How do I tell her Grandma doesn't love her?
April 11, 2007 10:25 AM   Subscribe

My (widowed) father is divorcing his wife. Dad married her when my daughter was a toddler so she’s the only Grandma she’s had. Grandma has no interest in remaining friendly with our family. How do we tell our daughter that she won’t see her Grandma again without breaking her heart?

My daughter is now 7. She’s very smart but has terrible self-esteem, which is why I’m so worried about handling this wrong. I know she’ll understand that Grandma and Grandpa won’t live together anymore but I don’t know how to explain Grandma cutting contact with us. She’s going to want to know why she can’t visit or call Grandma anymore and I have no idea what to say to keep her feelings from being hurt. How can I tell her that Grandma doesn’t care? I’ve even thought about calling my stepmother and asking her to remain in my daughter’s life, but in the long run I think that will just hurt her worse.
Has anyone else ever been in this situation? Were you a kid who ‘lost’ a family member this way? Is there a way to handle this without my daughter coming to the conclusion that Grandma didn’t love her?
posted by Mamapotomus to Human Relations (24 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Damn, that's harsh. My gut says that this is something to dump into Grandma's lap: "You're the only grandmother this girl has ever known. She loves you. And you're going to take that away just because you're not into her grandfather anymore? What do you think that's going to to her? ... Okay, fine. But I'm not going to be the one to explain to my daughter why she doesn't have a Grandma anymore. That's your job."
posted by Faint of Butt at 10:45 AM on April 11, 2007

Explain it just like you did to us, but make sure to display solidarity. Not "Grandma doesn't care about YOU anymore" but "Grandma doesn't care about US anymore".

This is assuming the story on Grandma has been gotten straight and clear from Grandma's own mouth and not via a third party or "through her actions".
posted by DU at 10:50 AM on April 11, 2007

Best answer: After some test-runs when I was younger, my grandmother (my real one) disowned us when I was thirteen. It sucked. I didn't talk about it much with my mom until I was much older, because she was hurting more than me (this was her mom!) and I didn't want to burden her.

Tell her that grandma and grandpa aren't married anymore, and therefore we won't see grandma anymore. And that sometimes people decide not to be part of a family. Reassure your daughter that she didn't do anything wrong. Remind her of all of the people that she does have in her life who love her and remind her that you will never, ever, ever not want to see her.

I wouldn't bother trying to convince grandma to stay in your daughter's life. Your instincts are correct on that, IMO.
posted by desuetude at 11:00 AM on April 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: lalex:
I could probably beg/guilt her into talking to my daughter, but she's not going to bother doing holidays or sleepovers anymore. It's not a hostile split, I think she just doesn't see the point in being nice to people she doesn't really care about now that she doesn't have to.
posted by Mamapotomus at 11:03 AM on April 11, 2007

Is there a way to handle this without my daughter coming to the conclusion that Grandma didn’t love her?

I hate to say it, but that's exactly what it sounds like to me. Assuming this is not a temporary nuts-to-all-Mamapotomuses on a temporarily upset Grandma's part, I'm not even sure it's a great idea to steer her away from what seems to be the truth.

No first-hand experience, but I had lots of friends with divorce aplenty in their families when I was a kid, and what they took from that sort of thing, for better or worse, was "Blood is a BIG deal in family relationships." If your father remarries, it might take her a while to warm to New Grandma.
posted by kmennie at 11:04 AM on April 11, 2007

My mother divorced my father when I was 6 and my sister was 9, with the divorce also came the divorce of my grandparents. Although I can't remember exactly how my mother handled it at the time I do know that she didn't over explain it until I was older and I asked more direct questions. She then explained the absence was due to the grandmothers short comings, not ours. There wasn't must overanalysis, just a matter of factness that made me not think that grandma doesn't care. Just that she was not that great of a person to have around. Even as teens my mother was semi-guarded as to what the real story was until we were adults where she divulged a more honest perspective to grandma and grandpa personality.

As adults my sister and I ran into our grandmother, and she started to cry and said "tell me, how are you?" My sister replied back "do you want me to review all 30 years?"

That time might come where the absentees may reach out to resolve their guilt for not being there. Usually this happens after you have finished growing up. Prepare your child for this and to be happy with those that are in their life, not those who make the decision not to be.

