Reconciling With Your Grandchild's Parents

When parents and their grown children become estranged, grandparents and grandchildren are torn apart

By Susan Stiffelman

Maybe an innocent but misunderstood remark to a son or daughter-in-law triggered a spiral of anger. Maybe the fallout from a bitter divorce left a grandparent on the outside looking in. Maybe a miscommunication over babysitting led to accusations that couldn't be taken back. For whatever reason, some grandparents become estranged from their adult children — and, in turn, from their grandchildren. When family relationships fall apart, piecing them back together can seem difficult. But if you take the right approach to reconciliation, things can be set right again.

Consider "Sarah" [a composite based on the cases of several people]. She was ecstatic when her grandson, Devon, was born. They shared a special relationship that delighted them both. However, her relationship with her daughter-in-law, Karen, was difficult. It seemed Sarah was constantly disappointing Karen by not feeding Devon "properly," letting him stay up "too late," or taking him to a PG-rated movie without asking his parents' permission first.

After a particularly tense discussion with Karen, Sarah’s son e-mailed her to say that the couple felt that she "didn't respect" their rules, and wasn't a good influence on their son.

Sarah was furious. She hastily wrote an e-mail calling their accusations petty and spiteful. Afterward, she felt awful about the message and tried to make things right, but received no response.

"When it comes to hurt emotions, many parents of adult children feel like saying, 'Can't you just get over it?'" says Pat Burns, author of Grandparents Rock (Morgan James Publishing). "But repairing old wounds requires accepting an adult child's pain as their reality and simply saying, 'I never meant to hurt you.'"

Ten Steps Toward Reconciliation

If you’ve found yourself in a situation similar to Sarah's, these 10 steps toward achieving reconciliation might help heal the rift in your family:

1. Identify the payoff for reconciling — for example, restored time with your grandchildren. Write it down and keep it where it will be in view when you make the first conciliatory phone call.

2. Express your feelings to someone other than the person from whom you're estranged. You'll find it easier to move toward reconciliation if you've vented your hurt and anger with a trusted friend or counselor first.

3. Try to understand their point of view. List three reasons why your grandchildren's parents might think it right to pull away from you. Even if you don't agree with the reasons, the process will help you step into their shoes and see the situation from their perspective.

4. Make the call. Dial the parents and request a time when they might be willing to talk for a few minutes. Don't force a conversation in this initial call, and stay calm and respectful. If you're aggressive or insistent, they may resist meeting with you.

5. Acknowledge the cost of the estrangement and how it would be better for everyone if you could heal and move forward.

6. Apologize sincerely. Don't say, "I'm sorry you got angry with me for taking Devon to that PG movie, but if you had told me ahead of time that you don't approve, I wouldn't have taken him." That is an explanation, not an apology. Simply say, "I'm sorry," without adding your defense. A genuine apology consists of three parts:

• "I'm sorry."
• "I can understand how you might have felt upset."
• "How can I make it right?"

7. Hear them out. Allow the parents to express the feelings that prompted their estrangement. When they're finished, resist the urge to debate or tell your side. Simply ask them if there's more they'd like to say. Don't rush them or cut them off. Give them time to completely offload whatever pent-up feelings precipitated the rift.

8. Make things right. Ask them what they need from you to get things back on track. Listen without interrupting, and let them know you'll think about what they've said. Don't say they're asking for too much, but at the same time, don't impulsively promise to do something you can't reasonably commit to.

9. Let it go. You may want to hear an apology from the parents, but don't try to force one from them. While it would be wonderful if they would take responsibility for their contribution to the problem, they may not be ready yet. Allow them to apologize in their own time, and be prepared for the possibility that they may never say they're sorry for the estrangement. It may be frustrating, but remember to keep the benefits of reconciliation foremost in your mind.

10. Forgive. Staying angry at someone isn't worth the price in stress, sadness, and wasted energy. We all make mistakes. We all forget to be our best selves out of fear, hurt, or pride. As Mark Twain said, "Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it." Find the best version of yourself, forgive, and move forward.

Sarah’s desire to patch things up motivated her to move through these steps, despite her deep feelings of anger and hurt. It was awkward at first, but, eventually, she made it through important conversations with her son and daughter-in-law, leading to a healthier relationship all around.

Life is too short not to enjoy the love and companionship of our children and grandchildren, even if it means taking the leap of faith required to attempt a reconciliation. On this Grandparents Day, we encourage you to give it a try.

