Relationships 52 August 2006
Every month Maggi Stamp, a qualified and experienced relationship counsellor for Relate and in private practice, writes about some of the emotional challenges we meet in later life.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org for her to respond in the column.
IT COULD BE YOU….
How can I restore relations with my granddaughter?
My son and his wife live nearby and have a daughter aged 14
years. I was close to my daughter-in-law for 10 years and
for most of my granddaughter’s life she has spent many happy
hours with her grandpa and me. I have been happy to have her
here, but it does feel that her parents have left her in my care
a great deal.
Several years ago, I handed
over my bar business to my son to manage. This coincided
with my relationship with my daughter-in-law deteriorating. My
husband found her with another man and although everything
settled down again, she now keeps her distance from us and I
fear she will turn her daughter against us.
We are about to leave for our
holiday and we still aren’t being told if our granddaughter
is accompanying us as is usual. I really don’t want her to end
up being used as a pawn in an adult disagreement. I know she is
unhappy with the situation, as I have found sad and disturbing
poems written by her.
I feel both her parents are
now drinking too much and I am worried about the effect all
of this is having on her. I am tempted to threaten to find a new
manager for the business as a way of persuading them to sort
things out. My husband is against this and feels it would make
things worse. I don’t want to make my son angry. I just want the
best for my granddaughter and don’t know what to do next.
How fortunate you have been to have had such a close
relationship with your granddaughter. She too is fortunate
to have had so much time with loving grandparents. The many
happy times she has spent with you will always remain a vital
part of her childhood. She is 14 now and perhaps would like to
spend more time with friends of her own age, so not coming on
holiday with you need not be seen as a deliberate rejection
influenced by your daughter-in-law, but a normal part of growing
up, especially in a girl's teenage years.
There is always tension when mother and daughter-in-law don't
see eye to eye because it affects the whole family dynamic.
Your husband will be concerned about you; your son will feel
torn between defending his wife and loyalty to his mother, your
granddaughter too will feel torn because she will feel obliged
to make choices between you and her mother. No child should be
in that position. The situation is already making her sad, as
her poems poignantly show.
Her poems may have been left where you have been able to
discover them, but perhaps not where her parents would find
them. Talk to her about them by all means, but do take care
not to show them to her mother or father. They are the personal
thoughts and feelings of a teenager, and privacy becomes more
important at this tender and confusing stage of life.
Things must be so distressing for her - she has grown up
with you both being there for her, just around the corner, she
has spent her holidays with you. You are part of her life. She
will thrive if she can dip in and out of family times as she
gets older and takes on outside interests and commitments of her
own. She will return to you when she wants and needs. It would
be sad if she came to see you only out of duty or because you
expected it of her.
I think your husband is wise to counsel you against using the
business as a lever to push your son into doing what you would
like. Tempting though that might seem, it would only serve
to make the situation more fraught and your family even more
angry. As every parent sets their child free on becoming a young
adult so, as grandparents, we need to accept that our delight
and joy at being close to the grandchildren - if we have that
closeness- is a precious gift, and no more. Like any other gift,
it bestows no rights, let alone parental rights. To seek to
exercise any would simply undermine the parents or even alienate
If you feel your son and daughter-in-law are drinking too
much, I would well understand your worry. But this too requires
careful handling. You need to give a lot of thought to what
might result from talking to your son. Think carefully about
what you might say, how you would say it tactfully, sensitively,
and what effect you would hope to have. The only approach likely
to work is one that is supportive and loving - and it must be
brief. By all means voice your concerns about his daughter but
definitely do not give any hint of criticism of his parenting or
that of his wife.
What your son will be able to hear from you - and this is
even more limited if he really is drinking excessively - is how
much you love him and his daughter and how concerned you are
for his health and her happiness. He will switch off completely
if you tell him how badly you think he and his wife are at
running the business or being parents, or how unhappy all this
is making you and his father.
You might have seen other articles here that stress how
important it is to leave our children to get on with their own
lives, even when we disagree with how they do it or the choice
of partner they have made.
We never wholly relinquish our sense of parental
responsibility but once the children are adult, the way that
they lead their lives is very much up to them. If we do take
any active role, we can only offer help or support. We must
never pressurise or threaten them when they want to do things
differently. We have to let go, and that's hard. But when we do
they are much more likely to involve us, because they have
become individual adults who are friends with their parents
rather than grown-up children still being watched over and
judged by mum and dad.
You can write to Maggi at email@example.com
for her to respond in the column.