Dear Newsweek, I have 3 grown daughters and 11 grandchildren. They all call me Nana. Daughter #1 is divorced. Daughter #2 has a toxic marriage and has been married for 11 years. Daughter 3 was recently divorced and is in the process of finalizing child support through mediation.
My problem is that whenever my daughters get mad at me, they cut the connection between me and my grandkids. This has been going on for years. To make matters worse, last October, daughter #2’s husband verbally threatened my life in front of my grandchildren. She will not leave him.
I never reported it to the police because I was concerned that my grandchildren might be removed from the home and placed in foster care. I learned to set healthy boundaries for myself and participated in counseling. It’s a lot of work, but I’m in a better place now.
Am I the only grandparent estranged from my grandchildren? I know grandparents don’t have rights in many states. I know my grandchildren know I love them. I miss them.
let them know you’re thinking of them
Karen Pavlidis is a clinical psychologist, owner of Solutions for Children and Adolescents, and clinical lecturer in the Department of Psychology at the University of Washington.
I’m really shocked what a sad situation this is. It’s always so tragic when families fall apart like this. Is cutting off communication a pattern for other members of the family? Where did this behavior start?
I have a lot of questions like do your daughters cut you off independently, or are they tied up and cut off communication? How often do these things happen? How does each conflict resolve itself?
You mentioned a counselor in your letter. If you are still in therapy, it may be a good idea to invite one or more of your daughters as guests to share their perspectives, but it also depends on your specific situation and how your counselor works. The purpose of this is to inform about the work you are doing with your counselor, not necessarily family therapy, although a family therapist who is there to support you all may also be helpful.
You didn’t mention what caused the conflict between you and your daughter, but most of the time, there are two sides to the conflict. This is not to blame, but I recommend that you research conflict resolution strategies to prevent disputes from reaching a tipping point. This can include avoiding fighting back or recruiting other family members who support mediating the situation.
If you are estranged, you can still try to keep open lines of communication with your daughter and grandchildren. You can send items like cards, treats, or token gifts on their birthdays. Nothing extravagant, just little things to let them know you miss them and love them. Even if you don’t hear anything in return, these perseverance gestures are valuable. This is usually a good idea even if there is no other way to resolve the conflict, such as through therapy or through a mediator.
Once the child has calmed down, have an open conversation with them
Jo Allen is a Consultant Clinical Psychology and Systems Family Therapist based in London.
This sounds very difficult and sad to you. What makes your daughters angry?
I suggest exploring their concerns, but when they are not actively angry. People often don’t want to have difficult conversations when things are calm and good, but putting things on hold before emotions get too high means no one can think clearly or express their concerns in an audible way.
There may be some important conversations to have in your relationship with your child. Generations often differ in the way they communicate and process emotions, and the intent is often unclear or misunderstood.
I work with families with grown children and often have difficult relationship patterns that can be deeply disturbing for both parents and children. They may go into a dysfunctional mode, unintentionally reacting in a harmful way.
If they are struggling with their parents, it is not surprising that they limit their contact with their children, as they may be trying to protect the children from the pain they are going through in the relationship. However, if you can understand these issues, you can address them and maintain a healthy relationship with your grandchildren. Parents are often better able to be good grandparents, even if they are emotionally difficult to respond as parents.
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