"interfering" grandparent where abuse enters in?
I was born and raised into an alcoholic family, as were both of my husbands...my first, who is the father of my older daughter, and my current husband of 40 years, who is the father of my younger daughter and of my son. They are all in their late 30s and early 40s now, and I am nearly 70.
Growing up, my father was never abusive to me physically, but I saw him physically abusive to my brother and my mother. To that end, we were excluded from my mother's family. She was the oldest of nine, and I had many cousins, aunts and uncles, but we were generally left out of family gatherings and never had company from these people, because they did not like my father and his behavior. I was very lonely,
When I had my own family, I didn't really know what I was doing. I did not find out about the family aspect of the disease of alcoholism until several years into my second marriage. I realized that I did not recognize alcoholism in other people unless they acted like my father did.
I tried to "adopt" my second husband's large family (he was oldest of six) because I wanted so much to be part of a big, happy family. But I was rejected by his mother because I was a divorcee. After awhile, I was tolerated, but my daughter from my first marriage was never really accepted by my mother in law, and was made to feel an outsider.
I was determined to create a loving, happy family on my own and I spent many years cultivating that. We went on vacations, and had large gatherings at our house of family members and friends. About five years into our marriage, with all three children born, my husband and I became involved in AA and Al Anon and began the healing process of living with alcoholism.
I was mistaken to believe that my "recovery" would be my children's recovery. But even though there was never any alcohol in our lives, and all of our friends were people in recovery where we had lots of fun together, my children, one by one, were affected by the disease themselves. My oldest daughter went into AA at 18 years of age and remains there to this day, at age 45. She is happily married with 3 children, although I will say she suffers from anxiety and takes an antianxiety medication every day. So she is "medicated."
My son became alcoholic and married a girl from another alcoholic family. that marriage produced 2 children before it ended in divorce after 7 years. My DIL met someone at work and began to spend all her time at work functions, which she excluded my son from. I don't know how bad my son's drinking/drugging (pot) was, but she blamed their problems on that. She did not like me because I was in my "one big happy family mode" I guess, and did not like my presence, even though I lived in another state. She made it difficult to see my grandchildren. So we went to court during the custody hearings and requested grandparents' visitation, and we got it. I try to be cordial to her, but with two controlling women locking horns, there are at times some frictional sparks. She has never done anything to help herself regarding her background and she thinks that the be all and end all of everything is counseling and drugs. So she has my grandson trussed up with all kinds of therapies and on not only Ritalin, but now, an anti-depressant. She controls most of the doings with the children, rather than my son, who has abdicated most of the authority over them, although he retains 50% legal and physical custody and has convinced the doctors that my grandson needs anti-depressants. I am aware that the mental health assessment of children falls largely on the hearsay of the parents, and her voice is loud. So she has gotten what she wanted, although during a doctor visit that I happened to take my grandson to, I said that I saw improvement in my grandson rather than a back slide, and that the opinions he gets from parentals, depends on the attitudes of those parents. I suggested that one parent is very anxious and is likely to project that. But it seemed to fall on deaf ears. So be it. When my son was separated from her, he left their house at her request and signed a paper saying he gave up all rights to any $ from the sale of that property. She gave him some of their savings and he went through that quickly trying to pay rent and other bills. We helped him financially through that time and lent him the money, finally, to buy a little house, with him paying us a mortgage payment. He is back on his feet financially now and continues to pay us back. We put the deed for the house "in trust" for him, in case he ever fell back on drinking or irresponsibility and stopped paying us, so we could take the house back. In other words, we covered ourselves.
My younger daughter was deathly afraid of alcohol in her formative years. She had witnessed arguments and leavings and returnings between my husband and me even after he was sober. Putting the drink down was just one step in getting healthier. We had lived our whole lives in dysfunction and were not working out of it miraculously. But when I compared my life as a kid to my children's, it was like night and day. They had family, friends, birthday parties, vacations, school events, sports, etc. Whatever a "normal" kid would have had. I didn't have much of any of that, so I figured I was doing pretty well as a parent. I even learned, as an adult, in parenting classes, how to determine if a problem was mine, and then how to proceed to figure out possible solutions. This was all new to me! I "flew by the seat of my pants" much of the time!