Fill their lives with good people that want to be invested in thir lives, friends, neighbors, and your kids will never feel neglected or abandoned by anyone.
posted by brinkzilla at 11:05 AM on April 11, 2007

desuetude has this one pegged.

I think she just doesn't see the point in being nice to people she doesn't really care about now that she doesn't have to.

This is all you need to say. Grandma is functionally dead to you all.

Go with desuetude above.
posted by Ynoxas at 11:09 AM on April 11, 2007

And brinkzilla.

Good stuff in here already.
posted by Ynoxas at 11:09 AM on April 11, 2007

Kids know all about relatives who pretend to love you but don't. Snow White and Cinderella teach us that it is usually women.
posted by Megafly at 11:14 AM on April 11, 2007

Lalex and desuetude have it. Do not say anything that will put the emotional burden of an adult's (bad or hurtful) choices on your daughter's shoulders -- drop all the "grandma doesn't care" and "grandma doesn't love you/us" language right now. Frame it strictly in terms of describing grandma's actions, NOT in terms of what her presumed feelings (or, in this case, lack of feeling) towards your daughter or the rest of the family.

In fact, what lalex says is perfect: Grandma has chosen to deal with the pain of the divorce is by cutting off the whole family - emphasizing that you, too, are very hurt by her decision and that you do not think this is a healthy way for people to deal with problems.
posted by scody at 11:25 AM on April 11, 2007

"You're the only grandmother this girl has ever known... But I'm not going to be the one to explain to my daughter why she doesn't have a Grandma anymore. That's your job."

Oh no no no, do not place this onus on Grandma. Imagine a worst-case scenario of a scorned or bitter woman saying awful things about the family that a child would, by extension, take extremely personally.

Mom, it’s your job to see that your daughter gets the explanation that you know would be least damaging to her already fragile self-esteem. There are plenty of ways to tell the truth without making it a personal attack to your daughter. “Grandma is so sad about the divorce, and when she’s around us she gets upset because we remind her of how happy the family used to be. So she wants to be by herself.”

How close was Grandma to your daughter? If they enjoyed each other’s company in a Campbell’s-soup-commercial way, you might ask Grandma at a later date and in a non-judgmental, non-confrontational manner if she would reconsider keeping a positive relationship with the child.

But if Grandma ultimately chooses to alienate herself permanently, and your daughter manages to work around your explanation and personalize the situation, then desuetude nailed it: "Tell her that grandma and grandpa aren't married anymore, and therefore we won't see grandma anymore. And that sometimes people decide not to be part of a family. Reassure your daughter that she didn't do anything wrong. Remind her of all of the people that she does have in her life who love her and remind her that you will never, ever, ever not want to see her."
posted by ohcanireally at 11:32 AM on April 11, 2007

Are you really, really sure that Grandma plans to cut off the kids? I can see if she didn't want to interact with the adults in the family, but what did the kids ever do to her? If she doesn't want to interact with you or your husband, you can simply drop off your daughter at her house, or meet in some neutral location.

I had a beloved cousin that cut himself off from the entire family, including me, because of a rift with his father. I was hurt, but I understood it had nothing to do with me. (Eventually, he came around, and has even embraced his dad.)
posted by desjardins at 12:25 PM on April 11, 2007

Maybe it would help to make it clear that "grandma" was not your mother, but someone who joined the family for a time and is now leaving. She is probably old enough to know a bit about her ancestors at this point, maybe hearing some stories about your mother would be helpful to her. I don't know if this will help much though, I don't think there is any why to make this easy.
posted by yohko at 12:56 PM on April 11, 2007

Don't tell her that grandma doesn't. That is emotional language, and she will have no way to compartmentalize the information in a way that isn't upsetting.

Instead, try explaining that Grandma isn't in your family anymore, because she is divorcing Grandpa, and so that is means that she isn't in our family. This seems sad but not personal, and doesn't convey any specific negative feelings from Grandma about your daughter. She will probably still be upset or sad, but she'll be experiencing a 'sad thing happening' instead 'a mean thing happening me'.
posted by Kololo at 12:59 PM on April 11, 2007

uh, first line meant to be "don't tell her that grandma doesn't care.", obviously. oops.
posted by Kololo at 1:00 PM on April 11, 2007

Response by poster: Thank so much everyone. It's so hard to view this outside the scope of my feelings, so I truly appreciate your ideas.
posted by Mamapotomus at 1:28 PM on April 11, 2007

Various options:
  • Don't tell her. Pretend Grandma doesn't exist.
  • Tell her Grandma died. Cleanup the mess later in life.
  • Ask Grandma to write her a letter explaining why she's leaving.

