Estrangement: Are You Being Kept From Your Grandkids?


Here are some of the most common reasons for estrangement:

By Dr. Josuha Coleman

A tragically large number of grandparents are prohibited from spending time with their grandchildren. Not infrequently, a daughter or son-in-law is the cause.

Here are some of the most common reasons for estrangement:

  1. The son-in-law or daughter-in-law may come from a dysfunctional family and wrongly view their in-laws in the same way they view their own parents.
  2. The son-in-law or daughter-in-law may have a subtle or overt form of mental illness.
  3. The grandparent may have been critical of the daughter-in-law or son-in-law and the estrangement is a reaction to that.
  4. The parents of the daughter-in-law or son-in-law may be overly controlling and welcome your child into the family, but reject everyone else.
  5. The son-in-law or daughter-in-law may feel threatened by how close the parent was to the adult child and want to reduce their influence by limiting contact with the grandchildren.

Here are some important things to remember:

  • Your son-in-law or daughter-in-law is the gatekeeper. You can’t go around them; you must go through them. That means you should always ask how they’re doing, send gifts for birthdays, holidays, etc. unless you’ve been clearly prohibited from doing so.
  • Write an amends letter if you’ve done something that alienated your son-in-law or daughter-in-law, even if you think their complaint is trivial. Look for the kernel of truth in their complaint. Humility does not equal humiliation. Amends to a troubled son-in-law or daughter-in-law is also the best way to strengthen the spine of your child who may well want his/her children to see you. It enables them to say, “See, my parent is trying really hard. I think we should let them have more time with our children.”
  • Don’t get defensive and don’t return fire with fire. Some sons-in-law or daughters-in-law are just waiting for you to make a false move so they can prevent you from seeing your adult child or grandchildren. Getting defensive or angry is the fastest route to getting that door shut and locked for the future.
  • Recognize that they are the new alpha male or female in the picture. You have to make clear that you pose no threat to their primacy in the life of your child or grandchild.
  • A little flattery never hurts. Sometimes those who are the most cruel or controlling are the most in need of tenderness from their in-laws and everyone else. The most unlikable people are often those who are the most in pain, even when they don’t seem like it. Therefore, always let your son-in-law or daughter-in-law know what you like, love, admire, or value in them. Your child will respect you for it and it may inspire their spouse to be more open to you.
  • Don’t complain or criticize your son-in-law or daughter-in-law to your adult child. In all likelihood they’ll tell them and then where will you be? Even if they don’t, it will cause them to feel more in the middle, which won’t help your cause. 

About the Authorestrangement

Dr. Joshua Coleman is a psychologist in private practice in San Francisco and a Senior Fellow with the Council on Contemporary Families. He has been a frequent guest on the Today Show, NPR, The BBC, and numerous other outlets.




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