of respect from their parents. Before you get huffy and try to tell me that respect is “earned,” allow me to point out that that is a very disrespectful attitude to take. Everyone one on the planet is entitled to respect until they earn your DISrespect. You have no right to demand respect from anyone—including your children—if you do not give them respect up front.
If you believe that respect must be earned, tell me what have you done to earn respect from your adult kids? Do you even know what you need to do to earn that respect from them? Has is ever occurred to you that if you insist that respect is earned, then you need to earn the respect of others, including your own children, regardless of their age? Respect is a two-way street: you cannot legitimately expect it from others if you won’t to give it to them.
But you do respect your adult kids, you tell me. Do you really? If you really want to heal the rift in your family, then you have to understand what has upset your adult child and in order to do that, you have to put yourself in their shoes. Did you tell your daughter, without being asked for your help or opinion, that she was bathing her new baby wrong? Did you say “here, let me show you how to do that”? or did you say, instead, “you look like you’re having some trouble there. Can I help?” The first is disrespectful, the second is not. When you had your grandchildren overnight did you let them stay up past their bedtime? Did you let them eat cookies before dinner? Did you let them do anything that their parents said not to? Then you disrespected your children.
When it comes to their kids, the parents are the final authority even if you disagree right down to your very toes with them. These are not your children and this is not your decision or choice to make. Would you have left your children with people who ignored your wishes concerning your child’s diet or safety or obedience? Would you have been unhappy if you left your child with a family member and that person ignored your wishes in favour of their own? Suppose your family member liked watching porn and despite your admonition “no TV, movies or videos,” he let them not only watch videos, he let them watch a porn vid they found. Would you be upset? Would you let him baby sit again? (Hint: if you would allow it, you lack the proper judgment to be left in charge of children.)
So you shouldn’t be surprised that, when you violate the rules set down by your children with respect to their own children, your kids don’t want you minding their kids anymore.
“But it’s not porn,” you say after letting them stay up past their bedtime to watch a Disney film. Or, “It was just an ice cream and it was really hot that day and little Sonny really liked it,” after the parent told you no ice cream. What if Sonny was lactose intolerant or allergic to cow’s milk or has issues with blood sugar? His parents don’t have to tell you his medical history—that is none of your business. You have an obligation, like every other babysitter, to stick to the dictates of the child’s parents whether you agree or not, whether you like it or not, whether you want to or not. Deliberately going against the wishes of the parent of the child is a deep, lasting betrayal, guaranteed to damage the trust that parent has in you. The more often you do it, the more that trust is chipped away and if you have the audacity to try to defend yourself or, worse, try to make the parent feel like they are wrong, you are gouging huge chunks out of that parent’s trust.
You don’t care if the parent trusts you or not? Well, guess what got you into this situation, where you own child won’t speak to you and you can’t have any contact with your grandchildren? No parent worth the title exposes their children to people they cannot trust so if you destroyed your own child’s trust in you through your high-handed, disrespectful and entitled ways, your kid did what every self-respecting parent on the planet will do: cut you and your untrustworthy ways right out of their lives.
Perhaps you think your child is out of line by putting the grandchildren “in the middle.” Actually, it is you who are putting them in the middle by refusing to respect either their parents or their parents’ wishes. No child should have to witness their parents being treated disrespectfully nor should any child be cozened into taking part in behaviours that their parents disapprove of. It is you who are causing the rift by your simple act of believing you know better than the grandchild’s parents and acting like you have the right to override them and their authority. You don’t. And the parents are right to remove their children from being the centre of conflict and not allowing them to be treated like a bone caught between two fighting dogs. You have put those grandchildren in the middle by refusing to accede to their parents’ wishes and/or treating the parent(s) disrespectfully, and the parents have taken them out of the middle by removing them from the field of battle.
So let’s say you have finally—albeit reluctantly—come to the conclusion that it is your behaviour that prompted your child to remove your grandchildren from your life. And let’s further assume that you wish to make sincere amends so that you can see your grandchildren again. What now?
Well, like it or not, your child is now an adult and has an incontrovertible right to decide the conditions of her life—and in this regard, you have no rights whatsoever. None. Repeat that. Aloud. “I have no rights in this.” Repeat it over and over until you truly get it. You have NO rights in this, in your adult child’s life, in the lives of your grandchildren. You have no rights. None. Understanding this and accepting this is the first—and most essential—step in resolving the issue(s) that caused you to be denied contact with your grandchildren.
If you truly understand and accept this, then you also understand that any access to your adult children and grandchildren is a privilege and your adult child (or his/her significant other) is the only person who can grant you that privilege. And because they can grant it, they can also take it away. They have all of the rights here, not you. (And yes, again, I know about “grandparent’s rights” and also know that if you go that route you will never fix the problem that drove your child away, you will just entrench it permanently. See paragraphs 5 and 6.)
So what do you do when you want something from a person who has absolute power over giving it or withholding it? Why, you make sure this person sees you in a good light, right? Because if this person doesn’t, if this person is irritated with you, annoyed by you, afraid of you, doesn’t like you—if this person harbours any negative feelings towards you—the odds of you getting what you want start to slide, don’t they? So you need to be on this person’s good side, don’t you?
