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Ask Ellie: In estranged families, grandparents, grandkids suffer terrible loss

An online search of estranged grandparent groups can also provide information, tools and resources to help
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Advice columnist Ellie Tesher.

Dear Ellie: My wife and I are a retired couple who’ve raised two successful, self-sufficient sons. Both are secure in their professions, homeowners paying their way and not depending on us.

Unfortunately, one of our sons has decided to abandon us and wants no contact. Even more heartbreaking, his children are both under age 15, and are also not allowed contact with us.

We were told this past year that we’re not allowed to visit sporting events, celebrate milestones, birthdays or ask questions about them. We only see snippets of their lives through social media.

We’ve always been there for them and supported them emotionally, giving some financial help in the beginning.

This son has also had no relationship with his sibling for over four years. We’ve tried to respect his wishes by staying silent, only sending anniversary/birthday cards.

How can we end the pain of no contact? We feel like half our family has died with no way to grieve.

Heartbroken Parents/Grandparents

Your mental and emotional pain are immediately understandable, yet nothing about your one son’s demands for ending contact are explained by neither you nor him.

However, you and your wife are not alone in this situation. Organizations such as Alienated Grandparents Anonymous, Inc. (AGA) support affected grandparents and claim that “many thousands of grandparents” have experienced estrangement.

Note: AGA Canada, founded in 2011, is a peer-support group for grandparents and parents alienated by their children.

Your son and his wife apparently haven’t shared, nor have you disclosed, their perceptions, attitudes, past resentments, etc.

I suggest you carefully consider two proactive choices: 1): You consistently send “permitted” cards on occasions to show the children and their parents that you’re thinking of them and want to maintain contact.

OR 2): You become pro-active grandparents, and start by together seeking counselling advice to explore what may have happened in the past to affect your son’s hardline decision.

An online search of estranged grandparent groups can also provide information, tools and resources to help you choose your own response to your son and his wife.

Example: Some grandparents also seek legal advice on learning their “rights” to access and family visits with their grandkids. But, if the legal approach is too combative, the goal of better family relations becomes harder to reach.

The bottom line on estrangement in some families centres on the grandparents’ understanding where the toxicity exists or existed in the relationships.

It may be the son’s resentment of his older sibling, or his wife’s belief that they weren’t treated equally with financial help, or the children’s rapport encouraged only on her own parents’ side.

Whatever the negative trigger, you as elders can use your mature wisdom and compassion to let your teenage grandchildren feel loved — whether through the occasion cards, shared memory of activities together, interest in their projects, sports, etc.

Children feel when a grandparent’s love is unconditional.

FEEDBACK Regarding the toxic mother-in-law (Nov. 10):

Reader – “The daughter-in-law (DIL) could do more to help the situation. Every time the MIL complains about the other DIL, she could make a positive comment: “She really works hard with her children to teach them right from wrong.”

“If she feels that the MIL is also badmouthing her, she could approach her sister-in-law and comment that she’s in her corner.

“Or make only positive comments about one another when their MIL goes on her sour, negative rants.

“At the very least, they’ll be trying to do something loving and positive.”

Reader’s Commentary regarding the woman who loves her husband but loathes his attitude (Nov. 9):

“This woman should find a way of doing something concrete to express her own empathy for the Indigenous people or other people or groups who are suffering in their lives.

“The wife can do this through her own personal volunteer work, plus with some degree of political activism on her own part. She can also contribute to those in need through meaningful donations, and through offering her own friendship to affected persons, etc.

“However, merely instructing other people how to demonstrate correct beliefs, i.e., preaching, is the collective disease of our time and yet doesn’t offer any individual all that much hope for a better life.

“Also, leaving her insensitive husband won’t change his views — it will probably just solidify them — and, realistically, living on her own without her husband won’t help the Indigenous perople.”

Ellie’s tip of the day

Estranged families, and especially grandparents and grandchildren, experience the terrible loss of generational joy in each other’s love.

Send relationship questions to ellie@thestar.ca.

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