My Grandson Is No Longer Loving Towards Me
This letter concerns my relationship with my eight-year-old grandson Matt. For the first five years of his life I cared for Matt several times a week, until he reached school age. We had a wonderful and loving relationship. At age five his parents divorced – a mean and difficult divorce. Matt’s mother played him against my husband and me until my son’s lawyer, a child advocate, wrote up legal papers that said neither party could talk badly to Matt about family members. He seems to have adjusted very well to the divorce, and I must say both his parents are loving and doing a good job of parenting.
However, something has drastically changed in his attitude toward me, and on occasion, toward my husband, his granddad. I used to be one of my grandson’s favorite people – we were very close – but starting around the time of his parents’ divorce three years ago, he became rude and shunned me in front of others. As soon as I approach him for a hello or a hug, he cringes; he is not this way with others. His parents have occasionally chastised him if they see him acting disrespectfully.
I don’t know if I should have a talk with my grandson or my son, or if I should just ignore it and hope, in time, we become close again. Meanwhile, I don’t want to make things worse. I think it is unusual that a grandchild seemingly abhors a grandparent with whom he was so close.
It is difficult to know how a five-year-old processes what is going on around him when his parents are going through a divorce. However, here is what is known: Approximately 80% of children of divorced parents become well-adjusted successful adults with the memories of that painful time playing a less active role in their lives as they get older. The other 20% of these children experience a variety of psychological and social difficulties that can affect their well being in significant ways, sometimes into their adult lives.
Although you describe Matt as currently doing well, it is highly possible Matt falls into this latter group. The fact that a child advocate was required to rein in the emotional caldron of contentiousness and nastiness swirling around him suggests he experienced a lot of stuff he wasn’t able to understand. It is typical for young children in this situation to respond in a variety of ways, including: drawing erroneous conclusions such as “I must have been a bad boy and caused the divorce;” fantasizing his parents will reunite; worrying about not being taken care of or being abandoned.
Many grandparents play a pivotal role in their grandchild’s life. For example, one study indicated that the grandparent / grandchild relationship is, in fact, second in emotional importance only to the parent / child relationship. As a primary caretaker for Matt for his first five years, it is possible that you were and remain a safety net for him. So, although things seem to have outwardly stabilized for Matt with his parents, this does not mean things have internally and emotionally stabilized for him. Perhaps he heard something said about you that has left him upset with or confused about you and / or he is redirecting his anger, confusion and fears related to his parents’ divorce to you.
Perhaps his shunning you and withholding his affection may be a safe outlet for him to release negative emotions because you are an emotional rock for him and he intuitively knows you will absorb his acting out. Lots of “perhaps…” here.
Will he drift back to you over time? It’s a good possibility, but I am going to suggest you be more proactive, especially since it sounds like your son would support you. My suggestion is that you locate and work with a professional who specializes in children of divorce, i.e., therapist, psychologist, psychiatrist. (If you don’t have your own resources for locating one, you can Google “child divorce psychologists in your city and state,” or “child or family therapists who specialize in divorce in your city and state.”) I urge you to talk with several of them and then decide which one you’d like to work with.
I think it will be advantageous if you position your working with a professional as something you and your husband are doing for yourselves, your son and grandson, and not make Matt the focal point. Rather, you can talk about getting therapy because you are grandparents in a family that has experienced significant and difficult change, and you want to make sure you are doing all you can to be supportive, loving and good parents for your son and as grandparents for your grandson.
Over time your therapist will establish his/her own relationship with each of you. He/she is trained to help Matt articulate how he is feeling about his parents’ divorce and help him sort out and work through anything troubling him or falling into the category of “unfinished business,” including his relationship with you and your husband.
Matt most certainly abhors the divorce and the breakup of his parents, but I doubt he abhors you. I agree with you that something has changed in his behavior towards you, and it is likely that he is afraid to express certain feelings and / or doesn’t know what is bothering him or how to talk safely about it. A good therapist can help you, your husband, your son and your grandson, as individuals and as a family unit, better understand how the difficult divorce affected each of you and may still be affecting you, and what you might do going forward.
Ask Dr. Gramma Karen is published every Thursday.
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