We really want to develop a meaningful relationship with our grandchildren, but over time our daughter and son-in-law have pushed us away to the point where it seems they don't want much to do with us. As a result, we have very little interaction with the grandkids. When their parents do allow it, the time is very limited. What is the best way to approach this situation?
This is primarily an issue of respect. It's a hard truth to swallow, but the fact of the matter is that you can't go where you haven't been invited. If you attempt to push your way in, you'll only alienate your daughter and her husband even further. Better to step back and take a close look at the situation before trying to do anything about it.
It would be a good idea to ask yourself what's really going on. Why do you think your daughter and son-in-law have been keeping their distance? Things like this happen for a reason, and in our experience that reason may have something to do with an offense, whether real or imagined. Can you think back to the beginning and reconstruct the sequence of events that led to the present scenario? If so, you may be able to pick up some valuable insights that will help you decide on a course of action.
Some people are too easily offended. Others perceive offenses where none exist. It's possible that your daughter and son-in-law fall into one of these categories, in which case there may not be much you can do to rectify the problem. If, on the other hand, you come to the conclusion that you have done something wrong, don't be afraid to admit it. Even the best-intentioned parents sometimes make mistakes. Send your daughter and her husband a short note taking responsibility for your actions. Ask their forgiveness, express your desire to restore the relationship, and request that they let you know how they want to move forward. This may not solve anything, but it's the right thing to do, especially if you want to make a positive change.
If it's feasible, and if the young couple are willing, we'd suggest that you engage a mediator – ideally, a certified family counselor – who can sit down with the four of you and help you navigate the communication process. A trained therapist can show you how to listen more effectively, hear what's actually being said, and genuinely understand one another's concerns. He or she can also help you talk through any family dysfunction that may be driving your daughter's behavior and causing your feelings of alienation. This is the best way to unpack the deeper implications of what has happened and begin working towards reconciliation. If you can get to the point where someone is willing to say "I was wrong," that's when the process of forgiveness and healing can really begin.
What if your daughter and son-in-law won't go along with this plan? In that case, you don't have much choice except to abide by the boundaries they've established. If they ask you not to call or visit, then don't. We realize that this sounds harsh, but there's really no way around it. We're also aware that it may mean you won't be seeing your grandchildren as much as you'd like – perhaps not at all. What should you do then?
Here's what we'd advise. Try to gain some perspective on the situation. Make up your minds that this isn't the end of the world. Set boundaries of your own so that you won't be hurt by your daughter's and son-in-law's attitudes and actions. Remember who you are as a person in Christ. Don't become obsessed with this issue and don't allow your personal worth to be defined in terms of your acceptance or rejection by your children. Guard your own heart and be careful that you don't fall into the trap of bitterness. Seek counsel in dealing with your pain. And stay on your knees – by God's grace, there's always a chance that the relationship will change someday.
In the meantime, meditate on Paul's exhortation in Romans 12:21 – "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." Come up with a plan to express your love in small, unobtrusive ways. You can maintain your influence in your grandchildren's lives by sending them cards two or three times a year – on birthdays, at Christmas, and on other noteworthy occasions. Don't send money or gifts, since that may be perceived as an attempt to manipulate. Instead, just say something like, "We're thinking of you and praying for you. Love, Grandma and Grandpa." If nothing else, this will lay the groundwork for reconnecting with them once they've grown up and are in a position to make up their own minds about having a relationship with you.
Focus on the Family has a staff of trained family therapists available to speak with you over the phone. They can refer you to reputable and qualified family counselors working in your area. They'd also be more than happy to discuss your concerns with you person-to-person. If you'd like to talk with one of them, you can call for a free consultation.
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