Tell Me About It

My husband and I are being kept apart from our grandchild

We have hinted at how we would like to be more helpful but are always rebuffed

PROBLEM: My son and his wife have recently had a baby, and I am thrilled to have our first grandchild, but I am very frustrated by how little we see of the baby.

At first I thought it was just the strain of the birth and being new parents, but six months later, my husband and I have only seen the baby twice. I have tried to be patient and understanding, and have hinted at how we would like to be more helpful, but I am always rebuffed.

My husband spoke to our son, and he said he did not want to get caught in the middle, and that his wife had very particular ideas about raising children. I am very sad and angry about this. My husband too is very angry, and I’m afraid that if he voices this we will be cut off completely, and not only from our grandchild.

ADVICE: This is a very sad situation, and it is not uncommon. In many families where the parents are separated, for instance, it can happen that a grandparent is denied access to the grandchildren, and the habits and patterns of families can also mean that fear and insularity continue into the next generation.

It is important to point out how crucial the grandparent relationship is to a child: the child receives unconditional love from the grandparents and can luxuriate in the glow of their full attention and delight. Grandparents can lavish joy and indulgence on the child without the pressure of career-building or a focus on discipline. This offers the child a buffer against all the setbacks of growing up. Many children have little or no access to grandparents, due to distance, emigration or separation, so those who do are privileged, and this relationship needs to be encouraged and honoured.

Parents have a right to rear their children in a way that mirrors their values, and, if you can understand what these values are, it might help you in knowing how to create the best opportunity for inclusion.

Clearly, at the moment your daughter-in-law does not want your involvement. This may be based on many factors. Without some knowledge of these, you are in a situation where you feel increasing resentment and rejection, and this is unlikely to endear you to her, as everything you say and do is mediated through your emotions.

Clearing these feelings is the first step towards finding a solution. Cultivating a sense of patience and compassion for your daughter-in-law will release your sense of injustice, and with time may allow her to feel more content for you to be involved. Patience is needed, as it may take time, indeed years, for this relationship to be mended, and it will be important that your grandchild does not end up mediating between his mother and grandparents.

Remembering how important the grandparenting relationship is to you will focus you on the higher goal and help you let go of the petty hurts and slights that can so easily occupy your mind.

Your son feels a need to protect his wife and his family, and does not want to exacerbate a tense situation. He understandably feels that peace is crucial in this situation. This can feel like he is choosing to push his parents out of his life, and this is very painful for you both.

Speaking to him head-on has resulted in stalemate, so perhaps another route is best. Your husband could organise some events over the coming months that might be less tense and more companionable (rugby, golf, music and so on). This might allow your son to feel secure in his relationship with his parents without feeling he has to take sides on behalf of his wife. His choice of life partner has to be respected and supported, and he might be open to discussion if he feels that you both have his back.

Suggest unthreatening outings that are not too intensive: picnics in the park, lunch where there is a children’s area, whole extended family parties or outings. Your son and his family might then feel free to arrive and leave when they feel it is appropriate, and over time they may relax and feel more confident that they are not being criticised.

If the relationship remains difficult, you might take an even longer view. This involves sending cards and presents that are evidence of your continuing care and love. Indeed, the role of parent or grandparent is that you are always there, no matter what the situation.