Resolution, Not Conflict

The guide to problem-solving.

Grandparents and Grandkids: The Perils of Long Distance Love

Grandchildren are the privilege and delight of increasingly fewer seniors. Those who do have grandkids too often live at too far a distance to reach out and hug them. Read More

please do not romanticize the grandparent relationship

What disturbs me about this post is you did not acknowledge the damage emotionally dysfunctional grandparents can have on their children's families. Both my husband and I come from very dysfunctional families. We watched with horror as the emotionally and psychologically abusive patterns of behavior started to repeat between our parents and our children. I was particularly disturbed by the way my mother-in-law would manipulate my youngest child to cause as much upset as possible, while she sat back and giggled at our attempts to reset boundaries she had given the child permission to cross, without our knowledge.

Grandparents who are not emotionally and psychologically supportive of their children, will have a negative effect on the relationship between the grandchild(ren)and the child(ren)'s parents. I know from bitter personal experience.

The greatest tragedy of my family's situation: if my parents or in laws where hooked to a lie detector and asked if they thought they did a good job as parents and grandparents they would say 'yes' and pass the test. They are incapable of understanding the damage they have done.

So my husband and I are condemned because we "took their grandchildren" from them when we moved as far away as possible. Why does it not occur to grandparents that there maybe a good reason why their children moved so far away and it has to do with the negative, undermining behavior of the grandparents?

Grandparenting is a blessing, not a right.

I am in 100% agreement with you that no relationship is better than a detrimental relationship with a grandparent who would bring negative emotions and behaviors into the family.

When children are born they have no choice about who their parents are. They are stuck and suffer greatly if their dad or mom is abusive, whether from anger problems, alcohol, borderline personality disorder or other dysfunction. Only when these children become adults do they gain the option of removing themselves from a toxic parent. See my post on When Your Mother Has a Borderline Personality Disorder, the other related posts linked to that one, and the many insightful comments readers have added to these articles.

Grand-parenting is optional. The grandparents themselves may opt out. To me is astounding that they would want to miss the chance to love and hug their progeny, but for whatever reasons some do.

Likewise, adult children can, and should, make careful choices about whom they expose their own children to. A parent's job is to protect and nurture offspring. I totally agree with you that parents do not owe their parents exposure to grandchildren if the grandchildren could be harmed by this exposure.

One option in these situations: Adopt grandparents by choice.

There's many seniors out there who would LOVE to become the special elder in some child's life. Find them. Screen carefully, and pick elders you admire, who live close enough by to be active in your children's lives, and whom you can trust to enjoy a truly loving relationship with your kids.

What does one do if one's been left out?

My son is married to a woman who has some kind of problem with rage. Apparently, something I did as a grandfather ticked her off, and her response has been to systematically cut me out of the grandchildren's lives. I can't begin to explain to you how upsettting this is.

What's worse is that it started with me, and now she's doing it with our entire family. For no reason it seems. She's sent gifts and christmas cards back.

My son, who is a minister in a conservative church, says he has to 'respect his wife's decisions'. To be honest, I think she's threatened to take the children away from him enough that he just tries to keep quiet about the situation.

Is there anything a grandparent can do? My son says they need counseling, but his wife refuses to go... I'd be happy to pay for it!!! I'm worried that these rages are making for a terrible childhood for the 3 and 6 year old girls...

A grandparent who is left out is problematic; a mom who rages is devastating.

Please check out the many comments to one of my earlier articles written by readers about raging moms and their impacts on the children's lives:

While my heart goes out to you for your dilemma, and to your son whose wife may be unable to fulfill appropriately the responsibilities of a wife or mother role, the children are the most vulnerable.

One approach is to encourage your son to get counseling himself to understand his wife and to clarify the options. Sometimes a marriage can be nullified by the church.... The biggest toughest question though is how to protect the children....

Wishing you great strength and courage,

Thank you for presenting the

Thank you for presenting the reality of long distance grandparenting so honestly. I wonder if there is a support group for grandparents trying to adjust to the difficult reality of staying connecting to far-away grandchildren. My first grandchild was born 6 weeks ago in California (I am in New York) -- I was lucky to spend almost a month with them but now am so sad at the reality that we can't have regular contact for a while. On the bright side, I hope I can retire in about 4 years so I can visit more often. You are right -- travel is stressful and expensive but there is no substitute for being together. Also I plan to write letters regularly -- so mom can read them. Even tho she is too young to understand the words. Also, hopefully hearing my voice on the phone or on Scype, that at least will be familiar, as I love to hear her sounds over the airwaves. Writing to older children or sending physical pictures may help also, as children can have something tangible to hold on to.

You are so welcome.

One of my sons has a reassuring perspective. He says that though we live far away (he lives in London and we're in the States), because the distance is so far, when we visit there and when he and his family come to visit us, we tend to stay for 10 days to two weeks. Extended stays, like yours for a month with your grandchild on the opposite coast, may make a deeper relationship than frequent brief stopping in for a few hours at each others houses.

Still, close-in grandparents get to have both frequency and duration/depth.

Alas, ....

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Susan Heitler, Ph.D., is the author of many books, including From Conflict to Resolution and The Power of Two. She is a graduate of Harvard University and New York University.


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