Estrangement from grandchildren is not a topic we’ve discussed at our GaGa Sisterhood meetings. I understand why. Grandparents who are denied access to their grandchildren feel too ashamed to talk about it for fear of being judged. They also believe that they’re the only ones dealing with the problem. Yet estrangement from children and grandchildren has become a growing problem. More is being written about it and more resources and groups are available to those suffering from this heartbreaking loss.
One such resource is Dr. Joshua Coleman, a psychologist in private practice in the San Francisco Bay Area who has become an expert on the subject of Estranged Parents. Every Monday he gives a free weekly Q&A for Estranged Parents during which you can ask him anything related to estrangement. In addition, he offers webinars for estranged grandparents, strategies for coping with the pain of estrangement, and dealing with a difficult daughter-in-law or son-in-law.
I first read Dr. Coleman’s column in GRAND Magazine and wanted to share this resource with my readers. The following is an excerpt from his weekly newsletter about coping with the shame and isolation of estrangement.
Almost every day I get a call or email from a relieved parent saying, “I thought I was the only one dealing with this problem.”
This is because very few parents want to talk about the fact that they no longer have any contact with their children or grandchildren because they correctly or incorrectly fear that the other person will think or say something to the effect of, “Well, you must have done something pretty bad to cause your own child to turn away from you. I mean, kids don’t just turn away from their parents for no reason at all.”
But, because most parents don’t tell other people about their situation, they are robbed of the social support that is important to healing from any ongoing psychological challenge. And like most problems, issues that are left in the dark tend to grow stronger there because it reinforces our feeling that the reality is too shameful and painful for us or for anyone else to face. I have had many parents tell me that the simple act of knowing that there are a lot of other parents out there suffering in this way is healing to them because it makes them feel less flawed and alone.
But for many parents, their fear of social censure causes them to retreat, not only from activities where they might have to talk about their children or grandchildren but from their lives in general. I often get letters or calls from parents who say something to the effect of, “What’s the point of living if I don’t have my child or grandchildren in it? How can I go on?” And so they begin a downward spiral of pulling away from the people and activities that could restore a sense of identity and meaning, and it gets harder and harder for them to get back to themselves. It gets harder and harder because they have nothing and no one to reflect back to them their worth and value as a person and parent.
Here are four suggestions to keep from avoiding social contact:
- Fight the temptation to isolate.
- Make a list of activities that you have given up since your estrangement began.
- Pick one pleasurable activity a day and do it regardless of your mood.
- Make a list of ways that you can begin to reclaim your life and commit to doing them.
Coping With the Loss
I would also encourage estranged grandparents to read Pat Hanson’s book, Invisible Grandparenting: Leave a Legacy of Love Whether You Can Be There or Not. Hanson writes from personal experience because she herself has been denied access to her two grandchildren for over a decade. She describes her heartbreaking journey with such gut-wrenching honesty that it’s almost too painful to read. Yet, her story is inspiring as she shares how she has learned to live with the loss and transform negative energy to forgiveness. Her book is a valuable tool for helping other grandparents cope with their loss.
She encourages grandparents to share their story and feelings with their therapist, close friends and family. Hanson explains that she was a hospice bereavement volunteer for five years but nothing prepared her for the pain and grief that she felt from being kept from seeing her granddaughter. She lists some steps to go through to help cope with the loss:
- Become fully aware of what is going on.
- Make a list of what your grandchildren miss by not having you in their lives.
- Find something to be grateful for each day.
- Forgive yourself for whatever mistake you might have made in contributing to the situation.
- Grandmother yourself: whisper things in your own ear that only a grandmother who unconditionally loves you could.