Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.
Dear Care and Feeding,
My husband and I have been having a problem with our oldest child. She is 37 and married with a daughter. I quit my job and took care of my granddaughter for four-and-a-half years while my daughter and her husband worked as teachers. My granddaughter and I had a very special and close relationship. I also thought my daughter and I had a wonderful relationship. But at the beginning of last summer, our daughter came over to tell my husband and I we were unreliable and untrustworthy. I was shocked at the reason why.
She said it was because my husband did not wear a mask at our home when he had COVID. It’s difficult to believe that this is why, but when we asked her to elaborate, she said she already told us.
We have not seen our granddaughter or had any contact with her since then. We were not invited to her birthday party, we had to send cards and gifts by mail for the holidays, and now, we’ve been told we may no longer send gifts.
I finally texted her and said I felt suicidal at times. She called my husband and said she wouldn’t be reading or responding to any more texts. She didn’t acknowledge me for Mother’s Day and I know she won’t for my birthday at the end of the month.
I am lost. I could deal with not seeing her, but never seeing my granddaughter is killing me. I don’t know what to do. We’ve offered to go to counseling. At first, she said she wanted us to meet with her and her therapist. At Christmas she said she was ready. But whenever we’ve asked since, she literally doesn’t answer. I don’t know how to move beyond this.
Dear Cut Off,
I’m guessing your daughter had some previous issues with you or her upbringing, but it’s also true that in the highly stressful pandemic environment, deep rifts arose between people who perceived the facts of the situation in vastly different ways, and who fundamentally disagreed on the correct way to respond to what was literally a life and death situation. Your daughter may feel that your husband showed disregard for her family’s health by choosing not to wear a mask.
Since she’s in therapy, she’s likely working on her feelings about your relationship, and it’s clear that she’s decided cutting off communication with you is what’s best for her at the moment. I can’t imagine how painful it is to have your child make that decision, but she has the right to have her wishes respected. She’ll let you know if and when she’s ready.
In the meantime, I’d suggest you begin your own therapy journey, especially if you are having thoughts of suicide. (You can dial 988 to reach a suicide crisis line 24/7 if you require immediate assistance.) Seeking help from a mental health professional in that situation is more appropriate than seeking support from your daughter, who has already set a boundary of non-communication with you for the time being. A therapist could also help you with processing and dealing with the grief and loss you are experiencing around the loss of these relationships.
You ultimately can’t control your daughter’s choices, but you can make a good-faith effort to begin working on your own issues. And if she does eventually decide she’s ready to let you back in her and her daughter’s lives, you may find that doing that work has provided you with a deeper ability to understand her perspective and hone the emotional skills you’ll need to start the process of repairing your relationship.
More Advice From Slate
The other day, I ran into the mom of a boy who goes to my daughter’s school. Apparently, he has been telling everyone that she is his “girlfriend” in their after-school program and basically won’t leave her side, even sitting next to her and staring at her while she is working on her homework. She said that she knows it’s important to be kind and make people feel included, but he’s sort of driving her insane, and she doesn’t like him calling her his girlfriend. She said she had asked him directly to give her some space, told him that she doesn’t like being touched when he tries to hold her hand, and has asked the teachers to help her, all to no avail. Is it worth me calling the after-school program and asking them to do better about enforcing my daughter’s boundaries?