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My Disrespectful Granddaughter

By Joshua Colemam

My Disrespectful Granddaughter!


How do I deal with my 16 year old granddaughter and daughter who refuse to accept the work that I have done in growing and improving myself by attending your teleseminars, reading self-help books and working with a counselor (my sister-in-law) in the last seven months that we have been estranged?

The estrangement came as a result of my daughter’s verbal abuse which she said was because she could not deal with my unhappiness from the estrangement of my other daughter, her younger sister. I have acknowledged my mistakes, made my apologies and sent my amend letters. Things started to improve over the last couple months with phone calls, texts and even suggesting getting together for lunch for my birthday. She said she did not want to talk about the past and even reassured me that she holds nothing against me.

I was thrilled with the contact. Although my daughter did not follow through with planned phone calls or lunch stating she was too stressed with too many demands, I continued to be understanding and let her move at her own pace. In planning on getting together with my granddaughter she (granddaughter) wrote a demeaning email blaming me for all the problems between us stating that I am “handicapped, damaged by my past and blind to reality” and that “therapists said I would never get it.” She said I needed to see a therapist before she saw me.

This was quite a blow. How can therapists make such a judgment without even seeing me? After forwarding to my daughter and not receiving any response, I questioned whether she was behind it, having her daughter tell me what she could not. After a week, I wrote back that I have dealt with my past and the problems have to do what is going on in the present. I stated that I would not subject myself to their verbal abuse and accusations and would be more than happy to go for family therapy and offered to pay for it. I gave them the name of a highly recommended, impartial therapist. I have not heard back from my daughter or granddaughter except “I wish you peace in your newfound thinking.”

ANSWER: Your letter brings out a lot of issues that are common to estranged parents. So let’s take them one-by-one:

The first has to do with the reason stated by your daughter for the current strain or estrangement. According to her, it’s because she couldn’t deal with your reactions to the estrangement of your other daughter. What this means, in all probability, is that your understandable suffering makes her feel sad, worried about you, and perhaps disloyal to her sister for being your confidante.

I know that confiding in your adult child about her sibling doesn’t seem like it falls into that category, but it does. I have worked with a number of estranged parents where one of the children died. While many if not most adult children would rally behind a parent who suffered that kind of loss, some children feel so burdened and weighed down by their parents’ unhappiness and suffering that they have to distance themselves from them in order not to be pulled down too much by it.

You also said that she didn’t particularly want to talk about the past. That is also not unusual. One would think that something so powerful as an estrangement would require a lot of processing between the parent and adult child to get beyond it. Yet, many don’t want that. I think this is in part because they don’t completely understand why they needed to cut the parent off  or because they’re worried they’ll feel bad about themselves if they hear the parents’ complaints.

It would be hard for any grandparent to be treated in such a disrespectful way by a granddaughter. But, the old days of respect thy elders is largely out the window. What that means is that adult children and grandchildren say things to their elders that most of us could never imagine having said. With your granddaughter, I would ask a lot of questions. I think the more you can have a sense of affection and detachment from it the better. What do you think I need to work on? Why? How do you think I’d be different if I did? How has my behavior been a problem for you? What would you like to see change?I would avoid getting into the fact that you’ve already worked on this in therapy.

I think a good next step might be to call up and act like nothing has happened. Your grandchild may be embarrassed about her reaction and eager to put it behind her, and grateful for the opportunity to re-connect with you.

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GRANDDAUGHTERDr. Coleman is a psychologist in private practice in the San Francisco Bay Area and a Senior Fellow with the Council on Contemporary Families, a non-partisan organization of leading sociologists, historians, psychologists and demographers dedicated to providing the press and public with the latest research and best-practice findings about American families. He has lectured at Harvard University, The University of California at Berkeley, The University of London, Cornell Weill Medical School, and blogs on parent-adult child relationships for the U.C. Berkeley publication, Greater Good Magazine.

Dr. Coleman is frequently contacted by the media for opinions and commentary about changes in the American family. He has been a frequent guest on the Today Show, NPR, and The BBC, and has also been featured on Sesame Street, 20/20, Good Morning America, America Online Coaches, PBS, and numerous news programs for FOX, ABC, CNN, and NBC television. His advice has appeared in The New York Times, The Times of London, The Shriver Report, Fortune, Newsweek, The Chicago Tribune, The Wall Street Journal, Slate, Psychology Today, U.S. World and News Report, Parenting Magazine, The Baltimore Sun and many others.


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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