Our daughter was married for 15 years, until her husband left her for another woman five years ago. She receives a monthly, court-ordered payment from him. He does not see their daughter, now 14, or show any interest in her. (Our daughter brought her to a child psychologist to help process this rejection.) When their rent was increased recently, we invited them to live with us so our daughter could save for a home of her own. The problem: Her ex’s mother calls our house daily, demanding to speak to our granddaughter. We think she is inconsiderate and doesn’t care about our granddaughter’s needs. Our granddaughter takes the calls about once a week and meets with her occasionally. Tired of these calls, I finally blocked them on our home phone. Now, she calls our daughter relentlessly. What should we do?
I suspect that, from your perspective, the optimal outcome here may be for your daughter’s ex-mother-in-law to simply disappear — as her son did. But that may not be in your granddaughter’s best interest, which I know you care about. I am not suggesting that you or your daughter put up with phone harassment. But let’s acknowledge that this other grandmother has a valid interest in her grandchild. The solution is not to block her calls, but for your daughter to set and enforce healthy limits on them.
Now, I don’t know why this woman is calling so relentlessly. My suspicion, though, is that she’s ashamed of her son’s abandonment of his child, so she’s compensating by calling way too much. Still, if your daughter can harness this behavior, it may be healthy for your granddaughter to be in touch with someone from her father’s family.
The great news here is that your granddaughter already has a relationship with a therapist. If I were you, I would encourage your daughter to lean into it. A therapist can help her establish what your granddaughter wants, what’s healthiest for both of them and how to communicate this to her former mother-in-law. I know you’re frustrated, but try to keep your eyes on the long-term prize.
Vulnerability Deserves a Response
A previously close friend and I go to school together. Many of our friend groups overlap. She texted me to say that she misses me and wants to hang out. But I’m not comfortable spending time with her: Our relationship has become filled with conflict. I would rather let it fade and become friendly acquaintances with her. Should I tell her this or avoid the conversation?
Never ignore a friend who makes herself vulnerable to you or who asks for something directly. Your friend has done both: I miss you, and I want to see you. It would be unkind to leave her hanging. Better to reply truthfully: “We’ve had so much conflict lately. I’d rather take a beat and see you around. OK?” If she presses you to engage further — and some friends will — you can hash it out or let it go (after you have staked out your position clearly).
Helping With Medical Costs, or Paying for Information?
I am in my 70s, and I’ve done well for myself financially. My younger sister hasn’t. Her son was hospitalized for four weeks with an infected jaw that I believe arose from drug abuse. I know he doesn’t have health insurance, so I fear that medical bills are looming over them. But neither of them has said anything to me about his health or drug use. I would like to help financially, but part of helping is knowing what happened and what is going on now. Suggestions?
Gifts don’t have strings — or entitle givers to private information. It doesn’t sound as if your sister has asked you for anything. If you want to offer her money on the condition that she tell you about her son, do so. But frankly, that seems more like payment for satisfying your curiosity than a gift. (And if he’s still using, does that revoke your offer?) I suggest extending emotional support to your sister — without the 20 questions — instead.
Staking a Claim in the Sand
My wife and I were on a beach vacation. We set up our chairs in a row with other families at the high-tide mark in the sand. Later, a couple of women came and set up their things directly in front of us. I asked if they would mind moving 15 feet down the beach, where there was an opening between groups and where they wouldn’t block anyone’s view. I even offered to help them. They refused. They said this was “their beach,” where they came every day, and they called me a hippie as I walked away. Was I wrong to ask?
You had every right to ask, and with an opening so nearby, it seems odd they didn’t agree. (I would have.) Having asked, though, I hope you didn’t make a fuss. You and your wife could also have moved 15 feet down the beach. I know you were there first, but beach protocols are about soft norms, not hard-and-fast rules. As for looking like a hippie, congratulations! (I am picturing a dreamy Peter Fonda in “Easy Rider.”)
POST AUTHOR: Philip Galanes