  • posted by blue_beetle at 1:30 PM on April 11, 2007

    desuetude has it. (but explain this in such a way that it's clear you will always be there for her no matter what)

    No "Grandma is so sad she can't see us" -- your daughter may say "but we should reach out and help her, if she's so sad!"
    posted by LobsterMitten at 1:50 PM on April 11, 2007

    Yohko and kololo gave very good suggestions. A combination of their suggestions will probably create the healthiest explanation for why grandma is no longer in her life.
    posted by necessitas at 2:32 PM on April 11, 2007

    I am no expert, but I have personal experience of a situation.

    When I was a kid I distincly remember hearing my parents quarreling about something and I watched them. Obviously I didn't like the situation as it was somehow parents never were violent and never argued viciously BUT this strong situation upset wasn't an ordinary display and the tension is doesn't matter that the kid can't follow all the's the emotion who can be easily seen.

    In one particular occasion I remember now (25 years later I guess) hearing my father telling me that all the reason for their quarreling was my own good.

    I don't remember feeling bad about that, but that was a critical error as it certainly didn't help reduce my deep distate of that quarreling and my anticipating potential quarreling scenarions..that is, becoming anxious of discussion.

    My point being, litigious scenarios aren't good for avoid confrontation in presence of granma ..and I would also avoid granma's resentment as it could manifest itself in passive-aggressive way.

    I saw that with my cousin granma, which more often then not depicted him his mother as a careless person not caring for his father and for him...the granma never attacked directly nor expressed disappointem with her at any time in presence of any adult...but silently turned partially the son against the mother.

    That isn't always a necessary scenario, but given that granma has already express a desire to let go the lot of you (hardly the emotive expression of a person disliking the idea of losing you) my guess is she is best left alone.
    posted by elpapacito at 3:15 PM on April 11, 2007

    Being a veteran of many similar uncomfortable family situations (I've not seen my father in 6 years, and forget about any of his family, a whole half of my gene pool), I really want to press how much I think you should talk to Grandma and see if, after a few months where she can deal with the divorce, something can't be arranged. Maybe a monthly trip to Grandma's new house, or a shopping trip, or lunch somewhere. Nothing taxing.

    It's going to suck more if your daughter grows up and realises that no one did all they could to keep that relationship there. (I know that's how I feel, even though there was really nothing anyone could have done considering the circumstances.)

    But if she really doesn't want to see your daughter, desuetede ftw. Unfortunately, people moving out of our lives is something no one can avoid. Best of luck.
    posted by saturnine at 3:36 PM on April 11, 2007

    If Grandma doesn't really care, has she ever really cared? I only ask because perhaps your daughter will actually be relieved not to have to visit her. I know my son was glad to lose his grandmother (family argument, not death) because she'd always ignored him in favour of his sister.
    posted by b33j at 4:13 PM on April 11, 2007

    If she's a very bright child I suggest you take this opportunity to explain to her how complicated human relationships can be and how you have to treasure all the good times you have with people you care about because you never know when it's going to end. This kind of thing happens over and over in life and if she starts thinking it has everything to do with her she's going to end up on prescription medication. My best friend moved away when I was her age and I had a hard time dealing with it because we thought we were going to be friends forever. I got over it, we all do. Kids are much more resilient than we give them credit.
    posted by any major dude at 6:26 PM on April 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

    The walls have ears and so do children. Is Grandma justified? Would she always feel being justified counted for more than a little girl that loved and missed her? If so that is not a Grandma and not one person needs one of those! Talk to Grandma I don't know the situation but maybe the two of you aren't completely clear on the situation either? She may want to either now or later but not feel it would be welcome?
    posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 8:35 AM on April 12, 2007

    « Older How fat it was, how fat   |   Anyone have any tips for reconnecting with an ex? Newer »
    This thread is closed to new comments.