Grandmother’s Hurtful Behavior Towards Grandson

I am in desperate need of some sound advice as some issues between my 12-year-old son, Davey, and my mother have come up. Of my three children, she’s always favored him, felt a bond with him. Some background: My mom’s behavior has always been very on and off. In years past I would leave home to stay with friends quite frequently to avoid the physical and mental abuse from both my parents. I spent years in therapy to get over the anger and resentment of my family life.

Lately my mother has been saying some not-so-very nice things about Davey to me. She purchased him a cell phone and pays for the monthly bill. She gives him guilt trips for not calling her to see how she is, or as she puts it, “being there for her.” She said she has no use for him; she said he “is stupid” for not calling her to tell her about his grades.

Recently at a hockey celebration for Davey’s team, I was standing in the middle of a very crowded hallway talking to my son and friends, when my mom approached Davey and very angrily tells him, “Enjoy your cell phone.” She storms off, turns around again and wagging her finger in his face says, “You’re dead to me.” Davey was very upset and heartbroken about my mother’s harsh words. He can’t understand how his actions prompted such hurtful words. Even worse was that the other parents witnessed this and her behavior was the talk of our team celebration that evening.

I do not want to have a rift in my family, but I also do not want my mother saying hurtful things to my children. I agree with my husband who has always been adamant that no matter how inappropriate any of our parents’ actions may have been over the years, we are lucky to have grandparents in our kids’ lives and that we should cherish them while they are still here.

I just really want this family drama to end once and for all. Most people do not even understand how I continue to have a relationship with my mother. Regardless, she is my mother and she also has her good moments. But I am just to the point where I have tolerated the dysfunction my mother causes my whole life, but I will not let my children be victims of any of it.

I just pray that this situation will be able to be resolved. I have three incurable disorders and this stress just makes my health worse.

I understand why many of your friends question that you continue to want to have a relationship with you mother, but since you and your husband are in agreement that you want your parents to have a presence in your family members’ lives, I will give you my advice on how that might work.

First, I don’t think your mother’s treatment of Davey is the core issue; rather, I think it is an example of a larger and even more serious issue. When you were growing up, you were physically and emotionally abused by your parents. These same people are now your children’s grandparents, so my first piece of advice is that you never, ever, under any circumstances, leave your children alone with either your mother or father. Never. They have an irrefutable history of being child abusers, and even though you say your mother has “her good moments,” your mother is unpredictable and can flare out of control at any time, much to your children’s detriment. You and your husband need to protect your children from this destructive behavior. Therefore, one of you must always be with your children when their grandparents are around. This means your parents never take any of your children out of your sight, not for shopping, not for a movie, not to a restaurant, and most definitely not for a sleep over.

This brings me to the second part of my advice. You and your husband need to take control of the relationships between your children and your parents. Right now your mother controls your family relationships: If she is nice, things run smoothly; when she erupts, this throws everyone into a state of fear and trepidation. Currently, your mother determines the ebb and flow of what is going on, how family members are feeling, and how they behave. And as you have learned, trying to have a rational conversation with her about her behavior does not work.

Monitoring and controlling how your mother behaves in front of your children is going to be extremely challenging for you and your husband. Gaining the confidence and courage to tell her she must immediately stop certain behaviors or leave is going to be very difficult, and that is why I feel strongly you are going to need professional help to learn how to effectively deal with her.

You have personal and successful experience working with a therapist, and now you must find one to work with you and your family. Your therapist will teach you and your family:

  • how to take control of the safety and well being of your children when your parents are around
  • what to say and do when your parents are behaving in threatening, unkind, bullying and other unacceptable ways
  • how not to be victimized by or in any way feel at fault for your parents’ behavioral problems and issues
  • what to say to your children when they are trying to understand your parents’ irrational and angry behavior
  • how to help your children understand that they are not responsible for their grandparents’ behavior

If you do these two things, that is, first, starting right now, commit to never leaving your children alone with either of your parents, and second, locate and begin working with a family therapist, I think you and your family have a chance at keeping your parents in your lives in ways that do not put you, your husband, and most important, any of your children at risk of being hurt and/or abused in any way by your parents.

I hope you will take my advice, as I feel strongly that if you chose instead to let the situation continue as is, you are putting the safety and well being of your children at grave risk.

Ask Dr. Gramma Karen is published every Thursday.

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