Sunday 4 December 2016

Parenting: Family life with David Coleman

Published 01/08/2011 | 05:00

My grandson hits and kicks his mother; how can I convince her to accept my help?

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I hope you can give me some direction with a problem I have with my six-year-old grandson. He has been allowed to take complete control of what happens in his home.

My daughter and her husband are like a lot of young couples at the moment, struggling to survive. However, what is happening with their son is not a result of the stresses they have at the moment. When I reflect on the last six years I believe my daughter was, and maybe is still, suffering postnatal depression.

She didn't allow anyone, apart from herself, to bond with her son; this sadly included her husband. I think she carries a lot of emotional baggage, including the miscarriage of her first baby.

Whenever I have tried to help by offering suggestions, like maybe try this or that, she gets defensive and I back down, as I need to keep communication open between us.

This little man has so much control he just doesn't know what to do. She is black and blue from the hits and kicks he gives her on a daily basis and it appears she is too fearful to take control.

My daughter never really allowed her husband to be part of the parenting and as a result their relationship is in all kinds of trouble. When I see her son punch her or kick her I really fear for them all because I know it needs to stop now, before he gets completely out of control.

To give advice when it is not welcomed is a delicate and often frustrating experience. Sometimes, being outside of a particular family situation, it is easier to see what seems to be happening. However, the insight you have might not always be welcomed or accepted by those who are very much part of what is going on. This is what is happening here.

Your daughter, who is very close to the issues with her son, doesn't have the perspective that you have. She probably thinks you don't understand because you don't live with your grandson and so you don't really know him, or understand the 'special' bond she feels she has with him.

It is possible, therefore, that she will feel criticised by your comments about him and so will react defensively.

Undoubtedly, however, she needs to be challenged because her approach to her son will indeed lead to a very damaged and dangerous adult.

Your grandson cannot continue to feel he has the power to hurt his mother and to be so fully in control. This kind of power at his age is corrupting.

Her reluctance to set limits for him and to curb his aggression and his manipulation is understandable in the context of losing a child and probably desperately wanting another.

Then her anxieties about anything bad happening to him probably led her to emotionally smother him and indulge him, leading to the current situation.

The best way to reconnect with your daughter is, ironically, not to talk about how she is dealing with her son.

Instead, you should try to empathise with the stress she might be experiencing and with the distress you know that she has felt over the years since the miscarriage.

Your daughter really needs to feel you are on her side in order for her to be able to accept your observations of the situation and your challenge of her.

Indeed, if she herself feels that perhaps she is failing in her attempts to raise her son, then the last thing she needs is other people telling her the same thing.

I am intrigued that her husband has accepted being sidelined in the rearing of his son. I would imagine he feels some resentment toward his wife for not letting him build a relationship; he probably now looks at how his son treats his wife with a mixture of sadness and possibly a sense that she deserves what she gets.

This is another area that you could perhaps try to influence. Do you have opportunities to talk to your son-in-law? If so, then use those opportunities to chat to him about how he can take a more responsible and involved role with his son.

Even if he feels he is blocked by his wife he should not give up and he should not accept that she has the right to determine, solely, how their son should be parented.

If he went to parenting courses he might feel he has greater knowledge, and so might feel greater confidence to really offer his opinion about what should be done with his son.

Tragically, your daughter probably feels very stuck, and at the moment also probably feels very isolated.

I can imagine her distrust of any of your visits while she believes you are looking over her shoulder waiting to offer a critical opinion.

Ultimately, she needs critical opinion, but I don't think she will accept it until she feels that she has looked for it.

None of us is perfect at this parenting business, and we all feel that we are doing our best. It needles when someone offers their unsolicited advice and opinion.

However, if we see that things don't seem to be working very well and we ask for help, then our response to even the most critical of opinions is very different.

I think you need to help your daughter reach the point of insight where she can admit to herself that all is not good with her relationship with her son. Only then might you, and your son-in-law, be really able to influence change.

Show her first that you care about her, unconditionally, and then you can open up the way to show her the damage that she is doing to herself and her son by her style of parenting.

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