Sunday, January 31, 2010

Marriage breakups, family feuds can leave older generation estranged from grandkids

This is a case of Parental Alienation but shows its impact on Grandparents. Many family members are affected including the target parent, his brothers and sisters and parents plus other extended family depending on the age of siblings. The first comment following the article sums the issue up succinctly and poignantly.MJM




By Jim Gibson, Canwest News Service

Grandparents will wait out the 
estrangement, hoping it will get better on its own, something Brooks has
 seen happen occasionally in her 23 years with the society.

Grandparents will wait out the estrangement, hoping it will get better on its own, something Brooks has seen happen occasionally in her 23 years with the society.

Photograph by:,

Once again, Christmas came and went without Phyllis Coutts seeing two of her nine grandchildren.

It's a situation shared by unknown numbers of grandparents, often the collateral damage in marriage breakups and family feuds.

It's been over a decade since Coutts last saw the children from her son's broken marriage. Photos from their early grade-school years still line her home, along with updated ones of their cousins.

By now, her grandson would be well into his teens, and his sister, in her early 20s. They live only a neighbourhood or two away, according to Coutts, who lives in Victoria.

"I would love to see them," the 78-year-old says.

The question hangs in the air: Why hasn't she?

"I never go where I'm not wanted," Coutts says.

Her response is not uncommon, according to those who deal with estranged grandparents.

Weighted down by hurt and bitterness, these situations become entrenched, according to Barb Whittington, a University of Victoria social work professor whose research and counselling focuses on grandparents.

Grandparents worry that anything they might do to see the grandchildren could make a bad situation worse.

"They don't want to cause trouble," says Joan Brooks, the great-grandmother who heads the Ontario-based support group, Grandparents Requesting Access and Dignity (GRAND) Society.

Grandparents will wait out the estrangement, hoping it will get better on its own, something Brooks has seen happen occasionally in her 23 years with the society.

Many grandparents blame themselves for what happened.

People such as Whittington, Brooks, and family counsellor Jayne Weatherbe hear heartbreaking tales of estrangement.

"The cruellest thing is when the grandparent has lost a son or daughter, and access is denied them to the grandchild," Brooks says.

Some grandparents even drive to their grandchildren's schools, just to catch a glimpse, Whittington says.

And it's not always a former in-law; even a grandparent's own son or daughter could be denying access to the child, according to Weatherbe.

"It's a different world now," Weatherbe says, alluding to changes in parenting styles. Once-acceptable corporal punishment has given way to timeouts. Today's parents often hold firmer beliefs on such issues as diet, Weatherbe says.

"It's their life. It's their choice. You just suck it up and be supportive of (the parent)," Brooks says. Further, she advises, "Stay in the grandparent role; if they ask for advice, give it. Otherwise, stay quiet."

Both Brooks and Whittington agree that the grandparent seeking visitation might well have to take the first step.

Try a phone call, Whittington says, something along the lines of, "I'd like to talk to you, the children, or both."

Brooks recommends a letter to the child's parent, stressing a willingness to see the grandchild on the parent's terms and conditions. She also suggests writing, "If I said or did something, please give me a chance to correct it."

If sending a letter, always write two drafts, Whittington adds. Edit out any traces of bitterness.

One alternative is to find an intermediary in the community whom the estranged person might trust, "not someone who will just take your side," Whittington says.

Groups such as Brooks's are helpful, but not available in many communities.

There are non-profit organizations that counsel grandparents. Often, however, groups such as Parents Support Service and Families in Transition deal with situations far more complex than just grandparent visitations.

"People often do call us as a place to start," Parent Support Services Society of B.C. executive director Carol Ross says from Vancouver. After some conversation, callers are referred to such resources as social services or the soon-to-be discontinued LawLine.

Many of Brooks's generation prefer to talk their way to a settlement rather than use the courts.