Your child is the gatekeeper to your grandchildren. So your adult child is the person whose good books you need to be in. How can you do that after you have already screwed it up so badly?
The very first thing you must do is to respect your child’s boundaries. All of them. Even the ones you don’t like or think are unfair. That includes the present boundaries set down by your child. This may seem counter-productive because respecting that boundary means going along with no contact with your grandchildren, the opposite of what you want. But if you don’t respect this boundary, you are proving to your child that you are not trustworthy and every bad thing she thinks about you is true.
Next, you have to get over yourself. That means you have to change. And that means starting to take on board the perspective of other people. You have been so busy justifying yourself and trying to get your child to understand and agree with you (or browbeating, guilt-tripping, intimidating and manipulating your child into capitulating) that you have completely missed the fact this this is not a one-way street. Your child is entitled to a position and a point of view and what’s more, she is the one who has the rights, not you! You are so accustomed to being the boss in your relationship with your child you didn’t see that not only did her body grow up, so did her psyche—and she acquired some new rights and you lost some old ones. Catch up—she isn’t ten anymore and you don’t have any rights over her!
Adult children do not just “break up” with their parents whimsically and for no reason. In my experience (with hundreds of people over a five+ year span of time), the vast majority of adult children who sever relations with their parents do it after long months—even years—of agonizing and soul searching. Often times they try to have discussions, they send letters and emails, they try to have conversations on the phone, all without feeling like their parents have heard them or have any empathy for the pain they are feeling. Because, believe me, very few adult children sever ties with their parents without going through a lot of pain en route to the decision. So the odds are, your child has tried numerous times to get through to you to no avail.
So start with the reasons your child stopped contact with you. And don’t claim you don’t know, either. Odds are that you have been told—probably countless times—what to stop doing, what to back off from, what upsets your kid. And the odds also strongly suggest that you have either ignored or dismissed whatever your child said. You have called it “over-reacting” or “childish” or denied it happened or tried to justify or rationalize why it—whatever “it” was—was ok. You didn’t listen and, most importantly, you did not take your child seriously. And then something happened—like you showed up at a party you weren’t invited to, or you presumed to dictate something to your child, or you said something rude or snide or did something sneaky or underhanded—or high-handed and disrespectful—and that was the last straw for your adult child. They stopped responding to you, they may even have sent you a letter that said to just stay away, you might even have received a letter from a lawyer telling you to stay away. Whatever it was, something you did or said was, for your child, the final insult, the final betrayal, and now your child wants nothing to do with you and does not want you influencing her child.
So go back over what has been said to you. Things you discounted or dismissed, things you found absurd or petty. Things you did not take seriously. Take them seriously now. Use the next few months to walk in your adult child’s shoes, to examine your entitlement, your expectations, your perspective. Did you think your child should have been grateful when you bought the grandchild new shoes but she was angry instead? What did you take away from that disagreement? Did you think “She’s spoilt and ungrateful and I was only trying to help and besides, she can’t afford the shoes Sissie wants and I can so what’s the big deal?”? Did you stop to put yourself in her position? What if she was thinking “I already told Sissie she couldn’t have those shoes so she’s sneaking behind my back and you are helping her—and she knows it will work because you have done this kind of thing before, buying stuff for my kid without asking me first. You are teaching my child to be manipulative because you won’t consult with me!” Or maybe she was thinking “I don’t want you to corrupt my child with ‘stuff.’ I don’t want her to value people for what they can give her but for who they are. I want you to let me decide what my child can and cannot have. That’s my job, not yours!”
Go over every instance you can remember—and if your child wrote you a letter about what you have said and done that has upset her, take her every instance—and try to see it from her point of view. Don’t excuse yourself with rationalizations—truly try to see things from her perspective. You gave your grandchild a bicycle and your daughter blew up—did you ask if you could give the child a bicycle? Did the kid say “somebody stole my bike” and you swooped to the rescue? Did you give the parent a chance to tell you that the child has had three bikes stolen because she leaves them on the front lawn, unlocked and unattended? Did you know that she is not allowed to have another one until she demonstrates better responsibility and now you have made your daughter the bad guy because she had to lock this one away in order to go on with the lesson in responsibility she is trying to teach?
Maybe you can’t come up with some reason where you were wrong. My guess would be that means you aren’t really trying. Did your daughter do something you didn’t like and you scolded her like a naughty child? Where do you get the right to do that to another adult? Have you made assumptions—she’s going on holiday so you’ll go to the same place, assuming you are welcome? Did you try to impose your will on her taste for her wedding or her first house or your grandchild’s nursery because you think you know better than she does or, worse, you contributed to the cost? Wrong move—her life, her choices, her tastes, not yours!
