Whenever Barbara Greenleaf posts an article about this tragic situation, thousands of people search it out on the Internet and on Facebook. She’s learning that the DDIL is not only creating unspeakable heartache for her in-laws, the DDIL is causing serious psychological harm to her children, collateral damage that is just now being recognized.
I get many heartbreaking emails detailing the callous treatment of a grandparent by a difficult daughter-in-law (DDIL). Here is a typical message from a Texas woman I’ll call Doreen. Doreen wrote:
“I had a loving relationship with my granddaughters for a decade, although their mother was putting more and more restrictions on my interactions with them. She kept piling up the do’s and don’ts—I eventually counted fifty of them—and they became more and more bizarre. At first I could visit and bring gifts. Over time she nixed the visits, but I could call and Skype. Then I couldn’t call but I could write. Then I couldn’t visit and couldn’t write but could send gifts. Then I had to stop wrapping the gifts so she could see what was inside, then the gifts had to be sent to her so she could approve them first, and then I wasn’t allowed to send gifts at all. Never was a reason given for these humiliations or finally shutting me out altogether.
“I don’t live near the children, but I made the effort to get to their home two to three times a year. I existed for these visits, our phone calls, and our Skype sessions. We had a loving relationship and now, after ten years of being a grandma, I have nothing. This is not estrangement, it is alienation. It’s a form of elder abuse and child abuse.
“It’s also a form of spousal abuse. My daughter-in-law has turned my kind, loving son against me. He was an Eagle Scout, for goodness sakes! But over time he bought into her lies and now he won’t have anything to do with me. When I tried to meet him at a coffee shop recently, he turned me down cold. ‘What part of ‘no’ don’t you understand?’ he said. “And if you try to come here again, I’ll get a restraining order against you,” which he did. It’s a nightmare that never ends. Does this younger generation have no feelings for anyone but themselves?”
A Grandparent Fights Back
Given this kind of treatment, most grandparents give up. The constant rejection is just too painful. But Doreen says grandchildren are worth fighting for, both for your sake and theirs. Here’s what this feisty lady recommends:
Send postcards. This way the parents can see what you’re saying. The message should be neutral, something along the lines of “Grandma is thinking of you.” The kids have got to be able to trust love, she says, even if the parents are setting a terrible example.
Keep trying to communicate. Your phone calls may go unanswered, but one day there may be a breakthrough. And, if you get to leave a message, the kids may hear your voice.
Keep trying to visit. Doreen urges other grandparents to go in person, but she says to take someone with you to witness the exchange. Also, it may be less threatening—and the parents may behave better– if there are two or three of you.
Visit the police. If, God forbid, the parents put a restraining order on you as Doreen’s did, she says you should go to the police yourself to explain what’s going on. When they hear your side of the story, they may be able to help. In her case, they agreed that dropping off a gift for the kids was not harassment but a domestic dispute, and they recommended that she see them first if she tries to visit again. Then they thanked her for coming in. “We drive by these beautiful homes,” one told her, “but we don’t really know what’s going on inside.”
Reach out to their minister. Speak with your son and daughter-in-law’s minister to apprise him or her of what’s happening. Clergy may be able to help effect a reconciliation or at least try to get you invited to your grandchildren’s milestone occasions from which you might otherwise be excluded.
Join a support group. Whether online or in-person, these groups can provide moral support, information, and expert advice. Doreen found it comforting to learn that hers was not a unique situation.
Advocate on a larger scale. Doreen alerted me to Alienated Grandparents Anonymous, which lobbies locally, nationally, and internationally for greater awareness and legal protection for grandparents. See Barbara’s post for a fuller explanation of what AGA does.