Dear Dr. Gramma Karen,
Our daughter, Mia, and son-in-law, Brandon, have three boys, ages 15, 12, and six. We live just a few miles away and have always had very close relationships with all of them. We do holidays together, we often travel together, and my husband and I are often called upon to get the boys to various after-school activities and other appointments. As I said, we have always been available and involved grandparents.
A couple of days ago I went to their house to drop off a casserole. It was during the day and no one was home, as the kids were in school, and Mia and Brandon were at work. As I was leaving, I noticed their mailbox wasn’t closed tight, and because it was supposed to rain, I went to shut it. I noticed some mail in the box, so I gathered it up to bring inside, something I have done a million times before.
I noticed that the letter on top, addressed to our son, had the return address of a man with an M.D. (medical doctor) after his name, and it was someone I wasn’t familiar with. My husband and I know all their doctors’ and dentists’ names, and we’ve always been very open with each other about who was seeing which doctor or dentist and for what reason. I made a mental note of the doctor’s name and checked him out on the Internet when I got home.
I learned that he specializes in psychiatric problems in adolescents and teens. My husband and I are very upset. Obviously, one of our grandsons must be in treatment with this doctor, and we have been left in the dark about it. The close relationships we’ve always thought were so open and close are apparently not what we thought they were.
We are interested in your advice about how to approach Mia and Brandon, now that we know.
Dr. Gramma Karen’s Response
I want to begin my response by breaking down the situation you’ve described into four categories and then discuss the implications of each.
(1) What you know
All you know for sure is that a piece of mail has been sent to your son with a return address from a doctor who specializes in psychiatric problems in adolescents and teens.
(2) What you presume to know
Based on the fact that this piece of mail has been sent to your son and on knowing the profession of the sender, you are assuming that it is probably a bill for services rendered for one (or more) of your grandsons.
(3) What you do not know
Perhaps you would agree it is possible that the letter is not a bill, but rather, it is:
- An invitation to some event, perhaps a fund-raiser.
- A newsletter with general information about mental health issues.
- A marketing flyer announcing the opening or expansion of his practice.
In addition, you do not know if your daughter and son-in-law have not discussed this doctor with you because they:
- Have never heard of him.
- Consider the letter unimportant.
- Don’t want you to know – that is, they consider the matter none of your business.
- Are honoring a commitment to one or more of their sons “not to discuss this [whatever this is] with Grandma and Grandpa.”
As close as you are with your daughter, SIL, and grandsons, the fact is that parents get to decide what gets shared and what does not get shared outside the core family. Parents get to say, “This is our family business, and it is not to be shared.” (Please note that I do not use the word “secret” because keeping a secret can connote something shameful. Talking about “family business” connotes privacy and boundaries, both of which are positive regarding healthy family dynamics.)
(4) What to say
The simple answer is to say nothing. If the letter is unimportant, and you ask about it, it could feel to them that you are a bit of a snoop by going through their mail.
When and if the situation with the doctor is shared with you, I advise you not to make it known that you already knew – there is no mileage in this. Simply say, “Please feel free to share with us whatever you’d like us to know,” or “Thank you for sharing this with us,” with both statements followed by, “Please know you can count on us to be supportive in whatever ways you need us to be.”
A final point
Based on your description of the close relationships you have with your grandsons, I imagine they would check off many of the items listed in the article “25 Reasons Kids Love Grandparents.” The special bonds you enjoy with them may be, in fact, the very reason why you have not been told about one or more of your grandsons working with a professional to address some mental health challenges (if indeed this is the case). Perhaps your grandson(s) may have asked that you not be looped in because they do not want to disappoint and/or worry you.
To repeat my earlier advice: say nothing. When you are meant to know, you will know.
Ask Dr. Gramma Karen is published every other Tuesday.
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