Once you have reached a point at which you fully understand why your adult child has reached the end of her rope and cut you off, you should be feeling remorse. And embarrassment. And shame. Because you really were out of line and you really did do things that disrespected her and her autonomy. If you’re not feeling that way, then you don’t really understand and you need to go back to the soul searching and seeking the evidence in yourself and your behaviours that make up the truth of your adult child’s removal of herself and her children from your life. Until you “get” what you did and why your kid is upset with you, you are not ready for the next step, and getting what your kid is trying to get across to you may take professional help—like a therapist—and months…even years…before you are truly ready for the next step. And do not take that next step if you aren’t really ready or you will permanently screw this up.
Once you can empathize with your adult child and you are in a headspace that says “Wow, I don’t blame her for cutting me off—I was awful to her!” you are in the right frame of mind to attempt a reconciliation. Start with a letter and start that letter with your first apology: apologize for disrespecting her boundary with the letter. That should be your very first sentence: “Let me begin by apologising for violating the boundary you set when you said you did not want to be in contact with me anymore. I have spent our estranged time really working on understanding your point of view and it is important to me to tell you that I finally get it…”
Then tell the truth—don’t try to make it sweet and palatable, don’t use euphemisms in an attempt to soften it. “I have been awful to you. I realize that now and I am truly sorry.” You should be feeling shame when you write this, and you should be feeling humility because after you eat a few bushels of crow, you are going to have to swallow that crow along with your pride and ask for forgiveness. And worse, you are going to have to acknowledge that she is under no obligation to either forgive or believe you and if she does either one, let alone both, you are incredibly lucky. Because this is an uphill battle that you created for yourself and nobody can fix it but you—and she has nothing to lose by telling you to fuck off and leave her alone. You have to go into this with that in the forefront of your mind and with acceptance of that in your heart: you screwed this up, you screwed it up really bad, and if there is any coming back from it, it is going to be from the goodness of her heart. You had better hope you haven’t crushed that out of her.
Don’t tell her what you are going to do—that presumes that you know what she wants and in the past that hasn’t worked very well for you, has it? Stick to apologising, giving examples of where you screwed up, what you did wrong, what you should have done, then saying you are sorry and then empathising with the feelings your behaviour provoked in her. Ask for things, don’t tell—stay away from phrases like “talking this out” because that proves you don’t get it—she doesn’t want to talk anything out, she doesn’t need to talk it out and besides, there is nothing TO talk out: if you think there is, you still don’t get it.
Resolving your adult child’s issues with you basically comes in the form of you backing off from trying to run things. You don’t get to tell her what she needs (to talk it out), you don’t get to put your needs (like your need to understand) ahead of hers. You don’t get to put the burden of your understanding on her, either—that is your responsibility. You are no longer at the helm of her life and it is past time for you to get out of the driver’s seat and hand control over to her. If you are not willing to do that, if you find yourself saying or thinking “yes, but…” as you read this, you don’t get it yet, you aren’t ready to approach your estranged adult child, you need to shed some more of your effrontery and eat some more of that crow because if you don’t and you approach your child with a “yes, but...” mindset, I guarantee that you will cock it up and you will not get a second chance to fix this.
So, let’s say you’ve sent a letter and it has been favourably received. Is it all better now? Um, no—you have only just succeeded in getting her to give you an opportunity to prove to her that you have changed. The kind of change she is looking for is permanent—it means, in some ways, that you must become a different person than you have heretofore been. It means you cannot pretend to have changed in her presence, then go back home and bitch about what a bitch she has become or how incompetent she is to manage her affairs or how stupid she is to still be hooked up with that loser husband of hers. It means that you respect her choices even when you don’t agree with them. It means no passive aggressive remarks like “well, I guess is it your choice…” with a disapproving or sulky demeanour or tone. It means respecting her and her choices and loving her regardless of your disapproval or disappointment in choices she makes, especially things political or personal/lifestyle oriented. The only time your disapproval has any validity is if the situation is potentially life threatening, like a drug-fuelled lifestyle in which the children are exposed and even then, your place is not to condemn her, it is to support an effort on her part to change and see to the safety to your grandchildren through proper channels. Beware of using this manipulatively, however, by levelling false charges, because even if the authorities don’t come back on you for misusing the justice system, your estranged adult child will very likely become permanently estranged from you as a result. You will have proven yourself untrustworthy in the worst possible way and it is unlikely you will be able to recover from that.
The truth is, most parents from whom adult children become estranged are unwilling to humble themselves in the ways required to create a new, healthy, appropriate and respectful relationship with their estranged adult child. What they really want is to have their cake and eat it too: they want their adult child to resume the role they set up for her when she was a child and they want unfettered and uncontrolled access to their grandchildren. These people believe their estranged adult child is wrong and refuse to even address the possibility that they are the ones who are wrong. They therefore refuse to make any effort to change, instead making attempts to “talk through” an estrangement which is really just a euphemism for getting the adult child in a position where she cannot fight back and then browbeating her into submission and a return to her original role, a role in which you are in control of her life and she remains subordinate to you.
