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My Son's Ex Interferes
with My Visits with My Grandchild

QUESTION: I am having difficulty with the mother of my grandson. She and my son are divorced, and I have visitation days, but she makes it difficult. She cancels plans even if we have an agreement and have bought tickets to go to an event with our grandson. When I buy clothes for him, she throws them away. She will schedule dental appointments on our visitation day. If we do get permission to take him on a trip, he comes with no clothes packed. We have never said a word, but we are about to explode! Any suggestions?

ANSWER: Clearly, your grandchild's mother is sabotaging your relationship with your grandson. No wonder you are frustrated! Let's take a look at why this might be occurring, and what you might do to improve the situation.

Factors that could be exacerbating tension between you and your ex-daughter-in-law may stem from a tendency to take sides in a divorce. It is natural for you to support your son, but it is necessary to reach out to an former in-law to communicate respect and ensure your ongoing relationship with your grandson. Even if you are silent about what has transpired in the divorce, a lack of warmth through this transition can easily be interpreted as rejection. It is likely that your grandson's mother feels unappreciated or cut off from extended family relationships through the divorce. Clearly, she is not acting in her child's best interests in behaving as you describe. Still, small gestures of reaching out could go a long way toward improving your relationship.

While it is common for divorce to separate you from your ex-daughter-in-law, it is not inevitable. She is the mother of your grandchild, whom you love. Finding some way to positively (and genuinely!) reflect to her that you appreciate the good job she is doing raising your grandson would likely not only surprise her, but may warm her heart. She may be feeling threatened by your relationship with her child because she senses your negative feelings, even though you have not said anything specific to her. In no way does this excuse her behavior, but taking the high road here will be your best approach to gaining cooperation.

Consider the following suggestions for making a positive connection:

  1. Give small gifts at appropriate times. A home-baked loaf of bread at Thanksgiving or Christmas is an overture of friendship despite difficult times. You are communicating that you want to maintain a positive connection with your grandson's mother, even though things have changed.

  2. Send appropriate holiday cards, including Mother's Day. A card can speak volumes about your respect for a mother's place in your grandchild's life. If she feels you are at least mildly supportive, she will likely feel less threatened about your relationship with your grandson.

  3. Establish your role as a grandmother. Once you have established an avenue of connection, take her out for lunch to talk about how you might be a positive influence as a grandmother. Or try a friendly phone call to coordinate what needs to be packed for a trip, or specifically what kinds of clothes or toys she would like you to buy for your grandson!

If your visitation is court-ordered, you could ask for a mediation to stop interference with visitation time granted. Although you may have results, it may not improve your relationship with your grandson's mother, which is really your best possibility for change. You may also talk with your own son about being involved with your grandson, if there is shared custody and visitation between both parents. Depending on the nature of the relationships involved, coordinating through your grandson's father might be a way to avoid conflict with your grandchild's mother. Still, it would not hurt to reach out in a positive manner to improve your relationship. After all, divorce is the dissolution of a marriage. But it does not dissolve family relationships!

Hang in there. Grandparenting can be really tough! We feel vulnerable because although we are bonded to our grandchildren, we do not enjoy the same position of authority that we did as parents. But remember that parenting is hard, too! And we grandparents have the advantage of age and experience on our side. We are more likely to be able to take the high road to improve a situation than to succumb to a power struggle for control. You might remember the stress of daily parenting a small child when you were young, and the insecurity you might have felt at this stage of life. Keep that in mind as you consider reaching out to improve this relationship.

You are in a place to make a difference. If you are even a little bit successful, your grandchild will benefit from the improved relations between his grandma and mom. And remember, too, that if you are able to contribute toward harmony in family relationships, your grandson will be more likely to want to reach out for you as he becomes more independent. For now, you must deal with frustration without allowing it to dominate your interactions. See if you can make lemonade with the lemons at hand!

Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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