Comments

I have not seen my grandchildren in over a year now. I day does not go by that I do not pray for them and my daughter. My daughter had a restraining order on the her fiancé when she was pregnant with my.eight year old grandson. He tried to kill her and the baby so she lived with me. While she was pregnant she met someone else that became my grandsons father and they also had two girls together. Things were going well until the father of the girls started using drugs and went to jail for two years for theft. So she ended upl living with me again for two years. I thought things were a little odd when she was bribing my grandson with things ( letting him use her laptop) then one day my 8year old grandson told my husband and I that he met his father. My daughter was making him keep quiet about the whole thing. When we were alone with our daughter we talked about how this was not a good idea getting involved with him, he will never change. So one night we waited for her and my grandchildren to come home and they did not. I figured she stayed over a friend of hers house,boy was I wrong she moved in with Donald and his parents. We tried talking to her she wanted nothing to do with us. We then decided to take her to court and go for custody of our grandchildren fearing they were in danger. We ended up with visitations, I loved seeing my grandchildren again. My daughter got a lawyer this lawyer required we use a different judge. We then had visitations once a month which I was ok with at least I got to see them. In January my husband and I went to pick the grandchildren up my granddaughter was afraid to give me hug because Donald said no he also told the grandchildren to call us by our names. This day turned out to be the worst day of my life. Donald was trying to pick a fight with my husband my husband just kept saying we are here to get the kids. He tried everything to upset my husband. That did not work so he started in on me as I was getting the girls buckled in the car seats he was really close to me he kept sayin your husband is a loser. I said Donald we are all set here you can go back inside now. That is when he called me Gerry I said that is not my name he's said then what is it crazy. I whispered to him that he was a needledick, I admit not nice of me but wanted him away from me. He got away alright my daughter who I did not even see must have heard from his phone or something. She immmediately ran out of the house grabbed me by my arm to shove me out of the way, I grabbed her arm so I would not fall down a steep slope. She was yelling give me my fucking kids. My husband said let's go we will go to the police station in sandwich. Donald started yelling go ahead you wife is going to jail she put her hands on your daughter. Our mistake we did not go to the police we went home to falmouth and my husband was getting ready to go for his schooling. We just decided we would let this day go I was upset because the children were there when this happened. The next thing I know Falmouth police were putting me under arrest,my daughter,her fiancé and his mother told police that I threw my daughter on the ground and spit on her. In all my life I never would have thought it would come to this. I was put in a jail cell and told sandwich police were coming to get me because it happened in sandwich. After this happened Donald and Kathryn took us back to court to get rid of our visitations,because my grandson was both Donald and Kathryn's son according to massachusettes law we could not see Ben any longer. We saw the girls for two more visitations then I told my husband I cannot do this anymore my granddaughters told me that there mother told them that I was goin to go to jail. We went before the jjudge and told him we were giving up our visitations. I have not seen my grandchildren in over a year. I was seeing my daughter at the store I work in with Donald's mom and they were going from aisle to aisle laughing at me.

Fbg on 2014-06-25 10:57:13

I understand the DIL promblems all to well! Mine is alittle different because my son is a stepson of my ex husbands, we had 2 boys of our own and he had 1, I remarried but still very close to my stepson I always considered him my own, a great kid and we did holidays,birthdays,vacations. We were very close! And I couldn't wait till he would get married and have babies! And he did! At first my DIL and I got close. And I was watching thier baby I was trying to quit smoking and never smoked with baby ever she was told I was smoking and I was but was not watching baby was on a weekend! She confronted me on front of alot of people and I got defensive it was not good, we both sd stuff the we shouldn't have but I really was up set and it was not good! I was not allowed to babysit and it was a mess! I did say I was sorry and admitted I was wrong! But things are not the same and I have been down there some since and she is civil but I don't think anything I do will ever be enough! I am a great grandma but haven't really got to bond with them,but when I see them I play with them and I enjoy them!! But she don't come for any holidays,I don't think she has been to my house in 2yrs! And my son sd that it breaks his heart and wants me on his life but I am the only one that try's!! I'm at a loss!!

Deniseg on 2013-04-30 14:10:10

After 10 yrs of marriage my DD let my SIL see an E/M she sd by accident. He has adopted her oldest DD at age 3, and when their 3 came along he chgd how he treated her, she is now the adopted DD, and there is a double standard. She is now 14 and calls and cries all the time, and I see it also. Anyway, he has sd he now wants nothing to do w/me. I told my DD I'd sit down w/him and we can resolve it. My youngest DD was killed 10 yrs ago, so we are very close w/this DD and he has caused a big problem by not trying to resolve this. His parents argued w/my DD when she was nursing and her milke dried up and she was in the hospital for 3 days, but she did not do this to them. Now, she has informed us she is having Thanksgiving at her house fr the 1st time, which we had been hoping fr for a couple of yrs, BUT, we are not invited. My husband and I are devastated,we are just shocked she is letting this happen. She had become like a sister to me after my DD was killed my heart is broken. I have watched her and the 4 kids MANY times when she had surgries and her DH was always busy and cld nt stay home, I am just so shocked and hurt.

godsgifts on 2012-11-03 10:13:19

The advice given in your column is quite good. However, the heartbreaking truth of the matter is - if your grown child has cut you off from all contact with your grandchild(ren), you are left to grieve forever. My husband and I spent six years being supportive and loving grandparents. This was acknowledged by our daughter many times. Her husband, aloof and anti-social to al who know himl, seemed satisfied that we stayed out of his way and were helpful.

We were wiped out by the 2008 financial debacle, going from comfortably affluent to poverty. Losing our home and community, we were then rejected by the couple and forbidden to see, write or talk with our beloved "Grands". At 7 and 9, they loved us tremendously and always enjoyed our times together.

What have they been told about us? Do they think that we stopped loving them? We now live in CA; they moved to MA. Mail is returned unopened, their phone unlisted ... Silence reigns. The Lesson, if there is one, is that self-absorbed, selfish, neurotic parents can smash all hope for the continuing wonder of reciprocal love and joy between grandparents and their "Grands". May you never know this pain.

SLB on 2012-09-14 17:59:00