If you are thinking things like “I want my family back” and “things were fine until…” then you still don’t get it and your attempts at reconciliation will be viewed as disrespectful violations of the boundaries she set and unwanted intrusions into her private life. Only when you have given up the desire to put things back the way they were do you have any hope of resuming a relationship with your estranged adult child and those grandchildren because “the way things were” is exactly what hurt her and drove her away in the first place.
And just to be clear, that estranged adult child may well be a son rather than a daughter. And if you blame your daughter-in-law for causing the rift, if you believe that anything other than your own behaviour and lack of awareness of and empathy for your child’s feelings caused the split, then you need to go back to the beginning of this post and start reading all over again.
You broke this and if there is even a hint of a chance that it can be fixed, then it will only happen through you making serious changes in the way you (and your partner/spouse) view and treat your estranged adult child. And if you don’t want to do that, if you think you don’t need to change or it is too much work or you are too old, then what you are really saying is that you care more for your convenience than the happiness and well-being of your adult child and his/her immediate family.
And you know what? That is okay! What is not okay is hurting your adult child with your disrespect. Stick to your own way if you wish, but respect your adult child’s autonomy and leave her/him alone.
I saw this essay posted in a private group for people alienated from their children. I half heartily read your rationale for having your blog. It is horrible that you were assaulted in anyway. I am certain a tragedy like that is hard to overcome..ReplyDelete
I too, have had tragedy in my life. One I am sure I will never get over.. My son has been addicted to heroin for over 10 years. He was 22 when he started. My husband and I could do nothing b/c he was not a minor. Our entire family involved themselves in this process of helping my son get clean, with good intentions. My son also has been involved with a woman 11 years older than him. They have a child. I am alienated from my son and my granddaughter, so is his father and brothers. Our alienation is not b/c of our behavior or any perceived attitude towards entitlement. We have broken no "house rules." Quite frankly I was surprised to find you are as old as you are. I expected such a misguided piece to be written by an entitled millennial. You have no idea what it is like to have a child try to committed suicide and be told you cannot see your granddaughter. You have no idea what it is like to see your granddaughter's mother sneak drugs to your own son and then deny it..
At the risk of sounding rude, I would like to add, seek more therapy. Your piece is narcissistic, much like your mother. You do know that behavior is learned,dont you?
I guess you missed the over-arching theme of this piece: adult children have an absolute right to make choices their parents don't like, even choices that appear--at least on the surface--to be self-destructive. With those choices, however, they have to take the natural consequences...jail, divorce, estrangement, addiction, even death...whatever the natural consequence may be. Whether you like it or not, your right to judge and/or interfere in the choices your son makes with his life ended the day he turned 18.Delete
There is a theory that a lot of substance abuse is actually self-medicating and from tone of parental purity of your comment, I would guess that this has never been considered by you--or if it has, it was rejected out of hand. In other words, your son may have experimented with substances such as heroin as a means of dealing with emotional turmoil in his life. Given the clearly judgmental tones of your comment and your complete lack of shame in assuming you know everything about my history (how do you know if I have ever dealt with a suicidal family member? what makes you think I have never experienced a loved one in the grip of a fatal addiction? where do you get the idea that I don't know what it feels like to be kept away from a child I love?)indicates to me that you are very likely one of those parents the piece was written for.
"At the risk of sounding rude..." Lady, your entire post was presumptuous, condescending, supercilious, and rude. Not to mention ill-informed (your ignorance of narcissism sticks out all over you like a thousand sore thumbs), self-serving (you haven't broken any "house rules"? is that supposed to mean that you are/were/have been perfect parents?) and blaming.
Your most telling comment is this "Our alienation is not b/c of our behavior or any perceived attitude towards entitlement." Actually, yes, it is. That is exactly why you you are alienated...it may also be what has triggered your "child" to attempt suicide (my suicide attempts at a similar age were directly related to my controlling, judgmental mother who was no less convinced of her perfection than you are of yours).
It is said that the best defense is a good offence and you certainly made a strong attempt here. But what if you decided to take a totally different approach? What if, instead of unloading all over a stranger on the internet who got a little too close for comfort, what if you decide to do an HONEST assessment of yourself as a parent (and grandparent)? What if you were to realize that you have alienated your child (and his partner and their child)) with your pushy, judgmental and overbearing ways? What if you were to call them and sincerely apologise to them, tell them you are willing to change, but you need their help, you need them to point out to you when you are being disrespectful, overbearing, pushy or otherwise offensive to them and, if they will tell you what you SHOULD be doing instead, you will try your very best to do it? What would happen if you tried that?
You see, the very first thing you have to do to fix this is to realize and accept that you have been WRONG. Then you need to apologize. Then you need to change--and to humble yourself enough to as for their help in changing. This is the ONLY way to resolve the situation you are in, to open the door to resuming a relationship with your son and having one with your granddaughter. It may be too late--you may have already poisoned that well one time too many and they don't ever want to hear from you again. But IF a chance still exists, this is the only way to make it work for you--assuming you are willing to make a sincere effort to change.
Narcissists never take responsibility--and they always rationalize, justify, and blame rather than change. What are YOU going to do?