Yet it's not uncommon for a separation agreement to allow a grandparent access, according to family lawyer

Trudi Brown. She cites, for example, a parent whose work keeps him away for long stretches. Under an agreement, grandparents could piggyback on the absent parent's access time.

Grandparents can apply for access under the provincial Family Relations Act, Brown adds, either doing it themselves or hiring a lawyer. However, today's court schedules can leave such a case lingering for months before being heard, she says.

Ultimately, the court decides on what is best for the child.

Some grandparents assume older children just don't want to see them, or they would do so on their own, according to Whittington.

What they often don't understand is that teens, in particular, are so absorbed in their own world, they don't readily think of others.

Conversely, the child might assume a grandparent isn't interested. Whittington cites one grandmother who sent the kids birthday and Christmas presents by taxi, only to have their mother return them the same way.

"The kids never knew the grandmother was trying," Whittington says.

One of Whittington's favourite reconciliation stories involves Canada's national game.

Just to see their grandson, the paternal grandparents would go to his hockey games, sitting on the opposite side of the arena from the estranged former daughter-in-law's family. The young player finally had enough, complaining he was getting whiplash from looking from side to side.

"I need you all on one side," he told them. They moved closer and closer until, eventually, they sat together, Whittington says.

Victoria Times Colonist


M. Saunter
January 31, 2010 - 10:47 AM
 Marriage Breakup and generations, grandparents and grandchildren, and other cousins and aunts and uncles are left out of the life of the child.  I had to go to Court in Alberta for access and got it.  As a mother of five, I wanted access to my grandson as the daughter-in-law refused with always saying 'later'.  She was totally unreasonable and refused any of the dad's family to see the young boy.

The mom made many false accusations toward me in the Court Room and the judge told her she was a very angry woman and this child was of mixed heritage and should know both sides of the family; therefore, I got access.

The mother still tells the child the following:   he has no dad,  I am only his grandmother only when he is with me, but not other times, mom refuses to allow the child to take home presents or even a piece of paper or a candy, and  appears to be now saying at 11 the child is telling me all the bad things that went on in the divorce, and now that I'm controlling their life and the mom needs to get my approval on his life.  This is extremely confusing, upsetting and horrible for my grandson as he is now blaming me for controlling his mom!

All  are false allegations from the mom provoking alienation from grandson to dad's family.  He told his uncles he only needed to see them once or twice a year.  The mom has him lie as we wanted to watch him play soccer and it is only for his mom and him only.  We said we wanted to be his fans and cheer for him!

My grandson cries as the hatred she is creating in this beautiful child is causing emotional problems for my 11-old-precious grandson.  He said to me, how do I know you are not telling lies!  Do I show the Court Order where the rules are laid out that the mom is to drive him here for visits as the mom said I am controlling her life?

It takes about 60 minutes for my grnadson to settle in and he starts closing down about 60 before leaving.  He said he wants to keep coming; the mom told my daughter the child now makes his own decisions.  I asked him what decision he makes and he said his mom makes all his decisions as he was unaware of the mom's conversation prior.

Alienation stories usually about the paternal parent must stop in Canada!  False allegations against fathers and grandparents must stop in Canada!

Please Judges, listen and please start prosecuting the false allegations and lies against dads and grandparents in the Court Room.  If alienation continues after any Court Orders it should cost free to bring these issues back into the Courts for the benefit and best interests of the child as growing up with emotional hate imprinted into the minds and hearts of children used as prawns should be stopped in Canada.

My grandson should have access, visits to and from, phone calls to and from, his father's side of the family in the same manner that he has access and freedom from the mom's family and friends.  The paternal side has been treated with lies, hatred and alienation,  rather than a loving family with compassion and kindness and fellowship with the child within a family.

Thank you for allowing me to share our pain of not knowing any other info other than the few hours of visits in which the child is brow-beaten before and after the visit as to what we said and did and what he should not say!  Sad!

Margaret Saunter, Edmonton, Alberta,

PS Please keep reporting family alienation; it is child cruelty!

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