GRAND Magazine - Spring 2021 - 8

estrangement

Criticizing or complaining rarely buys you anything
BY JOSHUA COLEMAN

W

hile many grandparents can regularly
see their grandchildren, others rarely
can spend time with their grands.
However, some grandparents find themselves
maddeningly in the middle where they go
through periods when they have access and
then they are once again kicked to the curb.
In my practice which specializes in parent and
grandparent estrangement, I have found that
on-and-off estrangements commonly occur for
the following reasons:

The adult child:

Believes (rightly or wrongly) that the grand*
parents aren't respectful of their boundaries or

values
Has mental health challenges that make it hard for
him or her to remain in steady contact with the parent
Doesn't know how to be close to their parent
without feeling triggered in some way such as feeling
criticized, worried, or guilty.
Struggles with issues around independence or
identity and feels threatened by the closeness with the
parent
Feels like a tug of war between his or her feelings
for the parent and loyalty to their spouse or the other
parent in the case of divorce.
As with many aspects of estrangement, it's typically
best to let the adult child come in and out as they see

*
*
*
*

8 GRAND

Spring 2021

fit. Sometimes it isn't personal, and other times it may
start that way but becomes personal if the child feels
criticized for wanting to be in charge of how much
contact there is.
Criticizing or complaining rarely buys you anything.
If your child acts triggered you could say in a friendly
or upbeat way, " You didn't do anything wrong. I just
love seeing you and my grandchildren. I know you
have your own life. "
If there was an earlier complaint about you that
you have tried to repair you can say something like
" Wondering if you're still having feelings about the
past? The door's always open to talk about that. "
I would ask that with a kid who's somewhat

psychological and isn't going to either see the
question as a sign of weakness in you or an
opening to humiliate you. While some adult children see it as a sign of strength that the parent
can reference an earlier complaint and be willing
to revisit it, others might take it as the parent
being guilt-ridden, which might cause them to
believe they have a bigger right to complain than
they should.
If you don't know or can't tell which is more
helpful, it may be useful to do both and see
which gets you a better response.
Either way, I can't stress enough the role that
guilt plays in many estrangements. I hear a lot of
adult children complain about their " martyred "
mothers, but the reason is that the parents' complaints about the child's lack of availability or lack of
access to the grandchildren cause the adult child to
feel bad about themselves. And once that happens,
distance often follows.
Joshua Coleman is a psychologist
and senior fellow at the Council on
Contemporary Families and the author
of the new book, Rules of Estrangement:
Why Adult Children Cut Ties and
How to Heal the Conflict. He is also
co-founder with researcher Becca
Bland of standing-together.net a
site dedicated to training therapists,
coaches, and clergy in working with
estranged families and individuals.


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GRAND Magazine - Spring 2021

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GRAND Magazine - Spring 2021 - Cover1
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