Q: I really hope you can give me some advice. I’m not sure where to start [...]
Ask Jackie: an international situationCreated by Jackie Highe in Ask Jackie, Long-distance Grannies
Q: Hello Jackie. I would really value your take on our family situation please.
Our son is divorced from our 8 year old grandson’s mother. She has had severe mental health issues for over 10 years and it has taken us a huge effort to build a good working relationship with her since she effectively ended their marriage when their son was 6 weeks old. Her mother lives with them in the same small town as us. We see our grandson every week at least and occasionally meet him from school. We are very close to our grandson and get on very well with his other granny who we have known since our own children were at primary school.
Our son has had a hard time over recent years, allergist but eventually found happiness and remarried 2 years ago. His wife is from South America. He met her whilst on a post-doc geology field trip in her country and she followed him over here. After living with him in Europe for two years while he completed his studies, price buy he was unable to find work in the UK and moved to her native country whose economy is booming. Here he found a very good job. He has supported his new wife through her post-grad studies although she has never worked (she is 6 years older than he is). Their joint stated plan has always been to move back to the UK as soon as possible. He teaches in a university over there and has been building academic links in the UK so that he can come home and be closer to his son. For the past 4 years he has managed to fly home about 3 or 4 times a year to see his son and they have developed a trusting and close relationship.
About 2 months ago our son and his wife told us that they are expecting a baby in June this year. He also said that in February they would be coming over to the UK for him to work for two months and would be able to see his son much more frequently for the time he is over here, but that after returning to S. America his wife would be too far into her pregnancy for him to leave her for the rest of the year. But, he felt that his academic links in the UK would put him in a good position to move back home permanently next year (2014)
Our son and his wife came to stay with us for Christmas and flew back at the beginning of the year. After anticipating a very happy family time, sadly, their stay was not a great success. His wife had changed dramatically and had become moody and introverted since we last saw her in the summer. She said she was feeling very tired and sick which obviously could have been the case given her stage of pregnancy, although she enjoyed nights out with our son and his friends. However, she made minimal effort to communicate with us although she speaks pretty good English. We made their room cosy and comfortable for them so that they had a private space to which they could retreat if they needed to. For some reason she chose to hide away in there and spent a lot of time Skyping home and posting miserable messages on Facebook about the rotten weather. We had terrible rain and a lot of flooding here in the rural SW over Christmas. Now that they are back in the heat if S. America she is posting ecstatic messages about being back in her beloved city and being surrounded by her family again. We cannot now envisage that our daughter-in-law will agree to return to the UK to live especially after their baby is born even though we reassured her that the weather was rather exceptional even for the UK. They left several days earlier than planned and spent New Year’s Eve watching fireworks by the Thames! Her indisposition had resolved by then it seems.
My husband and I are really sad and worried that our son’s relationship with our grandson, aged 8, is going to be damaged by his father’s long absence from the UK. He was cross with his father for leaving earlier than he had planned and thinks (possibly correctly) that it was his wife’s wish. After his Daddy flew back to S. America, our grandson told us that he didn’t like his father’s wife and doesn’t want to see her again. Our son knows how his son feels and is understandably upset. He had asked me to fly over with our grandson in the summer to meet his new baby brother / sister, but our grandson doesn’t want to go as he would have to spend time with his step-mother. Whenever our son has to return to S. America he is emotionally drained by the parting from little boy.
My husband was very much against our son marrying his now wife. He actually liked her as a person and it was not because of her race, but because he could envisage the future. It is now turning out as he feared. My husband refuses to fly out to S. America (I flew out to their wedding though and met her family who were very welcoming). We are both close to retirement and desperate for some resolution or words of comfort from this sad situation. Our daughter-in-law knows of my husband’s fear of flying and stated over Christmas that unless he flies out to visit them over there, he’ll never see his grandchild. So, seemingly her vision of their future no longer includes returning to the UK with our son. So the poor fellow is going to be so terribly torn physically and emotionally. Thank you so much for reading all this. Anything you can say?
A: There’s lots to say, Kathy, but I’m not sure you’re going to like all of it.
First of all you three grandparents have all done a marvellous job between you with your grandson. What’s more your son sounds to have done the very best he can for his son through all these years. He clearly loves him and wants to be close to him. He’s been consistent about wanting to come home – although you suspect his wife doesn’t want this. And I must say it seems that way. But… maybe not. She spent Christmas being homesick, and moaning about the weather, but she was coping with the cocktail of emotions pregnancy produces. She might just have been feeling sorry for herself, so far from home. So maybe as the pregnancy progresses she’ll perk up and feel differently.
But here comes a bit you won’t like. Whatever she feels, it’s up to your son and his wife to decide what they do with their future, and your job is to grin and make the best of it. It’s their life and they have to work it out together.
If you interfere, if you state your views, you’re not going to help this situation one iota. In fact, you’ll certainly make it infinitely worse. If you end up falling out with them he’ll take his wife’s side and if you think about it, that’s what he should do, whether she’s right or wrong.
These aren’t simple choices for them. His wife’s attitude may well have changed now she’s pregnant – look at it from her point of view for a moment – her family will want to see their new grandchild, just as you will – and she’ll want her mother – it’s understandable.
I know you’re concerned about your grandson – but you can be sure that your son will be, too. From his point of view it’s a nightmare. How will he handle a choice which could estrange him from his elder child? Don’t make it harder for him by getting involved.
There’s a lot you can do, however. First, don’t criticise your daughter-in-law to your grandson – ever. Be loving, and, without making any promises on his behalf, reassure him all the time that his father loves him too. He’s mixed up, hurt and feeling abandoned. But he has you – be there for him. Persuade him to go to South America with you – it’s the trip of a lifetime.
Is your husband refusing to go because he’s afraid or flying or because he’s showing his disapproval? If the former, then of course it can’t be helped. If the latter, then he’s not on the team here. Tell him to stop sulking and get with the programme. He’s not eight years old. If possible you should all three go, have whale of a time and leave the future to your son and his wife to fathom out.
There’s no right answer here, Kathy. My heart goes out to your son.