Misunderstanding — Now We Hardly See Our Grandchildren

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Reader’s Question

My husband and I have been dedicated to our son and daughter-in-law in many ways. We’ve cared for their daughters whenever they needed our help (even watching their oldest while they went on an eight-day cruise) and have helped decorate and repair things around their house.

Our son went to Afghanistan and our daughter-in-law continued working. Every time she needed us to babysit the girls, we did. We even kept them overnight so that she could get extra sleep after her late night shifts.

One afternoon I came down with shingles. I let her know that I could not watch the girls that night. Shingles is contagious, and the youngest was only a year and a half old at the time. She said it was okay and that she understood. That evening I saw a Facebook post from our son saying that he would either have to find a daycare or his wife would have to quit working because they didn’t have a reliable sitter for Thursdays. We are the only ones who watch the girls on Thursdays. I sent him an email and let him know that I was offended. He replied that it had nothing to do with us and that it was about daycare. I felt patronized. I didn’t respond to that email. Several days later my husband received one from our son saying that he knew I was mad at him. Again he said that his comment had nothing to do with us. My husband explained to him that because it was specific to Thursday there was no other way to understand it.

After that my daughter-in-law’s tone changed and we did not hear from her for a week. I saw her and my granddaughters at the store. My oldest granddaughter wanted to come over to dinner, but my daughter-in-law said she had a sitter coming, so I told her to let me know when they had time for a trip for ice cream. The next morning we received a call from our daughter-in-law who was angry when she discovered that we’d taken our two youngest out for dinner and ice cream. She said our granddaughter had been waiting for us to come get her. She finally admitted that she’d been fired the night I had shingles. She told me that her mother said no one breaks out in shingles that fast. I defended myself and told her that I didn’t deserve such disrespect. She then told me I am crazy and don’t deserve to see her girls. She later apologized but has not contacted us very often since, and she has deleted me from her Facebook account.

This bothers me deeply and I don’t know what I am going to do about it. Our relationship with the girls has been reduced to almost nothing.

Psychologist’s Reply

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Having a spouse or partner who is deployed or working in a foreign country is very difficult; your daughter-in-law may not be handling it as well as she could. She was trying to juggle being a single parent to two young children while working outside the home and it all crashed down on her the day you had shingles. Instead of realizing she was overwhelmed and dealing with that emotion, it sounds like she blamed everything on you and it all went downhill from there.

However, it seems like there is enough blame to go around. Because of your sudden illness, your son and daughter-in-law discovered that they had no backup childcare in place. This is an extremely difficult realization and, because of his distress, your son probably did not realize how his post sounded. I suspect that he was sincere in telling you that it was about childcare but you over-reacted and refused to talk with him about it. I imagine that he told his wife about his conversation with you and that, combined with being fired from her job, just added fuel to the fire of her anger.

If you want to fix this situation, you’re going to have to make the first move. You might contact both your son and daughter-in-law and apologize for your part in this misunderstanding, perhaps telling them that you know how difficult this time must be for them and that you would like to both repair your relationship with your daughter-in-law and see the girls more often. Ask her your daughter-in-law what you can do to make things better. She may immediately respond in a positive way but she may not. Repairing relationships often takes a great deal of time and patience.

Once the conversation about healing the rift has taken place, there is nothing further to discuss, so start acting like things are back to normal. Invite your daughter-in-law and the girls over just like you would have before all this happened. Ask to drop by for a visit. Go have lunch with the girls at school. Call to talk on the phone. In short, do everything you did before. If she refuses, don’t take it personally and continue to try. Eventually she will remember that you and your husband are quite helpful and that having adoring grandparents in their lives is good for the girls.

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