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Planning Retirement Online


Relationships
                          November 2010

Maggi Stamp, LaterLife's Relationship Counsellor

Every month Maggi Stamp, a qualified and experienced relationship counsellor in private practice after 20yrs with Relate, writes about some of the emotional challenges we meet as we pass our half-way markers.

For reasons of confidentiality Maggi never writes about a particular person's problems unless you have sent one in to be answered, but all her examples are based on problems raised by clients, family and friends over the years.  

You can write to Maggi at maggi@laterlife.com for her to respond in the column.


IT COULD BE YOU

 

The following letters concern grandmothers wanting more access to grandchildren.

1. My son and daughter-in-law have separated and, as a result, she will not allow me to see my two grandchildren. I have not seen them for nearly five months. I have applied to the court and am now awaiting contact from CAFCASS. It seems to be taking forever. I have also contacted the Welsh Assembly’s deputy director of Social Services. Can you offer any further advice please?

2. My son-in-law’s family are great but I’m becoming so jealous over the time they have with my daughter and our grandson. Birthdays on both sides of the extended family coincide with national holidays that we always used to celebrate together. Now it seems that son-in-law’s birthday and his mother’s are taking priority and we won’t get to see them even though it is my son’s birthday that weekend too. At Christmas, each of my son-in-law’s grandmothers has a birthday one day either side of Christmas Day itself. Again the celebrations are held there and not here. We do get to see them but not for long. I feel we get side-stepped and I feel I’ve lost my daughter her husband’s family. Do I have to give up all our celebrations for theirs? I don’t know how to approach her about this.

In one letter feelings of jealousy are troubling the writer as she sees the other set of grandparents having more time with her daughter and baby grandson. In the other letter, the writer's son and daughter-in-law have separated and the daughter-in-law is not allowing her access to the two children.

Both of these situations are sad and painful to the grandparents and deprive the grandchildren of an extremely important and stabilising part of childhood.

In the case where the son has separated from his wife, the grandmother hasn’t seen her grandchildren for five months. That’s not only distressing for her but upsetting for the children, who were no doubt happy to see their grandmother regularly. Not only are they living away from their father most of the time, they have also lost a grandmother. That’s a lot of loss for small children to deal with. I’m glad to see she is looking for guidance from official bodies. Cafcass is the Children and Families Courts Advisory Service and can let this grandparent know if there is anything she can do legally to change the situation.

What she doesn’t say is if, or how often, her son sees his children and if he will allow her to be with them then. Involving him is an important first step. I suggest explaining to him how important this relationship is, not just to you, but to small children, especially at such an unsettling time, when their parents are living separately. A grandparental home is usually unchanging, welcoming and stable, a vital oasis for little ones. I would hope that her son would appreciate their need for contact time with their grandmother and would try to make that possible.

It could be that she is reluctant to worry him with this but he’s an adult and will cope. Perhaps it’s hard for him to get access to his children or is not even on speaking terms with his former partner. That would complicate matters but Cafcass might be able to support or advise him in how to handle that.   It is, in any case, all the more reason to set up grandparental access to help the children feel part of a broader, more stable family.

Our second grandmother is worried about mentioning her feelings to her daughter. Unless she does, it is unlikely things will change to redress any imbalance. The daughter might even have no inkling that anything is amiss. In any case, you might bear in mind that it is very difficult to change things in a way that satisfies both sides of the family all the time; compromise will be necessary for both.

It is worth discussing the unusual state of affairs where several family members have birthdays at key times and then attend events every other year. Make sure that this isn’t too set in stone. One needs to be flexible to accommodate any special needs such as an especially significant birthday, or when some family event has to be cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances. Public holidays such as Labor Day in America and Bank Holidays in Britain come round every year, so missing one occasionally to share time with the grandchildren will not be too much of a sacrifice. Missing time with the grandchildren to attend an annual public holiday is. Birthday celebrations are often missed by various members of families now and then and Christmas is a time when couples who have two sets of parents tread a tightrope wondering which set to invite or visit, or how to be universally inclusive.

Remember, some of the best times with the grandchildren are purely on a weekend visit or a vacation, well away from the distraction of too many presents and special meals etc. They can just be themselves and so can their grandparents.

Talking in a calm and clear way, without any reference to things feeling unfair, will avoid putting the daughter in a difficult position. Parents should avoid criticising the in-laws which could put their married son or daughter in a situation where they feel they have to ‘defend’ one side against the other. Try to address it as a puzzle that involves everyone. Ask your daughter’s advice on how best to ensure that you see your grandson regularly and often.

Once the situation has been discussed, and the problem aired and appreciated, there’s no reason to feel rejected or left out.

 


You can write to Maggi at maggi@laterlife.com for her to respond in the column.
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