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No More Questions

Step 1: Remove foot from mouth

Dear Susan,
I am feeling so defeated because I can’t seem to do anything right when it comes to my adult child. It has been over three years since I’ve seen my grandchildren, and I don’t see things ever changing.

My son lives out of state and is recently divorced, so you would think that would have solved the visitation issue, but it hasn’t.

Every time I try to talk to my son, he shuts down and comes up with excuses why I can’t come for a visit to see the kids. There is one child who is 3 years old, who I have never met, so sad. I mostly send emails asking lots of questions about what’s going on, and they continue to go unanswered. Forget about going through the mom; she has never liked me, and I always thought that she caused the alienation, but I guess my son had something to do with it judging by his recent behavior.

I will share that he did finally answer my last email, the one where I asked if he had a girlfriend and insinuated he was too busy for me, and then I guess I sort of attacked his parenting skills. I told him that I hoped he knew what he was doing with the kids and that they were okay and happy.

Well, he really let me have it. He accused me of having many flaws, including being judgmental, negative and condescending. He pointed out that I stepped over boundaries by asking so many questions and that I am always making inappropriate comments, and don’t respect his decisions. He also doesn’t like me telling him I will pray for him. He said as long as I continue the same behavior, he wants no part of me, and then he said the ball’s in my court to change my behavior. What does that mean? I need some extensive coaching because I can’t do this by myself.
– Signed, Grandmom with foot in mouth

Susan replies:

Believe it or not, you are in a pretty good position to turn this around. I’m sure that you don’t see it right now, but I recognize the signs, and your son does want to have you back in his life. I believe that you will achieve the results you want if you stay the course. My suggestion is to draft a well-crafted response to his letter. I will write the letter on your behalf so you can learn by example. Please do not take what I have written personally; my intention is to help you see those kids.

Do exactly as your son asks: no more judging, no shaming, no blaming, no negativity, no questions of any kind, no condescending, no controlling, no “after all I’ve done for you.” Your past communication has been passive- aggressive in nature. I know that you had good intentions when you wrote the letter, but it comes across entirely the opposite. Sometimes it takes an observation from a neutral party to bring attention to ineffective communication.

The response letter should always begin with a stroke, i.e., a positive comment, such as “Thank you for taking the time to write to me and for your honesty.”

The second part is to acknowledge their feelings and that they are being heard – something like this: “You are right, and I completely understand your feelings.” Part of listening is adopting a sense of agreement, a “you and me” attitude. Say something like, “I don’t blame you for not wanting to share any part of your life with me given my negativity and inappropriate comments – not attractive qualities to have.”

The third part is taking responsibility for the problem. Something along these lines: “I guess it took a ton of bricks to fall on me in order to realize my mistakes. It may take me a while to correct them, since these dysfunctional behaviors have been with me so long, but I am going to do everything possible to right the wrongs.”

The fourth and last part is correcting the problem. Explain how you will go about rectifying the situation: “My agreement to you is that I am willing to do the work that it takes to change my behavior. Please know that I do feel remorse. I have joined a support group, and I am seeing a professional psychotherapist.”

This formula has been successful (reunification with the grandchildren in many cases) as long as the grandparent follows through with the coaching plan. Egos must be set aside, which means losing the need to be right and, yes, eating lots of crow. Stay focused on the bottom line: access to your grandchild, which puts it all in perspective.

Susan Hoffman is the author of A Precious Bond and director of Advocates for Grandparent Grandchild Connection.


Christine Crosby

About the author

Christine is the co-founder and editorial director for GRAND Magazine. She is the grandmother of five and great-grandmom (aka Grandmere) to one. She makes her home in St. Petersburg, Florida.

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