My son and his wife have excluded me from their lives and I have never met my 1-year-old grandson. When I showed up at their door with a birthday gift for him, I was “greeted” by a disembodied voice from the home security system, with a tone one would use to scare off a would-be thief. My daughter-in-law threatened me with arrest and a restraining order. Excluding my side of the family, while the maternal side enjoys regular access, is beyond cruel. I’ve discovered kindred spirits on various websites and Facebook pages. Please advise on how we who are disallowed the joy of spending Christmas with their grandchildren can get through the holidays.
Anonymous / Boston
I am a 70-year-old mother whose 40-year-old daughter treats me with contempt. I have baby-sat her two children since they were very young, however she is extremely critical of my child-care abilities. As a result, I informed her that I no longer wished to baby-sit. She became irate, claiming I had been a poor mother. Since then, she refuses to speak to me, see me, or answer my e-mails. I am devastated. What can I do?
C.B. / Northridge
Some times of year are particularly brutal for those of us whose family life is not what we’d like it to be — the holiday season, and spring’s roster of family-centric holidays and milestone events. Be gentle with yourself, and others.
You cannot force a relationship on someone who does not want one. That is the inescapable fact. Your children do not want you in their lives, painful as it is, and therefore you are not going to be in their lives, regardless of who is right or wrong. (I will say that people do not, in general, turn down free child care and sever relationships with parents lightly, let alone threaten restraining orders.)
What you can do is continue to love them, even if you can’t express that love in the way you want to. Find a practice or philosophy that helps you love in a truly egoless, unattached way that helps you separate your desire for your children from your love for them, and to focus on the latter. Don’t involve the legal system and try to litigate your way into a relationship. Groups that focus on parents’ entitlement to children or grandchildren, or that portray children as “rewards” for a life well lived, will only dig the wound deeper and infect it with poison.
Instead, channel that love constructively. Your grandchildren are growing up in this world. There is so much that needs to be done for them! My goodness! Do those things — engage in local politics, environmental activism, whatever calls to you. Take stock of your skills and passions and start improving the world for your grandchildren — and the children who will someday be your grandchildren’s friends, colleagues, and spouses as well.
It isn’t exactly what you want, it isn’t the intimacy you desire. But it’s what you can have at this point in your life. It will prove that you respect your children’s choices. And it’s the choice that would make your adult grandchildren proud of you someday in the future. So reach for it!
Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.