"We have broken no "house rules." Quite frankly I was surprised to find you are as old as you are. I expected such a misguided piece to be written by an entitled millennial."Delete
Are your sure your behaviour hasn't driven your son away? Your final two sentences in that quote ring alarm bells for me. This informative, well-written article suggests ways to respect your estranged child's boundaries and methods to improve the relationship and rather than trying to see the situation from the writer's viewpoint you've chosen to criticise and belittle her. This is exactly the behaviour that pushes adult children away, when any expression of hurt is ridiculed and their grievances are not taken seriously. If you don't feel it applies to the situation with your son then fair enough, but perhaps try pointing this out without being offensive so that together we can share experiences and learn from them.
To Unknown, I agree 100%. I came here to seek advice as I am alienated from a child my hubs and I raised for 5 years. And yes, she was ripped from our lives one day out of nowhere, and I was immediately cut off and was not given any chance to resolve it, fix my mistake, whatever I did, every 2 weeks I reached out to them to talk and resolve this, begged for them to tell me why they did this so I could fix it. Its now been 2 years of her life we have missed. It is because her guardian is a NARCISSIST AND THIS IS TYPICAL NARC BEHAVIOR. This has nothing to do with the alienated family members doing anything, its the narc!! How do we deal with Narcs, you either kiss their ass or nothing you can do will resolve the problem! This article is hurtful and one sided. I feel like YOU (the blogger) have a child that YOU alienate from family. Sounds like you were speaking from your own experience because you just repeated the same things over and over and over...You are very wrong about the court system too, grandparents absolutely do have rights! And they do win in court. his article needs a different title. This could really steer a broken hurting person into the wrong pathway....Delete
You are exactly the kind of grandparent this was written for...the kind of grandparent who is so convinced that she did nothing wrong, that she had entitlements over her grandchildren, that she has a right to be a part of the life of a child for whom she is not a biological or legal parent. In other words, somebody who thinks she has rights where she, in truth has none.Delete
I don't know you but I can tell you that if I was a judge and you walked into my courtroom with the attitude you have displayed in this comment--if you said the things in open court that you wrote here--you would not only not be given grandparent's rights (which you do not have until a judge grants them to you) I would issue a restraining order to keep your self-centred, volatile, histrionic self away from an innocent child who doesn't need that kind of toxic chaos in her life.
And if this comment is any indication of your normal behaviour, I do not fault the child's "guardian" for keeping her away from you, either. Sounds like a very smart person who can spot a disruptive influence a mile away.
Tell you what--get a lawyer, go to court and demand grandparents rights, show the judge the comment you made on this post and see what it gets you. Write back. If you win, I will issue a retraction. But I am not in the least bit worried that I will have to eat my words because no judge in his right mind will disrupt a child's peaceful, calm life by forcing a loose cannot like you on her.
If you REALLY want to see the child, then you start with a therapist--for YOU and YOUR issues, your sense of entitlement, your lack of empathy for the child's peace, your selfishness in thinking only what you want matters, and it matters more than the child's well-being. When the therapist is finished with you (not when you are finished with him/her) see if you might have a better chance as seeing the child without the intervention of the court. But I bet you right here and now you will not do this because you want things on your terms, no matter who gets hurt by it. And that, alone, is enough to explain why the child is no longer allowed in your presence.
I am not usually this harsh with people but you have earned it with your bombast and crappy attitude. Didn't anybody tell you that you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar? Didn't anyone ever set a boundary with you? Or are you one of those people who delight in trampling the boundaries others set? You certainly have stomped the commonplace boundary of polite interaction with strangers--do you know how to disagree without being disagreeable? Are you, in real life, as bitchy and selfish as your comment paints you to be?
You don't need to answer. I seldom publish comments like yours because they are neither relevant nor kind. And, just FYI, before you stick your foot deeper into your mouth, know that grandparents do NOT inherently have rights: grandparents must sue for them and in virtually all states the odds of the grandparent willing is very, very low. Here is the website you should have read before jamming both feet into your mouth: https://www.verywellfamily.com/grandparent-visitation-rights-state-by-state-1695938
Unknown, if the circumstances don't apply to you, why would you think this is directed at you? Estrangements happen for a number of reasons. Most people who read something that's not aimed at them move on. They don't feel the need to call complete strangers narcissists and tell them to get therapy in a patronizing tone.Delete
Addiction is a terrible disease and can drive families apart. I've experienced some of that as well (NPD is often co-morbid with addiction
Good luck to you and your family
My husband cut off his mother completely for 8 years, and only ever resumed a distant and wary relationship on his own terms. He was born in 1965, hardly a millennial.Delete
When she died, I had not seen nor spoken to her in 18 years. I am 60.
Awful parents know no generation.
