Living

Carolyn Hax: Grandma worn out trying to get through to son, his wife

DEAR CAROLYN: I need help in handling my son and his wife, so I can keep my dignity and still see my grandchild.

Son and Wife are in their mid-40s, building a successful law firm, and live about 45 minutes away by car. I see them once or twice a month, mainly because I pick up my granddaughter to spend time with her; otherwise there would be much less contact. Son and Wife encourage my contact with their child; it gives them a break, of course.

My problem is that Son and Wife do not find it necessary to return my emails or phone calls or other common courtesies. For example, I have emailed asking if Granddaughter may go to a certain event. If the answer is no, they simply will not respond. I email asking them if I left my camera case at their house, I receive no response. I bought Granddaughter a Halloween costume, with her mother’s knowledge and approval. When I came to bring it to her on Halloween, she was already wearing another costume.

How do I handle this situation and keep my granddaughter and my self-respect?

– Grandma Almost Ready To Give Up

DEAR GRANDMA: I get it, I do. It is a healthy reflex, when someone mistreats us, to stop offering ourselves up for mistreatment.

But that reflex ill serves us when access to children or grandchildren is involved. You want to protect yourself and punish this couple by denying them your compliant presence, but we both know they’ll barely flinch – while you’ll suffer greatly in denying yourself time with the child.

The solution that won’t cost you so dearly, if you can do it without reservation, is to untie your dignity from the process of seeing the girl.

Try this: If you routinely hit traffic as you drove to see your granddaughter, then it would be an obstacle, but you’d never take it personally.

The way you describe your son and his wife, they’re at the most demanding point in their careers. Not that that’s an excuse, but, for our purposes, it’s just a values-neutral fact. (Of course rudeness is not values-neutral overall; the ignored communications are a face-slap. The parents’ values are simply not relevant to the grandparent-grandchild bond – that is, unless an emotional adult reflexively makes them so.)

And so a byproduct of their hard-charging ways is that common courtesies are lying dazed in a ditch wondering what hit them. I highly doubt it’s just with you.

And so, for the purpose of nurturing your bond with your grandchild, I don’t think your dignity will mind if you treat her parents’ rudeness merely as the traffic you must endure to see her. Aggravating but impersonal, and ultimately irrelevant to your cause.

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