Dear Carolyn: My son is the father to my four grandchildren, two of whom I have never met. His father is an angry person who yelled a lot during his childhood. He still has anger issues, so our son will not let us see his children.
Should I keep trying — messages of I’m sorry, I love you — or should I respect his wishes and leave him alone? I do send the kids cards and gifts so they won’t forget me.
— Very Sad Grandma
Very Sad Grandma: You didn’t yell, but you chose an angry person, had a child with him, and, if I’m reading your letter correctly, stayed with him not only through all the years he was yelling at your son, but also after your son left the nest, when any arguments for staying “for the children” (flawed as they would have been) were moot.
You didn’t yell, but you made choices that have consequences, too.
“Anger issues” — often known by another name, abuse — are complicated things. Your letter, too, is a complicated thing, since you write around your entire relationship with your child’s father, beyond his being the father. Is he your husband, or partner, or ex? All you gave me besides this yawning void is “us.” Your son “will not let us see his children,” my emphasis.
To me this comes across as not taking ownership of his role in your life, and vice versa. It’s as if your child’s father is an independent actor in that role and of no relation to you, an innocent party to it all.
If you are this careful not to take ownership when you’re dealing with your son, then his lumping you with his oft-yelling, still-angry dad is logical to me. It took both of his parents to engineer his painful childhood. Maybe not in equivalent roles, but in complementary ones.
It’s also easy to see how your son’s ascendancy to co-head of his own family was the point of enlightenment for him. (If you’re implying any blame on his spouse, then nip that in whatever stage of bloom it is now. Immediately.) He’s in the partner and parent roles himself, seeing how it all works, and seeing what you could have done to protect him.
And also what you couldn’t have done, but that kind of forgiveness tends to come after you express remorse for what you did.
You also mention “messages of I’m sorry, I love you” — so maybe you have admitted fault. I can’t tell how you apologized, so I’ll say this just in case: A nonspecific, “I’m sorry,” when you clearly want something in return for it, will not suffice, especially for such a significant injury.
True remorse is in the details: “Your father was abusive to you. I witnessed it and I failed to protect you. I am sorry I let you down in such a profound way.”
As always, I am going off my own impressions of your letter, so some of the above might not apply to your family. But you said you understand your son’s estrangement from your dad but not from you, so I’m giving you one reason it might extend to you.
If you haven’t extended a specific, genuine apology, then please do, in writing if that’s the only means you have left. Not to gain access to your grandchildren, though, which would make your apology self-interested and therefore void — but to take responsibility for your part with both arms. That grandma is one he might be able to trust again someday.
Emphasis might. I’m sorry. In the meantime, education savings accounts for the grandkids are a thoughtful, respectful way to keep giving gifts — if that’s what you want to do.
Dear Carolyn: I’m in my early 70s and find that increasingly people — sales clerks, in particular — use terms of “instant intimacy,” like “my love,” “Sweetie,” “Dear,” “Honey.” What is a kind and polite way I can get that to stop?
— At a Loss for Words
At a Loss for Words: Like a “Honey” vaccine?
Unless you encounter the same sales or wait staff regularly, your polite protest will only (possibly) affect the person’s behavior toward the next customer. Or just throw cold water on a cheerful employee.
So by all means, guide people you see often on how to address you — and if you have cause to suspect ageist condescension vs. local color (love me some Baltimore, Hon), then drop a note to management.
But since you’ll always be someone’s Darlin’ somewhere, I urge internal remedies, too. A mental reminder, perhaps, when you feel annoyed: “It’s a mean world, and this is better than being flipped off.”
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