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Planning Retirement Online

Relationships 52          August 2006

Maggi Stamp, LaterLife's Relationship Counsellor

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 for her to respond in the column.



How can I restore relations with my granddaughter?

D writes:

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.


Maggi replies:

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 them.

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 for her to respond in the column.

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