Dear Newsweek, I have three adult daughters and 11 grandchildren. They all call me Nana. Daughter #1 is divorced. Daughter #2 is in a toxic marriage and has been for 11 years. Daughter #3 recently divorced and is finalizing child support with mediation.
My problem is that whenever my daughters get upset with me, they cut off communication between myself and my grandchildren. This has been ongoing for years. To make things worse, last October, Daughter #2’s husband verbally threatened my life in front of my grandchildren. She will not leave him.
I never filed a police report because I was afraid my grandchildren may get removed from the home and placed in foster homes. I have learned to set healthy boundaries for myself and attended counseling. It took a lot of work but I am now in a better place.
Am I the only grandparent that’s being alienated from my grandchildren? I know grandparents have no rights in many states. I know my grandchildren know that I love them. I miss them.
Let Them Know You Are Thinking Of Them
Karen Pavlidis is a Clinical Psychologist, the owner of Child and Teen Solutions, and a Clinical Instructor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Washington.
I was really struck by what a sad situation this is. It’s always so tragic when families get fractured like this. Is cutting off communication a pattern elsewhere in the family? Where did this behavior start?
I have a lot of questions, such as are your daughters cutting you off independently, or do they bind together to cut communication? How often do these situations happen? How do the conflicts resolve themselves each time?
You mentioned a counselor in your letter. If you’re still in therapy, it might be a good idea to invite one or more of your daughters as guests to share their perspectives, but this also depends on the specifics of your situation and how your counselor works. The goal of this would be to inform the work that you are doing with your counselor and not necessarily family therapy, although it’s possible that a family therapist who is there to support all of you could also be helpful.
You don’t mention what is causing the conflict between you and your daughters, but most of the time, conflict takes two sides. This is not to cast blame, but rather I’m suggesting you look into conflict resolution strategies to prevent disputes from reaching the point of cut-off. This can include refraining from counter-attacks or enlisting other family members who would be supportive to mediate the situation.
If you are estranged, you can still try to keep the line of communication open with your daughters and grandchildren. You could send items like cards, treats or token gifts on their birthdays. Nothing extravagant, but small items to let them know that you are thinking of them and love them. There is value in these persistent gestures even if you hear nothing in return. Even if there isn’t another way to address the conflict, such as through therapy or with a mediator, this is often still a good idea.
Have An Open Conversation With Your Children Once They Have Calmed Down
Jo Allen is a Consultant Clinical Psychologist and systematic family therapist based in London.
This sounds very difficult and sad for you. What is it that your daughters are upset about?
I suggest exploring their concerns, but at a time when they are not actively angry. Often people don’t want to bring up difficult conversations when things are calm and good, but leaving things until they are emotionally charged means no one can think clearly or communicate their concerns in a way that can be heard.
Perhaps there are some important conversations to be had in your relationship with your children. There are often differences between generations in how they communicate and process emotions, and often intentions aren’t clear or are misinterpreted.
I work with families with adult children, and often there are difficult patterns of relating that can be deeply upsetting for both parents and children. They can get into dysfunctional patterns where they are responding unintentionally in a hurtful way.
It is not surprising that if they are struggling with their parent, they are limiting contact with their children, as they may be trying to protect their children from the pain they experience in the relationship. However, if you can understand the problems, you can work through it and have a healthy relationship with your grandchildren. Parents are often better able to be good grandparents, even if they struggled to respond emotionally as parents.
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