Hi, Carolyn: Our son committed a felony 2½ years ago. It was a horrific shock, and he has been receiving the best possible treatment. It was not a crime against people.
Since that time, our other children (with one exception) will not allow us to have their children at our home unless they are personally present, though we babysat frequently before this. One of our children will not allow us to be alone with our grandchildren at all. We raised these adult children, too, and they know we would never hurt our grandchildren. Neither of us had any criminal history. Our grandchildren love us and do want to be with us.
We would never leave our son (their brother) alone with them, and he has always been kind and loving to the grandchildren. Our children know this.
Our counselor told us our children are "overreacting," we are clearly no danger to our grandchildren, and time would help. It's been 2½ years and there is no change. Once-close relationships are now distant.
We recently discovered one child lied to us about the whereabouts of our grandson, when he was cared for at the home of a couple (not related) after we had offered to watch him.
We are heartbroken. What can we do?
— Rejected Grandparents
Rejected Grandparents: Not much, except to be patient and steadfast and worthy of your children’s trust.
You have been all along, you say? Good then. Waiting is agony, yes. But not having to change course will help.
If you haven’t, though — if there was a part of this you could have fixed before but didn’t, taken responsibility for but haven’t, told your counselor and included in your letter but chose not to, and/or could remedy now with your other kids if you only summoned the courage to — then that’s exactly what needs your attention.
And acting as if there is no such error to atone for will only worsen the estrangement.
I am not saying you’ve made this mistake. It’s just possible. It’s also possible that you didn’t and these children are indeed overreacting, at a great cost to you and their kids.
I know which version you think is true. Access to your grandkids, though, lies in the version your kids think is true. So if there’s a difference in perception, then you must address that.
Can you say which version your kids believe?
One more thing. Your counselor gave you the same baseline advice to give it time. But the other part you cite, that “our children are ‘overreacting’ [and] we are clearly no danger,” sounds awfully definitive for a therapist — or anyone who hasn’t lived in your home — to say. Is it possible you’re hearing only the absolution you want to hear?
And looking for me to second it?
Again — I can’t say you’re doing this. Just that it’s both possible and would help explain why your kids remain distant.
If instead you’re just caught in the undertow of your son’s mistake, then that is indeed heart-rending, and unfair. And all you can do is wait.
Hi, Carolyn: My brother lives on the edge of financial calamity. He's 50 and makes an hourly wage of $16, on which he tries to support his disabled wife (who does not receive benefits yet) and this-close-to-dropping-out 17-year-old freshman daughter. In the last five years he's lost their home and vehicle, and now lives in a truly sad apartment. He borrows small money from me all the time, but last week asked for $800 to cover rent.
I flipped. He takes no advice from me — I teach financial literacy — to prepare a budget, have his daughter work, or get a second job (he has an exhausting manual-labor job and takes care of household chores). He seems paralyzed into inaction.
But I'm not a bank. We're trying to live and save for retirement on a teacher's salary and a retail job. I struggle with not feeling greedy, though — we have the money, but not a lot, and I don't see an endgame here.
Are there some rules you could suggest that will help me deal with this?
— Am I My Brother's Keeper?
Am I My Brother’s Keeper?: Rules, no.
But there are limits — to how much money you can responsibly share, of course. And to how much you can help anyone unwilling or unable to help himself. And to how little involvement your conscience can bear. And to how much involvement your partner will tolerate. And to the small emergencies you can resolve before becoming too broke for a big one.
All terrible calculations I can’t make for you.
You do have your expertise, though, to offer in lieu of cash. Help him this one time, or don’t, and then: “I can’t afford to keep helping you and keep my family afloat. But I can . . .” work with him to create a budget for him, and maintain it? Help them apply for disability? Mentor your niece? Tap the resources you can renew.