Tell Me About It

My wife won’t let my parents see their grandchildren

The atmosphere in our home is horrible and my wife constantly gives out to me

PROBLEM: I started to see a different side to my wife when we had our first child and she immediately made it clear my own parents or family would never get to spend much time with our child. Her family and parents were allowed full access. We had our second child, and the same thing happened again. She didn’t want my family in the hospital or over to the house. My parents agreed to wait but as grandparents were so excited. Eventually they were allowed to visit.

Rules were put in place where notice had to be given when my family called, but her family called at will. Even when she is away, my children stay with her parents and not me. I get home late from work, but even at weekends they go to them and I’m not even asked. This all makes me feel useless. I think she fears that I might do a good job or – heaven forbid – my family might call to see them. I have argued and stood up for myself but it’s just a shouting match, with her not willing to compromise.

Now, years on, my children are still not allowed down to see their grandparents. It always causes an argument, so I have stopped mentioning them. The atmosphere in our home is horrible.

On top of that, my wife constantly gives out to me about what I do to help in the house. I do all the shopping, pay all the bills, service cars, clean windows, do all the outside work in the garden and so on. My wife doesn’t work and has been doing a part-time college course, which requires a lot of study. I try my best to help but she always finds fault. I sought counselling, and, on my doctor’s advice, started anti-depressants as I was very low. I spent nights in my room alone, upset at the guilt of being a bad father. My wife told me to stop feeling sorry for myself but I just couldn’t snap out of it.

Things haven’t improved at all. She sleeps in a separate room by choice, so there is very little intimacy as she is too busy, so I don’t try any more. I feel I’m stuck in on a very shaky hamster wheel and afraid to jump for the sake of my gorgeous kids. I don’t want to hurt anyone but my life is very unhappy and my parents are ageing and extremely upset at not seeing their grandkids.

ADVICE: There are a lot of unhappy people in your life: your parents are suffering from the lack of contact with their grandkids, your wife has separated herself from her marriage and you are so unhappy you have sought medical help. The children are probably suffering too, by having to negotiate the minefield that is the emotional ground of your family, and, of course, they miss out on the unconditional love of one set of grandparents.

It also seems that everyone is looking for improvement: your wife is doing a college course, you are working on contributing to the household chores and your parents are consistent in their patience and hope for more contact with your children. What is clear is that none of this is enough, and it seems improbable that the efforts made by the different parties will actually make a difference. As everyone is so unhappy and it feels as though a crisis is imminent, I wonder would there be an opening for an intervention? Family therapy could offer a space for everyone to be heard and validated; some education regarding the importance of grandparenting might help, as well as some expertise on relationships and parenting. Familytherapyireland.com will offer a list of fully accredited family therapists around the country.

You will need to feel confident and assertive to instigate this process, and this might be difficult in your current state of hopelessness. However, you are clearly devoted to your children, and their future happiness might provide you with the motivation to face possible conflict with your wife. Your children will benefit from a father who is able to stand up for his principles and who is committed to his and his family’s wellbeing. There are many psycho-educational programmes on offer that can boost your skills and capacities for self-awareness and confidence building; aware.ie and grow.ie are two. They also offer support and groups where you can check out your reality (is your wife truly unreasonable?) and your options.

Start by improving your own confidence, and then tackle the family issue by insisting on a mediated session with a professional.