Ask Dr. Gramma Karen: Grandmother Is Denied Access to Her Grandchildren

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I have not seen my grandkids for ten months. My son-in-law teases me, scolds me, and even assaulted me once by jerking an iPad from my hands. I emailed my daughter about it and she doesn’t believe me. He does it when she is not looking. My daughter ignores my emails.

I am worried because he is controlling with her. He managed to drive off her friends, and now he is doing this with family. He made up stories about me and he put a protection order against me, saying I threatened him. The cops that brought it said that the judge did not believe the charges against me.

My son-in-law travels a lot and I have babysat a lot. I have known my daughter for 36 years and he just met her 6 years ago. She used to be a happy person, but now she is gloomy and doesn’t talk to me. I am not compatible with him and I will never step into his house.

I miss my daughter and grandchildren. Thank you.

I am sure that you miss your daughter and grandchildren very much. The key question for you to answer is: Do you want to see your daughter and grandchildren? If your answer is Yes, I have some specific suggestions for you. However, my suggestions will be practical only if you are able to put aside all your hurt, disappointment, and negative feelings you have toward your son-in-law, and toward your daughter, too.

Your son-in-law may be the jerk and the bully you describe. In fact, he may be even a worse human being than what you describe. However, none of this matters if you want to see your daughter and grandchildren again. You may be correct that your son-in-law is purposefully and deliberately turning your daughter against you and other family members. But again, none of this matters if you want to see your daughter and grandchildren again.

You need to focus on the circumstances you have some control over.

I have to point out that you have committed a cardinal mother-in-law no-no: by e-mailing your daughter to complain about how your son-in-law was treating you, you created a situation in which you put your daughter in the middle and forced her to chose between you and your son-in-law. You may disagree with and be hurt by her siding with her husband, but none of this matters if you want to see your daughter and grandchildren again.

What does matter is that you need to take certain steps if you want to see your daughter and grandchildren again. Some of these steps will require you put forth forced behaviors on your part, but if you stay focused, you will be able to carry them off because all that matters is that you get to see your daughter and grandchildren again.

Step 1: Write an Apology

I suggest you send a letter or e-mail so that your daughter and son-in-law can thoughtfully read and, it is hoped, respond to your message. Even though you may believe in your heart of hearts that you have nothing to apologize for, you can make these kinds of apologies: “I am sorry that I have acted in ways that have been upsetting to you.” Or, “I am sorry it has taken me so long to reach out to you.” Or, “I am sorry I am not part of your lives and I miss you very much.” Or, “It was foolish of me to say I would never step foot in your house again.”

Do not explain or try to justify why you’ve behaved in ways that have been upsetting to your son-in-law or you daughter. If they need to remind you in detail of the upsetting things you’ve done, listen, but do not try to justify. Say things like, “I can see why my doing that would upset you.”

Step 2: Find Other Outlets for Your Frustration

I am suggesting that you stay cordial and pleasant at all times, even when you find yourself really feeling anger. Because maintaining cordiality and pleasantness can be emotionally draining, I think you will need a safe place in which you can express the full range of your true feelings. You may want to consider a relationship with a professional, such as a therapist or counselor, or a close friend, so you can vent, if you need to do so.

Step 3: Create Safe Conditions for Yourself

Here is the thing about adult bullies – and perhaps your son-in-law qualifies as one – research indicates that they don’t like an audience when they are bullying. Therefore, you may want to make sure that you always have someone with you whenever you will be around your son-in-law. This someone should not be your daughter because you never again want to put her in the middle of a difficult situation with your son-in-law. You might ask a close friend to be your “visiting buddy,” and accompany you whenever you will be in the presence of your son-in-law.

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As a grandparent, you are not alone in being denied access to your grandchildren, or having limited access to them, or being threatened that access will be denied. You will notice that in all these situations, my advice is consistent: Do whatever you need to do to maintain contact with your grandchildren. Be cordial, pleasant, and cooperative, no matter what. As long as you have contact, you increase your chances of being in a position to be a resource for your grandchildren under their current circumstances, and whatever future ones may develop.

It is my sincere hope that you are able to re-establish relationships with your grandchildren. No guarantees, of course, but I hope my advice proves helpful to you.

 Ask Dr. Gramma Karen is published every other Tuesday.

E-mail queries to [email protected]

 Dr. Karen L. Rancourt‘s most recent book is,

Ask Dr. Gramma Karen, Volume II: Savvy Advice to Soothe Parent-Grandparent Conflicts

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