Our daughter in-law (DIL) has two kids, ages three and one. Two years ago they moved six hours away, and since our DIL has no means to come visit us, we go to see them. Now that our grandson Bryce is three, we feel he is old enough for us to come pick up him to spend time with us. Our DIL agreed to this plan.
Two days before we were about to get him, after making hotel reservations and working out all the details, she tells us that she has taken the kids away from my son (but he did let her do it). They have been apart for over a month and she has been staying at her sister’s house. She says she is sorry, but she doesn’t feel it will be good for Bryce to go off with us. Her excuse to my wife is that she doesn’t think Bryce is old enough to stay at our house for a week, plus she thinks I want him there to comfort me because I am so upset.
She has never had a job or a driver’s license and she really has no self-drive. She is with the kids 24/7 and has no desire to better herself. I think she is using the kids to hurt people and to be in control. I would like some advice on how to overcome this situation.
In the six years I have been writing this advice column for young parents and grandparents, several grandparents have contacted me wanting help with issues related to having access to their grandchildren. Even though circumstances may vary from one situation to another, my advice is consistent: Do whatever it takes to keep in contact with your grandchildren.
Part of your challenge to maintain contact with you grandchildren is complicated by the recent separation between your DIL and son. Although you did not specifically ask for my advice on their current marital situation, I refer you to one of my related columns on divorce because, even if your DIL and son do not divorce – they may reconcile – I suggest you not heap your own emotions on top of theirs. Rather, share your hurt, frustration, anger, and whatever else you may be feeling with your wife, good friends, or a professional.
Instead, do the following to help keep the doors open for access to your grandchildren:
Do not ask for information and updates on the marital situation. Assure your son and DIL that you will not be asking them how are things going, what’s going on, et cetera. It’s not that you don’t care; rather, you want them to share things with you when they choose to do so.
Use these two statements with your son and daughterin-law: Don’t offer advice, even when pressed. Rather, say, (1) “What do you see as possible options, and what are the advantages and disadvantages of each option?” (2) Most important, keep saying, “How can we help?”
How Can We Help?
To elaborate on “How can we help?”, as I discuss in another column, you want to position yourselves as helpmates to your DIL and son. She is, after all, in the driver’s seat when it comes to you spending time with your grandchildren. She seems to have custodial care right now, and she can say yes or no to your requests to spend time with your grandchildren. It really is her way or the highway. Let her tell you how you can help. The same goes for your son when he is the custodial parent.
In addition to asking “How can we help?” another helpful phrase is, “Would it help if . . . we come with you and the kids while you run errands . . . we do the laundry or food shopping for you . . . we take the kids to play in the backyard to give you a break . . . ”
Do not get into any verbal jousting with your DIL: doing so just makes you seem adversarial and threatening. If she says she thinks Bryce is too young to spend a week with you alone, your response is, “No one knows Bryce like you know him. If you’re not comfortable with him being alone with us in our home, please help us understand how we can spend time with him that would work for you.”
Your Job Is To Build Bridges
The message you want to give off is that you are at her service. Your job is to build bridges between you and your son, your DIL, and your grandchildren. You cannot build these bridges if you come across as angry or contrary. This is one of those times in life where you must force cordiality.
The point is that if you and your wife keep saying over and over to yourself and to each other, “We will do whatever we need to do to stay connected to our grandchildren,” it will make it easier to get by a lot of the emotional turmoil. Think of yourselves as being on a mission, a mission with a high and noble purpose: to be in your grandchildren’s lives. This purpose will keep you focused.
Here are some other columns I’ve written that address the issue of accessibility to grandchildren that you might find helpful: (1), (2), (3). Each reinforces various ways a grandparent can put his/her immediate needs on the back burner and increase the chances of staying connected with their grandchildren when there are obstacles.
To answer your original question: How do you overcome this situation?, I suggest you accept its unalterable aspects and do whatever is required of you to maintain a relationship with your grandchildren. Your grandchildren need the wisdom and stability you can bring to them, especially now, while their parents work through their differences.
In a nutshell, my advice to you is: Do whatever it takes to keep in contact with your grandchildren.
Ask Dr. Gramma Karen is published every other Tuesday.
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