Friday 23 February 2018

Dear Mary: We hardly ever see our grandchildren

Visits from grandchildren are denied to a reader and her husband. Stock photo.
Visits from grandchildren are denied to a reader and her husband. Stock photo.
Illustration: Tom Halliday.

I am hoping you can give me some advice on an ongoing family rift that leaves us in a situation where visits from our two grandchildren aged under 10 are non existent. This has been going on for years and it is getting worse.

It would require a very long email to explain from the very beginning so, in short, our daughter-in-law will not let them come to our home. She uses different excuses, one of them being that one of the children has an allergy. It is true that we have animals but strangely there are also animals in the other grandparents' house and there is no issue with them. She maintains we can see them in their home as often as we like but it is in a controlled way. I have to point out that when the eldest child was young they did visit an odd time but it was always tense and not at all relaxed. Both my husband and I have made many attempts to make her welcome and go out of our way to please her but to no avail.

Our son seems to be afraid to rock the boat and I have had many discussions with him about it. I think it is up to him to change how things are and to acknowledge that he has a part to play being their daddy and we the other grandparents. It absolutely baffles me how my daughter-in-law does not seem to take his feelings into account at all. It is as if he does not exist or is not important. I am by no means an interfering mother-in-law, nor would I ever be. I would have respect at all times and the same goes for my husband. So you see our dilemma: we are missing out, as are the children, on a lovely caring relationship.

Any small bit of advice would be greatly appreciated Mary.

A. This situation stems from the long-standing family rift and, as I have none of the details, I cannot comment on it. But it seems to me that as long as this rift continues then so will the denial of visits by your grandchildren to your home. So anything I say will be in the nature of a sticking plaster over the wound rather than actually healing it.

It is indeed sad that you do not feature more in your grandchildren's lives. It must be really difficult for your son as he is caught in the middle with allegiance to both sides - his wife and family and to you and your husband as his family of origin. What you should try to do is work out some way whereby you will see your grandchildren on a regular basis and therefore build a relationship with them. They will have so much going on in their lives that they will not seek you out by themselves so it is up to you to get things going.

Would it be possible for your son to bring them to your home without their mother? Even a fortnightly visit would be an improvement on what you currently have. If the allergies truly are a problem then you can go somewhere close to your home like a park or a playground.

While it is obviously very difficult if you feel controlled and uncomfortable in the children's home, at the same time you and your husband should put these feelings aside and try instead to do your best to get time with the children.

Would you be allowed to babysit while the mother goes out for a coffee with her friends, or in the evening when the parents could go for a meal or a drink? This would get you some alone time with the children and may also help build bridges.

In looking for solutions I keep coming back to the source of the problem and urge you to get some help in the form of family therapy, if that is possible, to deal with the bigger issue of the ongoing rift. It really is the only way forward.

If not then you should talk it through with an unbiased friend or relative who may be able to set you on the right track. Try not to get too hung up on the ins and outs and rights and wrongs of the original problem, but rather try to seek a solution, even it involves saying sorry.

Ultimately you are trying to do what is best for the grandchildren and that means that they enjoy having two sets of grandparents.

Life is short so please do something to change things as soon as you can.

I'm not allowed to attend his daughter's wedding

Q. My partner's daughter is getting married soon. I've  been invited but my partner thinks it best if I do not go. He doesn't want to discuss the reason why with me. His ex is going with her partner. I feel totally devastated as we are together 20 years. I've been to many family occasions with him including 21st birthdays,  engagement parties, barbecue parties etc. In my mind I am  trying to come to terms with it but it is very difficult. The house is buzzing with wedding atmosphere and people asking me what colour I'm wearing. I'm too ashamed to say I'm not going.

I get on fantastically well with his daughter and went on her hen night with her friends. She is not aware yet that I'm not allowed to go to the wedding. I know it's going to cause major problems. Her dad has major financial input into her wedding and I dread any unpleasantness. I actually feel physically sick as I write to you. Please Mary, can you help?

A. I have found that weddings and wills are two of the greatest causes of strife in families and your problem is a case in point. As I read your email I found myself getting angry on your behalf. Because you yourself are not angry even though you should be. You are devastated and feel upset but that is not enough. If you were angry then you would take on the bully because your partner is bullying you. He has to give some reason why he doesn't want you to attend the wedding. It can't be because the mother of the bride will be on her own - I would certainly understand that - because she is bringing her partner. So there has to be some other reason and he has to explain it to you. Perhaps it has to do with the seating arrangement at the reception; perhaps he doesn't want you to see him if he dances with his ex-wife. There are lots of possibilities but he needs to share his thinking with you.

You seem to be protecting your partner in some way instead of standing up for yourself. I realise that there will be an upset when the bride hears you are not accepting the invitation to the wedding but your partner is the one that is causing this and so he will have to deal with the fallout. He cannot issue an edict that in effect bans you from a very special day without reason - and refusing to discuss the topic is not a reason.

Point out to him that the people at the very centre of the day - the bride and groom - are going to be very much affected by his decision and that you find yourself without a valid explanation as to why you should not be there to share it with them. So he is hurting not only you but also his daughter on what should be one of the happiest days of her life.

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