Thank you so much for showing me what the other side is feeling...ReplyDelete
I want to thank you... what you said really touch me and opened my eyes to MY part of this estrangement... I actually approached my son and daughter in law tonite and i expressed my apologies for everything I did wrong... I never opened my eyes to my part of all of this because I felt I was just being a good mom and he was just trying to be mean to me and "teach" me a lesson to show he was an adult... i hope this is going to start the path in the right direction but i told him that I am leaving that up to him because I finally understand that he owes me nothing because he is an adult... I do hope one day YOUR situation can find some healing and I will always be grateful to you for helping me find mine :)ReplyDelete
Much love and many prayers for you <3
Good on you. I hope for your whole family's sake this is the first step on the path to resolving your differences and creating a whole and loving family.Delete
Well done you, that was a brave thing to do :)Delete
I wish my mother could read this and have the ability to understand it. I'm afraid it would be lost on her. Excellent summation of the issue though. I hope it reaches someone (and it sounds like it has).ReplyDelete
There are points I agree and I do not agree on. I am a mom, I am also a GP. I have been estranged temporarily on 3 occasions. Each time I try to understand what is happening before it gets any worse. You have a few things that are spot on, reflection and communication. My thought on buying my grandbaby $100 dresses, they are cute, they are re-sellable when mom needs some cash, they make for great photos. You’re telling me that my daughter may be thinking, dont buy her things it may send a message about value over people? Negative interpretation? How could we, possibly know that? Especially if its never been said before? I agree with respecting your adult child. Respect is a two way street. That includes no yelling at parents, no cussing at them, no entering their homes when they aren't there. At times I cant stand my MIL but I never and I mean have never raised my voice to her or said anything nasty. I have just walked out. At what point did younger generations get this idea that they demand respect yet give none? At what point did they say that they could throw away 20 or 30 years of a relationship over giving a kid sugar? It used to be a sweet part of a GP to spoil a child, now its a detriment to them learning value? That is an awful lot of blame to place on one person when your child's life will be filled with hundreds of people who influence them, both negatively and positively. I have no problem asking my kid for forgiveness, to apologize and to tell her that I have made mistakes and poor choices. In fact, I think my kid knows too much about my life and devalues me for it. My thoughts were, always be honest about who you are, where you came from, mistakes you have made so she wont fall prey to the same failures. Instead it gave her ammunition to throw back in my face when things between us go wrong but I am not ashamed, she knows me, all of me, not the me I pretend to be on FB. I love her and I accept her for all of her faults too and its because I love her unconditionally. She could stab me and I would forgive her. If she needed my only important organ, I would give it for her in a heartbeat so that she could live long to take care of her baby. So before someone reads this blog thinking that every estranged parent deserved it, you also should think about walking in your mom's shoes. And when you estrange your family, you set the acceptability that your child can do it to you down the line too. And before you think, that's okay, I will respect it, you cannot understand the pain until you feel it. I dont pretend to understand chemo, you cant pretend to understand the pain of an alienated parent. ESPECIALLY, if you did not communicate to them CLEARLY your expectations or the offenses as they happened. Passive aggressive social media does NOT count. *Parents who babysit. They love to and there are a great deal of them who refuse to. If your parents babysit, you should be grateful. Unless you pay them but I seriously think they are doing it for free and with love. And before you say you dont need a free babysitter who disrespects your dietary restrictions like sugar (not incl meat); then you can pay someone else $20p/h like I get paid because that is what I charge for non-family kids. What is wrong with being appreciative? Because they want to see your kids? How about you wanting to take a hot shower more than 5 min long? How about taking a poop in peace for 10 min? How about grocery shopping without screaming kids? We are grateful for the time, why cant you be too? And yes, the medical history of your kids IN ANY CAREGIVER SITUATION, is their business. There is not one family that I have taken care of kids where medical allergies/history is unknown including the information for the pediatrician and preferred hospitals & the location of inhalers/epipens. You have valid points but I feel that you have also not taken the time for introspection & reverse situations. I really hope, truly, lovingly that you never have to be on the receiving end of estrangement.ReplyDelete
The fact that you have been estranged three times tells me there is something that you are doing wrong--and doing it repeatedly.Delete
The fact that you have come up with a bunch of "exceptions" to what I have written--like, if you provide free babysitting, you get to stomp all over the rules of the parents, tells me you didn't get what this post was all about.
Read it again--slowly this time, for comprehension. You are EXACTLY the kind of grandparent this was written for.
So many excuses and justifications. You don't buy dresses without asking because it is intruding. You don't give sugar if the parent(s) don't want you to because...they, not you are the parents.Delete
"And before you say you dont need a free babysitter who disrespects your dietary restrictions like sugar (not incl meat); then you can pay someone else $20p/h..."
—This attitude is the reason your kid(s) estrange from you. You are saying "whelp...if you don't like the way I do things, even things you don't want done to your child then pay for it but if I'm doing it for free you give up all rights to set rules for your child."
Screw you Grandma. I'd rather pay a stranger. I would never, ever pull that kind of shit on my kid. Your kid, your rules. Full stop.
"you cant pretend to understand the pain of an alienated parent. ESPECIALLY, if you did not communicate to them CLEARLY your expectations or the offenses as they happened."Delete
My MIL lived to find fault. She was never happier than when telling you all the ways you just weren't living up to her standards -- she apparently considered herself the reference standard for all human behavior.