My father and mother lived nearby and were very involved in my children's upbringing. If my father was drinking, I kept the kids away. But it didn't always work out that way and I'm sure that when they were staying overnight at times, they saw and experienced his drunkeness. So my daughter wanted nothing to do with alcohol and when she went to college, we bought my father in law's house, near the college, so she could live there rather than in a dorm, where there was a lot of drinking that she had witnessed when her older sister (now sober) lived there. But somewhere along the line, my middle daughter discovered alcohol, and her house became a party house.
She was very careful to keep that under wraps, but I would see pictures of her parties on social media, and I was mostly appalled at the attitudes she had developed, which she did not learn from me. She would have "white trash" parties, where everyone dressed up like they thought someone living in a trailer park would dress, and act. I found it really sophomoric and while I didn't say anything, I was unhappy with the way my daughter treated other people. When she graduated in the health professions, I suggested she could work in a poor neighborhood and get the NHI to forgive some of her student loans, but she refused, saying she wanted to make money. She even moved out of state where she could earn more. She had her first real boyfriend while in college and he was a flaming alcoholic. I was shocked at how quickly my daughter became codependent. He lived in our house (which she had rent free) with her, she paid all the utility bills, paid to have his car fixed, paid for him to get a training program for a job he wanted, etc. He knew we did not like him, and he wanted her to move out with him to a place that we didn't own and couldn't come around as often. We were 45 minutes away, so we didn't pop in every day, but when we did, we could see what was going on because of our "training" in AA and Al Anon. She gave us notice that she was moving...and then he dumped her for his old girlfriend and she was left holding the bag. We had already rented her apt. to our son and his fiance and we did not feel we could renege, so she had to live elsewhere. When she came back around, she expressed to us her dismay at how much she had changed when she was living with the alcoholic. She had 'dissed' us, her family, because she didn't want us to say anything about their lifestyle. They hung around with his family exclusively because they were heavy drinkers, and that's what he wanted...and she wanted what he wanted, to make him happy.
She began attending AA and Adult Children of Alcoholics meetings and we were very grateful, but it didn't last. As quickly as she got into the program, she jumped back out. I think now that she was in the rooms looking for her alcoholic boyfriend. Who she met instead, was his girlfriend, who would sit and talk about their "mutual" love. So she left and didn't go back.
She was very lonely and wanted a mate. I told her one would come along when she least expected it, and to be patient. He came along. Another adult child of alcoholism, unrecovered, who had been emotionally abused by his parents as a kid. He was ten years her senior and presented himself as a clean cut, professional guy. After only knowing me for a few weeks, he sent me a Mother's Day card! I was a little weirded out by this, but a little charmed, too, knowing that he knew what would please me.
After a time, she wanted to be engaged and be married; she was in her late twenties and wanted a family. She would come to me and cry because each time there was an occasion when she thought he might "pop the question," he didn't. Finally, they were visiting one time and we were sitting outside, with just him. I asked him what his intentions were with my daughter. He was obviously annoyed with my question, but i felt he was 10 years older, had been around the block several times, and I knew that my daughter was hurt by his foot dragging. He said I would be "the first to know." Later on, I was blamed for the delay in their engagement, because he said he had the ring with him that weekend and had intended to ask her, but when I "butted in" with my question, I put him off. They were engaged later that week. She was the last of my children to be married, and I did what i did for my other children: I was involved in the planning of events like a wedding shower, we helped pay for their reception, and/or rehearsal dinner, whatever was our "duty" as parents of the bride or groom. But his mother and sister did not like me and made no bones about it. When I said that the wedding shower was taking place at a restaurant where my daughter had waitressed every summer during high school and college, she asked why that was anything that would interest her? At the shower when I went to take pictures of each table, she turned her back on me. Her daughter was as rude. I tried to do the best I could under the circumstances, but then my daughter began to get angry with me, and I couldn't understand what she was angry about. She never said. I recall wanting to get out of the car and stay home when we were going over one day to the reception site. She was angry with me, and I thought, I don't have to go to this thing today. But my other daughter didn't want me to make waves and encouraged me to stay on and not say anything. The reception went on, I didn't really care for the way they set it all up, but I kept my mouth shut. Then they moved on to the state where they had been living and she right away became pregnant. I was there and helped out at the house. She asked me to make dinners for the freezer for them, so I did that, and whatever else I could do. She said I could see the baby whenever I wanted, so I would go down for a week or so and keep him home from daycare with me. I always did the laundry and made meals. But my son in law had the habit of eating quickly and then going upstairs to their bedroom, or the office they had created, and not staying down with us in the evenings. Even when my husband and I were both there he did the same thing.
