Q: My son and his partner have a lovely boy but their relationship appears to [...]
Ask Jackie: long distance grandparenting resentmentCreated by Jackie Highe in Ask Jackie, Long-distance Grannies
Q: I live a long way away from my daughter and two grandchildren. We always go to them at Christmas and spend between one and two weeks there and I usually go and visit for two weeks mid year so we see them every six months and talk on the phone and via Skype. The grandchildren are 1 and 4 years old.
My problem is with my daughter. She is an only child and doesn’t have any family nearby, although her husband has his family close and they are supportive if required. Unknown to me until recently, she has been harbouring resentment towards me for not being more available to her and the children. This only came out recently when she decided to send me an email accusing me of not being supportive enough and putting my own interests before her and the children. I was shocked as I didn’t know that she felt this way and I thought that considering the distance between us that I was managing keeping in contact as well as I could.
I told her that I didn’t appreciate her email and pointed out that I was doing my best. I went down to stay with them for both births of the children, always at Christmas and also went and stayed with my daughter while her husband was away for work as well as always going mid year. The fact that she has raised this has stirred up a lot of animosity. She is obviously resentful that she doesn’t have me nearby to babysit or call on if needed and she also tries to make me feel guilty for not attending the children’s birthdays. As their birthdays are November and January and we are always there in December for Christmas I thought it that being there mid way between the two would be enough.
My partner (not my daughter’s father) and I have reached a time in our lives where we want to enjoy ourselves and travel. My question is this. Am I being selfish or unreasonable to want to spend the next few years of our lives while we have good health and the means to travel, enjoying our time together without being made to feel guilty for not being on call to my daughter? I love my grandchildren but I don’t feel a burning need to spend all my time with them. Frankly, they wear me out. I feel like I have “been there and done that” and now it’s my daughter’s turn to put in the hard yards. I would of course help out if there was an urgent need to do so but considering the distance involved aren’t I doing enough?
A: Your problem sums up one of the issues involved in being a grandparent in the third millennium. As with so many modern grandparents, you haven’t retired to the fireside in your slippers, content to live life through your children and grandchildren. You’re still experiencing it at first-hand.You’re independent, free for the first time to please yourselves. You’ve done your bit and now you can relax. It’s not selfish to want this – you’ve earned it, you’re young enough and healthy enough to enjoy it. And it doesn’t mean you don’t want to help your family – or love your daughter and grandchildren dearly. That’s how it looks from your point of view.
Your daughter is having trouble coming to terms with this, and you in turn, are wondering if she’s being selfish. So now look at it from where she’s standing. She’s an only child – you’ve always been there for her. She’s had a lifetime to learn this – it’s what, in her experience, parents are for, and she can’t get her head round the fact that you might have a life separate from hers – it goes contrary to all her expectations.
So she’s sent you a ratty email expressing, her disapproval. What she’s actually revealing is her own insecurity. What she’s really saying is ‘You’re my mum, I’ve always been first with you and it’s my right.’ She’s feeling neglected and so she’s lashing out. She won’t realise this is what she’s feeling, of course. She’s rationalising it with words like ‘support’. But it’s displacement, based on exactly the same emotions that engender sibling rivalry in two-year-olds.
But to say this isn’t to make light of it. These are powerful emotions and however unreasonable they may be, they’re real to her. She loves you and is confused, and a bit jealous of the fact that you’re not centred round her any longer. You feet hurt and cross (which is perfectly natural), and you said so. Now you’re in the middle of a row where both of you feel justified.
So where do you go from here? You need to talk – and the initiative will have to be yours, I’m afraid, because you recognise what’s really going on and she doesn’t.
When you’re with her – and I would make that soon – explain how you feel. Tell her that you love them all (she knows but you can’t say it too often). Say you’ll always be there for her, that you want to spend time with her and the children, but that you also want to make the most of life while you’re fit enough. Don’t accuse her of being selfish or childish (she doesn’t realise it), and don’t lose your temper. Instead say you understand that having young children is hard work, and that you’ll help out, as you always have. Tell her what a good mum she is, and that you don’t want to become one of those interfering grannies (!) but that you’re always on the end of the phone if she does need advice, or just someone to let off steam to.
And the miles between you aren’t just one-way. Invite them up to stay with you or even to leave the kids for a day or two while they take a break. Gird your loins and rest up afterwards. Yes, it’s hard work, but the reward is the love of your grandchildren – priceless. At least your daughter wants you involved – many grandparents aren’t so lucky. Just make sure it’s on terms you can both accept.