When I lost my son in a car accident two and a half years ago, his son Randy was three at the time. Even though my son and my grandson’s mother never married, she was very generous, and let my second husband and me spend a lot of time with our grandson for the first ten months after the accident. In fact, from May until September, Randy spent entire weekends with us while his mother worked (part-time) or had some time alone with friends. We never minded, as it gave us some extra time with our grandson.
When Randy started school, everything changed. His mother had a new boyfriend, and Randy had some behavioral problems at school. He apparently threw a book in class and when scolded, he said, “My grandmother lets me throw books,” which, of course, I would never let him do. I tried talking to his mom, offered counseling, but nothing would work. She basically shut us out except for an occasional hour visit with her present. Every time I would ask to see him, she always “had plans.”
I then took her to court for visitation. I was given a weekend visit every other month, a once-a-week phone call and a week during the summer. (I had asked for a weekend every month, but she abruptly moved away from the area. The judge thought it would be difficult for Randy to have to travel so much.)
Here is my problem. My husband (whom Randy calls Granddad) and I have talked with him every weekend as agreed since March 2011. However, his mother has now decided she no longer wants Randy and Granddad to talk with each other since my husband has no “blood” connection to Randy. Now our grandson says, “I don’t want to talk to Granddad,” and we suspect she is telling him to say that. When I asked Randy why, he said, “I just don’t want to.”
My husband is the most kind, loving man alive, and is so crushed. On top of this, Randy’s mother is now “monitoring” what our grandson says to us. No matter how much I try to bring Randy into the conversation, it is usually a yes or no answer. Our talks used to last at least ten minutes, now I’m lucky if I can get him to “talk” for more than five. I have tried carrying the conversation by talking about things around the house or some of his neighborhood friends, without success. I am so very worried that she will ruin our relationship. Can you help, please?
You situation is sad and heart wrenching in many ways, beginning with the sudden and tragic loss of your son. Then as you are enjoying a relationship with your grandson, to have your grandson’s mother inexplicably begin to limit your access to him must be unimaginably painful.
You asked for advice on how to maintain a relationship with your grandson. Let’s start by acknowledging what your experience with the legal system has probably confirmed: Yes, grandparents in the U.S. do have some rights and can seek visitation with grandchildren, but those rights tend to be limited and vary from state to state. In fact, in some states, unless grandparents have been named legal guardians, their visitation rights can be nonexistent. Other states have statues based on what is best for the child regarding visitation with grandparents, while other state statues grant visitation only if the grandparents can verify they have had custodial care at some point in the child’s life. To understand the complexities of how grandparents’ visitation varies from state to state, I recommend reading “Do Grandparents Have the Rights They Should?” Note: for some reason there is a large white area in the middle of this article, so keep scrolling down.
For a summary of each state’s statues regarding grandparents’ visitation, these two sites are helpful: (1) http://grandparents.about.com/
Alas, the statues in your specific state are intertwined with custody (not your issue) and are not straightforward. Hence, your grandson’s mother is currently in the driver’s seat regarding your visitation with Randy. One suggestion I have is that your talk with other lawyers in your area who specialize in family matters and grandparent visitations, many of whom offer a free consultation, just to explore the possibility that different legal tactics may gain you a different outcome than the limited one under which your visitation is currently defined (https://familylegalhelp.org/ and / or http://law.findlaw.com/).
Meanwhile, while you explore legal expertise, your immediate goal is to maintain a connection with Randy. Because it is impossible to discern Randy’s mother’s reasons for wanting to limit or eliminate your access to Randy, you must do whatever you can to help her see you as a non-threat to her as a parent and to Randy as a grandparent. This means not questioning or in any way being defensive or antagonistic with her, but rather, being totally accommodating. As she throws up barriers and obstacles to your spending time with Randy, and as unfair and difficult as this may be to do, I urge you to acquiesce to her demands, within reason, of course.
This effort to accommodate her may cause you great inconvenience and financial sacrifices, but I suggest you do whatever she asks of you to ensure she cannot describe you to the courts as unfriendly, uncooperative or a poor role model. Regrettably, Granddad’s desire to be part of Randy’s life should probably go on hold right now, as Randy’s mother’s statement about there being no blood connection is correct and Granddad has no legal basis whatsoever to be part of Randy’s life.
As strained as your interactions are with Randy right now, your unwavering love and devotion to him may be the foundation on which your future relationship with him builds. As he gets older, he may ask that you (and Granddad) be more involved in his life, and his mother may be comfortable enough with you to honor his request.
Ask Dr. Gramma Karen is published every other Thursday through Labor Day.
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