She took up what he liked...ice hockey, for one. She bought them team shirts and they went to every game. We even went with them once or twice. They named the baby after a hockey player they liked. She had done the same thing with this man that she did for her first boyfriend: he helped him pay off credit card debt, bought him a new car to replace his junky truck, paid for braces for him (at 40 yrs old) and paid for college for him. Since we have known him, although he has professional credentials, I counted it up and he has had about 15 different employers. Hmmmm. But it was always someone else's fault as to why he was let go.
She had another baby and our lives went on in what I thought was a smooth way. All of a sudden his mother and sister liked me and were kind and friendly to me, so I responded likewise. I was pretty happy. Then she wanted to move back near the family. She took a job and he stayed back where they had been living. She moved in with her two kids with me and my husband. We left on our usual summer vacation and when we returned, she was moving out and the husband was coming up to live with her. Apparently he did not want to live with us, although she had told him she wanted to buy our house from us and fix it up for them to live there. We would build a place on the property because she wanted to look after us in our old age. It sounded good to me, and he went along for a bit and then said it wasn't for him. She seemed to want to recreate her happy childhood for her own children, with lots of acreage to roam on, chickens, horses, etc. Country life. He was an upper class suburbia kid and wanted to live in that atmosphere. So he got his way. Meanwhile, they began going to counseling, she finally told me, because they were unhappy, but neither one wanted to give up seeing kids 50% of the time and because our son was getting divorced, she didn't want two divorces going on at the same time. So they stuck it out. One issue was his treatment of our grandson. We had observed his obsessive nature toward the boy's behavior. Every move was scrutinized and reacted to with menacing and punishment. When I saw my daughter, I expressed concern. She said it was a topic for counseling. but then counseling ended and the upshot was hiring a cleaner to keep the house neat because my daughter kept it messier than he liked. The issue with his behavior toward his son seemed to be dropped. My grandson went on and we all witnessed the behavior. i even saw my daughter get very nasty very quickly with both children and what was meant to be a fun outing with me, her and the kids, one time turned into them crying and me with knots in my stomach, holding my granddaughter's hand under the table. Then my grandson announced at about seven years old that "my dad doesn't like me." I told my daughter, because she did not want me to confront her husband, and she said she can't change her husband.
Then at 8 yrs old my grandson, who spent a lot of time at our house, came to me all upset. He was squabbling with his sister and cousins, but it turned out that the person being "mean to him" was his dad. We comforted him and told him he was a good boy, he wasnt' his problem, it was something his dad had to work out. THen we talked to our son in law directly and told him what our grandson had told us and what we had observed over time. He seemed genuinely sad that his son felt that way, and when they left, we had hope.
But a few weeks later, we learned that he had never told our daughter about our talk. I asked my grandson and he said nothing had changed. We told our daughter about the talk and she was upset, but didn't say anything. I asked her some time later if they had worked anything out and she said that her husband did not know that she knew about our talk. They had both just done nothing. I was on vacation with my daughter and witnessed her screaming at the top of her lungs at a store clerk because she wanted a refund for a toy my grandson had bought that broke. I was shocked.