Her son -- her only child -- *DID* tell her, repeatedly, what the problem was. He told her that he would not put up with being constantly insulted, that he would not be treated like an errant child. Her response was to double down, insisting that correcting their "children" (he started this when he was in his mid-to-late twenties) was "what mothers do." Eventually he told her that the price of a continued relationship was to stop insulting him (and me). She again vociferously defended her right to correct his behavior because she was "the mother."
She got cut off completely for 8 years -- we did not see nor speak to her in all that time.
Eventually he resumed very guarded and distant contact, with the clear understanding that if she couldn't be polite to him he could walk away again.
Still, she had a couple of weepy episodes about how she "just didn't understand what had happened," why they weren't close anymore.
It's not that she wasn't told. It's that she refused to hear it. My MIL, like many, assumed that saying "I don't understand" meant that her son had to keep trying and trying and trying to tell her the same thing, all while tolerating her abuse. But it's not that she didn't understand, it's that she didn't like what she understood, and thought that claiming she didn't understand would obligate him to continue the relationhip.
Dana, you hit the nail bang on the head. And if you read the comments to this blog entry, you will find that most of the alienated grandparents responding to it are just like your MIL. Kudos to your husband for standing up to his mother and refusing to back down--and kudos to you for your insight, understanding, and support. You guys will do well in this, whether your MIL understands or not.Delete
For those readers who don't "get" what the MIL did wrong: when your child reaches adulthood your "right" to criticize and correct that child disappears--you no longer have it. And unless your adult child's "wrongdoing" is criminal or literally endangers his/her children, your job is to keep your mouth shut. You don't have to approve but you are not allowed to "correct." If you refuse to do that, to cut the apron strings and allow your child to be an autonomous adult, this article was written for YOU.
ReL $100 dressesReplyDelete
Things to consider:
Did the mom want to buy a dress? Maybe she wanted to buy baby's Xmas dress. Did you ask?
Are the dresses dry clean only...so the baby can wear it, and then it is up to the parents to dry clean it and then take time to sell it?
$100 dresses are for you...so You can get a photo to show your friends. They are not for the baby.
Would $100 be better spent on something else? Do struggling parents want a $100 dress or $100 in diapers?
Also I think when there is estrangement, there is usually some personality disorders on either side. Could be the child, could be the parent.
But in either case, you have to choose: Do I want to be "right"or do I want to see my grandkids?
Excellent essay! I know I'm a little late to the party but I just wanted to let you know how really great, thorough and informative you are here.ReplyDelete
My own mom (dead 10 years now) was like this. I never really thought of her as narcissistic —I always called it "only child syndrome, but my dad, step-dad, grandmother, and son were all only children and none of them had this kind of entitlement attitude, just my mom. So... in retrospect she really kinda was.
I understood how she was raised (hint: spoiled, entitled, indulged) and how she was treated by my dad and then my step-dad (hint: entitled...spoiled...indulged) and so I was able to intellectualize it. I was also for some reason able to pick up and move 3000 miles away the second I was legally able to do so.
My sister on the other hand got caught up in the web and stayed there, including having her first child basically turned against her because of "Grandma's" intrusion, until the day our mom died. My sister was forty-one.
I know my mom "gave" all kinds of money, etc. to my sister and none to me (or my son) because I had the audacity to set very firm boundaries very early (and enforce them) but whatever monetary benefits my sister had were not enough to make up for the cost of basically losing her autonomy and oldest child to my mom's whims.
Keep on fighting the good fight and don't let these entitled old people (grandparents) who try to justify themselves to you or who say rude things to you, get you down. It only underscores that they don't 'get' it and likely never will.
So much judgement. Over and over. Appears the problems come from stubborness on both sides. I am an estranged Mom. Have done everything the person asked and apologizeed over and over.He would not. Needs to be a beginning of respect from Both sides or your better off not being tortured.ReplyDelete
Too much harshness here. This is not where your issues are going to be settled. Go face to face.
I am not surprised he would not. You read this whole article and all you came away with is the sense that HE needs to do things your way (face to face) for the issues to be settled? Uh..no. You don't get it and he can tell (just as I can).Delete
At the risk of sounding rude, let me put this as plainly as I can: get off your high horse and acknowledge that YOU are WRONG. Acknowledge it with more than your words, acknowledge it in your heart--believe it--feel ashamed, remorseful, guilty.
You don't call the shots in an adult child's life. You don't get to tell him what he needs or how to settle his issues or that he needs to respect you. It sounds to me like you have earned his disrespect and you are willing to put in a appearance of complying to his wishes but you are still holding out for things to be done your way, still believing that you have a right to call the shots in his life.
You don't. And he knows that. And until YOU know and truly accept that, until you embrace humility and remorse for your actions, you don't have a prayer of reconciliation. And that is on you, not him.
