Dr. Joshua Coleman answers some tough questions for grandparents who have challenging relationship with their adult children.
1. How do I say no to my daughter’s money requests?
I desperately need help saying “no” to my 3 adult children’s’ continued requests for money. I am 66, still working full time, divorced for 9 years and live alone. I have helped my kids financially giving thousands of dollars over the last decade even when they don’t ask but just hint of their need. I’m an enabler, I know it now. How do I stop it? What do I say? How do I say it with love? My youngest daughter, 36, is on the verge of asking me again as she has hinted that the bank loan on her husband’s truck is due because they would forgo making the monthly payments a few times during the holidays and only paid the interest. I’m lost.
ANSWER FROM DR. COLEMAN
The main obstacle is likely your own feelings of guilt and over-responsibility. Maybe you tell yourself that you’re being selfish or a bad, withholding mother to not give to your children. Write out all of your ideas, rational or irrational about what you should be doing for them as a mother. I think if you do, you’ll see that you’re putting an unfair burden on yourself. If you’ve always given to them financially, they are going to expect for that to continue. The best way to say no is some version of an apology with empathy. “Gee, honey, I’d love to but I’m pretty strapped right now. I’m sorry. Hate to say no to you.” And then repeat that until they get the message.
2. Should I leave more of my estate to non-estranged kids?
What about the siblings who have been good to me? Why should they get the same amount as the child who didn’t give me anything except headaches and heartbreak?
ANSWER FROM DR. COLEMAN
Many parents feel that it’s unfair to give the same amount to children who haven’t been involved in their lives when the other children have. This may be especially true for children who have been involved in helping take the parent to doctor’s appointments, fixing things around the house, or simply being kind to the parent in an ongoing way. Why shouldn’t they get more than the estranged child?
Overall, I think you have to make several assumptions about a child who is still estranged at the time of your death: he or she may have:
- Mental illness or addictive issues
- Married someone who has made it impossible to be close to you and his/her spouse in the same lifetime
- Unresolved feelings about the relationship with you that haven’t been addressed
- Been so poisoned by your ex that their ability to see you was permanently altered.
In other words, there are plenty of reasons that a child might maintain an estrangement even on your deathbed, that may be due to something that is not entirely their fault. And if that’s the case, we may be doing a long-term disservice to them as their parents to cut them out of our wills.
3. Reunited, but son still blows up at us!
We have finally reunited with our only child after 4 1/2 yrs, but he still blows off the handle at my husband & my husband takes it since he doesn’t want the estrangement again! I don’t want it to escalate & if my husband blows-up at my son, we’ll be right back where we started 4 1/2 yrs.ago! However, my son is going through a terrible divorce so hopefully, our relationship will stay strong through it. We have even received pictures of his daughters which we never got for yrs…..it’s magical and we’re very grateful to be back in contact.
ANSWER FROM DR. COLEMAN
So glad that there’s been a reconciliation and that you get to see pictures of the granddaughters. Your husband’s instinct to not react is probably wise, but see if you can do some kind of between-visit inquiry about your son’s reactions if you think he’ll be open to it.
Do it when you’re calm. “I noticed you got really mad last week and we really are working on being better at communicating (notice here how I emphasize that you’re working on being better). Can you explain what about that made you so mad? I’ll just try to listen and understand; I’m not criticizing it.” This would hopefully invite his communication and self-reflection for a better response next time. You may have to do that a few times before you’ll be able to see if he’s able to do any better.
For parents who find themselves dealing with an estranged child, Coleman offers these tips:
ABOUT DR. COLEMAN
Dr. Joshua Coleman is Co-Chair of the Council on Contemporary Families and is a psychologist with a private practice in the San Francisco Bay Area. He is the author of numerous articles and chapters and has written four books: The Marriage Makeover: Finding Happiness in Imperfect Harmony; The Lazy Husband: How to Get Men to Do More Parenting and Housework;. When Parents Hurt: Compassionate Strategies When You and Your Grown Child Don’t Get Along and Married with Twins: Life, Love and the Pursuit of Marital Harmony.