Sneaking Around: When It Comes To Court-Ordered Visitations, Should You Follow Your Heart or Your Head?

Dear Susan,

I represented myself in family court, which is known as “pro per”, and won my court-ordered visitation with my grandson. I now have 12 hours a month, picking him up from school every other Friday and then spending the afternoon and part of the evening with him before taking him home at 9 p.m. It’s not enough for either of us. The problem is now we are sneaking.

My grandson calls me in between the court-ordered visits and asks for rides to and from school, especially when it rains. It’s so hard, I just can’t say no, and sometimes he’s calling because he’s hungry. The first time he called, it was during our recent rainstorms in California and I didn’t think twice, just picked him up and drove him to school. But when his mom (my daughter) found out, she went ballistic and threatened to stop all visits.

It seems so petty that she is making such a big deal out it. I then explained to my grandson that it’s too risky and we will end up losing what we have, but he still begs. He now has me pick him up a block from school and then he lies down on the seat to hide just in case. My head tells me that I am violating a court order and should follow the rules, but my heart tells me to spring into action and face the consequences later. I’m his only support and want to always be there for him.

- Partner in crime Grandma Delia

Susan responds: Obtaining a court order for visitation is like having an insurance policy. This grandma is pretty smart to have navigated the system and prevailed in court on her own, an accomplishment to be proud of, for sure. But emotions can overtake common sense and govern our decisions when it comes to answering a grandchild’s call for help. We are putty in their hands. It is so tempting to jump in and rescue these kids whenever they call upon us, no matter how small or large the request may be. In Delia’s case I reminded her that she has too much at stake and that she should not take the risk of losing her visits when a judge finds her in contempt of not following the order.

When I suggested that she buy her grandson an umbrella and some fast-food gift certificates, she laughed and said, “Good idea, I didn’t think of that.” There is also the possibility that the boy, actually an adolescent, may be playing Grandma Delia? This is not uncommon when adults put kids in the middle. The kids become the ping-pong ball, in this case between mom and grandmom. They are conflicted; they love their parent and grandparent and feel like they are forced to make a choice. Rather than burn either bridge, they learn how to play both sides against the middle as a way of coping.

It could also be that the boy is using the rides as an excuse to spend more time with his grandmother. Perhaps it’s his way of rebelling against his mother’s authority.

Delia’s situation, giving the kid a ride here and there, doesn’t appear to be terribly serious on the surface. But what lies under the surface cannot be known. Grandchildren and grandparents should not have to lie and sneak to do what seems like a natural part of life, but there are bound to be unwanted consequences. Sadly, a child’s emotional welfare is not a priority for the reporting agencies. The scars from emotional abuse are not visible; therefore, they must not be real. Or are they?

Susan Hoffman is the author of Grand Wishes: Advocating to Preserve the Grandparent-Grandchild Bond and director of Advocates for Grandparent Grandchild Connection.

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