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When Grandparents Are Cut Off

QUESTION: My youngest daughter, mother of my grandson, decided that because she did not inherit from my mother what she thought she should, that she should cut me off. My mother made her own decisions as to where her estate should go. I understand that some grandparents are cut off because they do not respect boundaries or are "busybodies." But this is not the case here. My daughter is blackmailing me. No one hears the grandparent's side of this story. When phone calls are screened and not returned, and letters sent back unopened, what can we do? They walked out of mediation. She's a sick girl, and my grandson has suffered for the past five years. Where is the best interest of the child here?

ANSWER: You are right that the best interests of your grandson are likely being overridden by the conflict between you and your daughter. And she is holding you responsible for an act that was beyond your control. No wonder you are upset!

This situation represents a serious rupture of family relationships. Unresolved grief and anger can lead to depression, so take your own needs into consideration first. Consider seeking your own therapy for addressing the feelings you experience in your role in the family. But do not stop there! Seek an understanding of any family patterns and history that could shed light on how such a serious rupture could have occurred in the first place.

Explore your own relationship with your mother, and her relationship with your grandmother. This kind of "cutting off" is often an expression of built-up tensions from several generations past. Your daughter appears to show poor coping skills, including blaming others and punishing through withdrawal when she is hurt or does not get what she feels is fair. Have patterns of cutting off, withdrawal, and punishing through withdrawal occurred in any previous generation when conflict erupted? Is there a pattern of money standing in for love? If so, perhaps this is not the first squabble over inheritance or money that has occurred among family members.

Certainly none of this would excuse your daughter's walking out on mediation, her poor negotiating skills, or her hurtful behavior. But it might help you understand the family forces at work. Such an understanding may help you to eventually communicate with her in a manner that is empathetic, rather than accusatory. If you are able to glean the emotional nature of what money stands for in the family, you may then be able to use the skills of a family therapist to help you write a letter or make a phone call that could be heard rather than rejected.

Remember, however, that it is not your job to heal the family. This is bigger than you, and doing this kind of inner work and reaching out should be to benefit yourself. If you are able to touch your grief and sadness in the context of your family's history, it is possible that your emotional work will influence others, including your daughter. This is not magic, but a fact of family therapy. One person's actions do affect the whole. And you, too, may have an effect on other members, through inner reflection on the larger family forces of money, love, and inheritance that continue to be fought from the grave.

The money is both a real resource your daughter feels she was denied, and an emotional communication from grandma. What does the loss of the inheritance really represent for your daughter? What is the pain of not receiving money from grandma, particularly if other siblings did? Whether it will be enough for you to understand her pain, rather than be forced to "make it right," remains to be seen. But it is worth a try!

There are no easy answers here. I respect your pain and am deeply saddened by your predicament. I am not defending your daughter in her actions, but I am certain that viewing her as the single evil force in the situation will lead your family only to solidify, rather than resolve the family entrenchment. I am hopeful that suggesting you embrace a broader perspective -- one that includes family history and consulting with a competent family therapist -- will offer some chance for change, and recovery of the love lost between the two of you.

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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