Last year our 40-year-old son, a widower for five years, married a divorced woman. He has an 8-year-old daughter, with whom we are very close, and she has an 11-year-old and twins, who are 7. All are girls.
Before they married, she was everything my husband and I could ever hope for but things have changed. I don't know what she expected from us, but she is terribly disappointed, mean and vindictive.
Our son says she has many grievances, which he won't name, nor will he bring his wife to our home to discuss them.
She uses our granddaughter as a target, to get back at us. Her books, toys and clothes were divided among the other children. The pictures on the wall -- the ones we gave her -- were taken down. If we write her, the mail is opened and withheld. If we can get her on the phone, her stepmother quizzes her (just as she quizzes her own children when they visit their father and his family). If we ask to see her, she refuses.
Our son won't let our granddaughter see us or talk to us either. He says he now has four children and we have to invite all of them at the same time. We feel we should have the right to extend an invitation when and where, time and place.
We tried to be close to the other children, but they couldn't respond. They are so uncomfortable with us that they address us as she, he, you.
We don't blame them one bit. They have two sets of grandparents and a living father. They see them often and are fond of all of them.
My husband and I decided to wait until they feel comfortable with us before we invite them to visit.
Because our son and daughter-in-law feel the way they do, our granddaughter calls us on the phone and manages to see us, even for 15 minutes, every week.
We were a very supportive family before this happened. Are we wrong in the way we feel? Are we handling things wrong? How can we arrange a way to have our granddaughter visit us, short of going to court? We are so emotionally involved with the child; we just have to see her.
Every bride is fearful of the future, but none is more afraid than the divorce'e with children of her own and a new child to mother. Any encroachment on her turf, or any slights to her children, real or imagined, will make her defensive.
Of course your son's wife isn't acting with great maturity. Certainly she was unwise to divide her stepchild's clothes, even if she had too many. On the other hand, children generally share all but a few special toys in a family, as are books. The removal of the pictures may not be as significant as it seems to you. Maybe the room was being redecorated. Or maybe your daughter-in-law needed the wall space. Or she didn't know how much those pictures meant to your granddaughter.
Or maybe she was just mad at her in-laws.
She has some reasons to be, although she apparently doesn't know about the gravest one -- the secret visits. They may make you and your grandchild feel better, but they teach her to be dishonest; undercut her relationship with her dad and his new family; and hurt your own connection with your son. No matter how much you want to see her, these visits can't go on nor can you encourage her to talk against her stepmother and stepsisters.
It's time for you and your husband to build a healthy, open relationship with the whole family.
You really don't have much choice. They have all the cards, but you have the years and the wisdom to show them how to be gracious.
Write your son and daughter-in-law, and tell them that you hadn't meant to hurt their feelings and that you were only trying to make it easier for the children -- an apology you should send to her children too. Ask them all for a big Sunday dinner, with a choice of two dates, so refusal is less likely, and make the meal as special and the occasion as welcoming as you can. This is the time to celebrate a new beginning, not rake up old hurts.
Don't, however, expect your son's stepchildren to handle the situation easily or contribute much to its solution. It's all they can do to share their mother, adjust to their stepsister and deal with the disloyalty they must feel as they bond with their second father.
They have other pressures, too. A new school adds to their insecurity while an old one forces them to tell their teachers and classmates about their new situation. It isn't easy to be different in these conforming middle years.
Since you can see your granddaughter if you invite the other children, that's what you must do. They'll be more comfortable as they get to know you, especially if you introduce them to neighbors as your new grandchildren and give them special names to call you, but remember: Your first names would be better than ones that were silly or overly familiar.
Later you can ask each of the four children over separately for a special occasion. When your daughter-in-law feels you no longer reject her children, she'll let you see and talk with your dear granddaughter more often.
She'll also melt quicker if you remember all the children on their birthdays and holidays, giving presents that cost the same, even if you have to spend much less on others -- even your granddaughter.
You'll always be partial to her, but you don't have to flaunt it. Questions may be sent to P.O. Box 15310, Washington, D.C. 20003.