QUESTION: I have a friend who is raising her two little granddaughters ages 7 and 9 because her son died in an accident and the mother of the girls is a drug addict. I’ve spent a lot of time with the girls because I think it’s important they have a younger female role model since their own mother let them down. My problem is the girls told their grandmother they’d rather be with me than with her. The grandmother is very critical of the girls, and is critical of the smallest things. Now I’m not allowed to see the girls.
I can’t see a way out of this – can you?
How sad for those little girls that their grandmother is so threatened by you! Since you are not a “flesh and blood” family member, you really are at a disadvantage as far as the law is concerned. But here is what I would try: write a nice letter to the grandmother and tell her what you have said to me. Tell her that you love the girls and say that you think it’s important that they have a younger female role model. You might also say that you have no intention of trying to be their mother or their grandmother either. But you do think it’s important for them to realize that not every female who is their mother’s age is a flake. The grandmother may see your point and she may not. But it’s important for you to be cordial to the grandmother always, and don’t bad-mouth her to the little girls when you get to see them again.
Good luck in your attempt to reinstate yourself and do try to be pleasant with the grandmother at all times. As my late father told me on a number of occasions, “Skip, you get more flies with honey than with vinegar.”
The Rev. Skip Lindeman
La Cañada Congregational Church
Dear Despondent Friend,
I can understand your need to want to help out your friend and, in particular, be a present and loving example in the lives of her two granddaughters. The fact remains they are her granddaughters and she is the person that has stepped in to take charge due to the circumstances.
You do not mention in your letter if your friend asked for your assistance. I’m sure at some level she welcomed your involvement, but while you have expressed interest in wanting to spend time with the granddaughters, it’s also important that you support your friend and not undermine the relationship she is trying to establish with the girls. Perhaps if you were to reflect on the challenges she must be facing in her new role you might be more empathetic and patient with what appears in your eyes to be the wrong way to go about raising the girls.
It’s tough at any age to take on the rearing of a family, but your friend is also dealing with the loss of a son and the heartbreak of a daughter-in-law that has made some poor decisions. That is a noble undertaking and not always the easiest or the most comfortable! The description you have given makes the grandmother seem controlling of the girls, but I would point out that, are you not trying to control the outcome as well? Your suggestion that it’s important that the girls have a younger role model – who’s to say that’s true? Some of my most cherished memories and learning lessons were a result of the relationships I had with my grandmothers. Sometimes we have to accept that people are doing the best that can and when we offer our true friendship and support, we help them to flourish to their best potential.
I suggest, as I always do, to pray – pray for your friend, the granddaughters, and their mother and for insight and guidance as to the best way to handle the relationships. If you really want to help, let your friend know. Many times we want to help, but only on our terms. Why not ask your friend how you could best support her in this circumstance? There is always a loving solution that is above the fray of our circumstances, but we must go within to find the best answers. Quiet yourself of the agreement you have made to be despondent and practice – Be still and know and then listen to the response you receive from your higher self, which is God in action.
QUESTION: Five years ago, my daughter’s husband left her for another woman. They were married 15 years and have no children. After the divorce, my daughter met a wonderful man who is much better to her than her former husband. She has a much nicer life with this man who adores her, and yet she is still angry with her first husband. This doesn’t make any sense to me.
Is there some way I can talk to her to help her let go of the anger?
Dear Concerned Mom,
I have this great little book entitled, “10 Things Jesus Never Said and Why You Should Stop Believing Them” by Will Davis, Jr. The best chapter is called, “You Don’t Have to Forgive Someone Who Really Hurts You.” A lot of us operate on this assumption – that God would never ask us to go so far as to forgive someone who has hurt us as deeply as your ex-son-in-law has hurt your daughter. If she were to forgive him, she might feel like she is condoning his behavior. If she were to forgive him, she might feel like his debt is pardoned and yet he still owes her. If she were to forgive him, she might be thinking that somehow she will then have to restore a relationship with him.
But here is why Jesus demands that we forgive (Matthew 6) and doesn’t let us off the hook. Because in forgiving, your daughter is no longer the victim, shaped by this man’s betrayal; she has taken back the power to define herself and her feelings. In forgiving, she walks away from the “debt” he owes her, because a) she is never going to get what she wants from him, and b) she doesn’t need it anyway. In forgiving, your daughter realizes that she has the power to set aside her anger so that she can live more fully into a loving relationship with her current husband. In forgiving, she neither condones nor forgets nor holds out the promise of restored relationship. She moves on with strength and intention.
You can offer her these possibilities, but it usually takes most of us time and a little counseling to put these burdens down. If she is open to this, you could help her find the right person to talk to.
Grace and peace,
Dear Concerned Mom,
I sympathize with your daughter and can fully understand why she still feels angry at her first husband. It is not easy to wipe away 15 years of hurt, especially considering the circumstances of the final event which broke up the marriage. Those of us who are lucky enough to be in good relationships often have a hard time understanding the lingering pain and bitterness that bad relationships can generate. Since you are a caring mother who wants to help her daughter, I suggest that you try to impress upon her how crucial it is for her current marriage that she work on reducing the anger of the past; she needs to focus on healing for the sake of the future. To nurture the love of her current husband and enjoy their positive relationship, she must release the negative energy of the past and learn to live in the present. Her previous husband may not deserve forgiveness, but the act of forgiving ultimately does more for the provider than the recipient.
Of course, all of this is far easier said than done. Harboring anger is easier than confronting old demons, which can be a truly wrenching experience. Your daughter will need help to get through this difficult process – and as her loving mother, you can offer words of encouragement, a warm embrace, and soft shoulder to lean on. You should also involve her new husband in this effort. As a team you can overcome this challenge together, making all of you stronger and better people.
Rabbi Simcha Backman
Chabad Jewish Center