To Unknown, never apologize for false accusations or apologize for something you know you didn't do,and jump through hoops. It will only further empower the estranger. It will tell them that they can now get whatever they want out of you, and they will take advantage. If an adult child can go to the extreme of estranging a loving but imperfect parent, they use you for what they want, and one "No" or protest from you will make them reject you again hoping to manipulate you once more through estrangement. I know. I work with hundreds of estranged parents and have over the years heard a thousand stories.Delete
Anyone who would cut down a total stranger for writing a piece that was clearly written from a broken heart, is exactly who this article speaks about. You don’t know this woman and this woman does not know you. She is simply giving the world her perspective on how to fix the estrangement from her family. And in honesty, if my family would do what she described to try and create a relationship, I too would have a relationship with my family. I will always keep in mind the way I have been treated by my parents so I never treat my children the same way. I have a relationship with my husband’s Mother because she was treated with disrespect by her own Mother. She knows how it feels and doesn’t treat us that way, therefor, we have that relationship with her. She respects all of our wishes as parents and communicates how much she wants to help us achieve our goals in raising our babies. She asks us what we want. She is considerate of our feelings. She puts us before herself which is our goal for our own children. We are the parent until they are 18. From that point on, we become friends and we must respect their decisions and when we don’t agree with those decisions, we will ask them why without judgement so that we may better understand where they are coming from.ReplyDelete
So I ask, what about your son’s addiction is the problem? What does he say about his use and what it does for him positively in his life? What does he like about it? What does he love about his girlfriend and mother of his child? What does he love about his son? What about his son makes him laugh? What about his son’s mother makes her a good mother? What is your son’s favorite movie? What is your son’s favorite color?
If you can’t answer those questions, then you will certainly understand after that.
God, it's hard to read these comments. I cut off my mom two months ago after months of trying to make it work--and this was after she violently physically attacked me in front of my young child. I never wanted to cut her off. I told her we could meet in public. She sulked, gave me the silent treatment, and was super gaslighty about what happened that night (she didn't try to choke me, her hand "accidentally pinched my neck"). Both my daughter and I have flashbacks from that night; when my kid sees characters yelling on TV, she asks me to turn it off because it reminds her of grandma. And yet grandma kept telling me that she would forgive me if I would just go back to her house again. No way in hell! How can I trust someone or feel safe around them if they can't even acknowledge or apologize for their actions?! It's my job to teach my kid to keep herself safe, that it doesn't matter how much you love someone--and I do love my mom--if they can't be safe around you.ReplyDelete
This is one of the most validating things I've ever read, I can't thank you enough for publishing this piece. I've been estranged from my parents for several years for EXACTLY the reasons and circumstances you describe. It's actually extremely uncanny how much this whole letter applies to my situation.ReplyDelete
I know the estrangement is the only possibility right now if I'm to have any semblance of mental health or a happy, healthy family of my own. My parents have shown over years (and hundreds of emails and letters, just as you describe!) that my well being is not a concern of theirs. I'm fortunate to have a wonderful life and family and it's still hard at times to choose not to engage with the painful drama. It will always hurt, but when I look at my happy child and spouse I know we all deserve better.
This letter may feel like a slap in the face to some, but it feels like a warm hug to me! I know you must have gone through great difficulty to publish this and I truly thank you for the effort. This made my day more than I can say.
Holy !@#$ sweet violet needs to change her name.. you are absolutely 100% on the wrong side. I think u need some serious therapy. I hope you have no parents or children 😭😭ReplyDelete
This reply comes from a person who doubtless sees herself as a kind, loving, warm, and wonderful individual, a perfect parent and fantastic grandparent.Delete
But people tend to speak to strangers more kindly than they speak to family because of the familiarity thing ("familiarity breeds contempt"). Our public persona is invariably better than the one we exhibit at home because we are more relaxed and people "know" us at home--they know when what sounds like a harsh word is only meant in jest, for example.
So this is how "Unknown" speaks to a stranger--a stranger who is actually trying to help her. This is her "public face," the one she uses with people who don't know and understand her, the one that is supposed to be her best visage.
Now, if this is her best, imagine what she is like to her family? Imagine the kind of mother she was to her children, the kind of grandmother she must be? I wouldn't allow my kids around her either--at the very least they would pick up bad manners and a rude mouth, at worst, she might try to turn them against me...
I guess maybe I am a bit of an oddity, I have been no contact / estranged from my father continuously for the last 11 years, and off and on for the last 25(Far more off than on). You are very right in regard to respect of the individual and the boundaries set by the adult children. I know that my particular estrangement might have ended somewhat differently had my father respected my request to leave my children alone. He attempted to contact me after 7.5 years but him having already violated those boundaries only proved nothing had changed and that any contact with him was going to be an act of futility at best. I was "fortunate" in the respect that my children were bright enough to see his behavior for what it truly is, and while remaining polite and respectful, declined the interactions. I have always told them when they reached the age of decision (based on their intellect and maturity) they could decide for themselves if they wished to have a relationship with him. They have chosen not to.ReplyDelete
DNA only entitles you to two things in life - child support payments and felony convictions. If you want a relationship with your estranged adult child, it would be wise to follow the advice in this essay.