"The actual reason for the conflict is commonly ill-defined"
"Grandmother Denied Contact with Two Grandsons" is a story the grandmother, "Sue," submitted to the Grandparents Who Have Been Denied Visitation Rights page at About.com. This account is an excellent story to analyze because as the page's moderator says,
Sue's story has many of the most common elements of cases of estranged grandparents. A daughter-in-law is often identified as the source of the conflict, the son usually declines to take any action and the actual reason for the conflict is commonly ill-defined.
Sue does indeed tell a story that's echoed by hundreds of grandparents on the estranged parents' forums: Her family had no serious problems until her son married his second wife. The new DIL took an instant dislike to her mother-in-law, claiming Sue was rude to her, although Sue says, "No one can tell me what I did that was rude." She also thinks her friendship with the son's ex-wife is a factor.
The son and new DIL had two sons. The last time Sue saw the eldest, now 7, was 5 1/2 years ago; she has never met the youngest, now 4. At some point in the story, the son ceased contact with his entire family.
Sue recounts two of her attempts to meet her grandsons. The first, in its entirety:
Once when I was visiting the older three [of the son's children, who lived with the son's ex-wife], I called ahead to see if I could come for a short visit with the little boys, and I was told that my son had to be there for me to see them. I went to my son's place of business and was told, "This can be fixed. Just let me work on it." I heard no more.
When a spouse doesn't get along with his or her in-laws but the other partner still wants the children to have a relationship with them, a common solution is to require the other partner to handle the in-laws' visits. The in-laws still get to see the children, the partner who doesn't get along with them has a buffer, all is well. This can be disconcerting to members of older generations, who expect the wife to handle everything child-related.
Sue was so disconcerted that rather than asking her daughter-in-law to arrange a visit when her son was home, or calling her son herself, she went to his workplace in person—potentially threatening his career—to talk to him then and there. She reacted as though her daughter-in-law's simple boundary was a complete denial of contact.
And she made her demand when she hadn't seen the elder grandson for several months, if not years, and had never met the younger grandson—that is, when the relationship was so strained that the parents hadn't introduced her to their newborn son. These details, obvious when Sue's fractured chronology is pieced together, are missing from her account. It's not clear whether she omitted them because they cast another light on her actions, or because they simply weren't important to her.
The second attempt to meet her grandsons was more recent:
In December of last year I was passing through their state with my daughter and SIL and four of my grandkids [...]. We were met with screaming and profanity. It was awful, and much to my shame, I allowed myself to get sucked into it. The little boys were told not to come near the door or to look out the window. [....] When my son came home from work, he did nothing, nada, zilch! He stood there and shook his head and kept repeating, "I don't need this right now."
During the holiday season, Sue and a retinue of six relatives ambushed her daughter-in-law at home while her son was away at work. The daughter-in-law wouldn't let them in the house, and they stayed so long, screaming at her, that they were still there when the son came home. For this, the daughter-in-law was the unreasonable one.
The daughter-in-law believed the son's ex-wife had a part in the fiasco: "#2 called #1 and screamed at her that we had upset the little boys." Sue doesn't think her daughter-in-law was unreasonable for thinking the ex-wife was involved, which confirms that the daughter-in-law was right. Add in that the ex-wife lives near the son and daughter-in-law, but Sue lives in another state, and not only was the ex-wife definitely involved, but Sue was disingenuous when she said she and her retinue were "passing through their state."
Interestingly, Sue does think her daughter-in-law was unreasonable for blaming the ex-wife for upsetting her own children when the daughter-in-law had upset the four children Sue brought with her. As far as Sue is concerned, the well-being of any children Sue brought uninvited to the daughter-in-law's house was the daughter-in-law's responsibility. In no way was it Sue's fault that she brought the children to what was guaranteed to be an ugly scene, then refused to end the scene and take the children away. One gets the distinct sense that she expected her daughter-in-law to give in for the sake of the other grandchildren, and also that she herself didn't plan to give in for the sake of any of the six children caught in her ambush.
Sue's story displays:
- Rampant entitlement. She insists upon visiting her grandsons when she chooses, regardless of what's convenient or comfortable for the parents.
- Boundary violation. She refuses to accept the daughter-in-law's boundary that her son must be present during a visit; she goes to her son's workplace; she visits without calling ahead and refuses to leave when asked.
- Manipulation. She brings along six people, including four children, in the expectation that their presence will force her daughter-in-law to allow the visit.
- Denial of responsibility. It's the daughter-in-law's fault that Sue's ambush upset the children Sue brought into the situation.
- Double standards. Sue is concerned about the trauma to the four grandchildren she brought with her, but not to the two grandchildren who were in the house.
- Lying. Sue claims she was "passing through" when the details show that she was paying a holiday visit to the son's ex-wife.
- Missing context. The chronology is scrambled, the details are scattered, and vital pieces of information are missing. It's as though Sue never sees all the elements of a situation as a whole; she sees only the details that are relevant to her goal. It's not clear whether she tells her story in this fractured way because this is how she sees the world, or because it's easier to make herself look good when she manipulates the details. It's probably a little—well, a lot—of both.
Having seen Sue's story analyzed, would you say the reason for the conflict is still ill-defined?
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