Some weeks later, my grandson told us that when his dad gets angry, he pins him against the wall...pushed him against the wall with his hand and held him there. And on occasion, he had thrown my grandson on his bed. I did not like the escalation of this. My daughter worked nights and every week had to sleep over in another city. She was not there to protect, or to see. So I sent the kids back to their father...my granddaughter wanted to know why he treats her brother like that, and not her. The father would pick her up, hug her, give her cute litte names, all the while fairly ignoring my grandson unless he did something the father didn't like.
My daughter sent me a text message saying that things had been brought up because of my suggestion to my grandkids and I was going to ruin my relationship with them if I interfered with the disciplining of their children. It had "only happened once" and her husband shouldn't be punished over and over about it. I suggested that physical abuse is not punishment and that talking about it could possibly help them with healing. After that, my son in law was sour on us...especially me. My daughter began pulling the children away and all of a sudden, it was not convenient for me to see them or have them at my house.
She said I was obsessed with her children and to find something else to obsess about. I blew up and told her off. Said I was tired of walking on egg shells around her, etc. I apologized afterward for my anger, but she blocked me and wouldn't let us see the kids. Wouldn't let cousins see them either. Then she came around and it eased up a bit; I suggested that after the holidays, we sit down to talk.
That talk was attended by chance, by the children and my husband. He involved himself and started the conversation with her when I didn't think it a good time, but he started with an apology to her for "whatever" he had done, but he didn't know what that was. She proceeded to tell us both and it was...I'm sorry to say...total nonsense. I don't mean this to just cover up for my misdeeds; my daughter, I'm afraid, is suffering from a mental illness. Maybe alcoholism, maybe BPD, maybe both. It all blew up when we kept pointing out the discrepancies in what she said, and she walked out. We felt relieved that the confrontation had finally occurred and we both realized that our daughter was talking to me, especially, the way my husband had talked to me when he was drinking. He was the one who pointed that out to me. She was saying things that were completely untrue. For example, when we were at the beach together in August of that summer with her two children, I made a statement, watching them on the beach, about how much fun it would be for all the kids to be there. She turned to me and said, "fYI, if you invite anyone else, I'm not coming." I was surprised, because we often vacationed together and she seemed to look forward to it, planning the meals and doing the shopping. That day in the restaurant, she brought it up to me and said that I could talk of nothing else the whole time we were at the beach, except how I wished the rest of the family was there, too. Now I know that definitely is not true, because if you say one thing to my daughter and she doesn't like it, she jumps down your throat...as she did me, and you do not bring the subject up again. That's what I mean by walking on egg shells. That was only one thing that she said that was untrue.
After that, we were told not to come around. the kids were devastated, and so were we. We wrote to them both and told them things that we had observed; we told them we saw a real problem, a continuation of the alcoholISM -- those things that happen even if you don't abuse alcohol...and asked them to get help. We said that abusing a child is never right or correct. We said we were worried and wanted to keep in touch with our grandchildren.
They responded with a "Nazi" letter, about how we have no rights as grandparents, that I am crazy and if I want to see them, I need a certificate of sanity from a licensed psychiatrist. She then sent excerpts from a book to my husband and called me an "emotional blackmailer." But all the symptoms that she highlighted sounded more like her than me.
We went to a counselor and she suggested that my husband tell her that if she needs hlep with pain from her past (because we "celebrated our other children's failures, and ignored her "successes") that she should seek outside help, that he could not help her.
Since then we have had no contact. The kids have written a note to us telling us how much they miss us. we send them letters, but we doubt that they receive them. We sent our daughter a simple birthday card and Mother's Day card saying we love her, but that's all.
We believe there is a mental health problem, but we also don't want to ignore our share in the problems. So we have doubled up on Al Anon meetings and talk to people and our counselor about it all, trying to sort it out. That is how I came upon this blog site. I like Beth's gentle approach and things she says that give me hope.
I don't know how this will end up, but I know I want to see my grandchildren. My daughter and her husband need to sort themselves out for themselves, when and if they are ready. My next step, if they refuse to allow us after nearly 5 months, to see our grandchldren, is to take the route of family court to request grandparent visitation.
Thanks for reading.