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I have several grown children and many grandchildren I visit all over the country. All but one of them visit my husband and me often and we have wonderful and often boisterous times at my house. I have one son, however, whose children have never even come to my house. When his children were young, his wife said they were too young to travel. Now, they say it’s too expensive, although they take other expensive vacations. They are very good, strict parents with their children, who are now older, and their children are wonderfully behaved. I have tried through the years to stay close to them as much as possible and visit as often as I can.
Now, one of my other children, a daughter, has moved close to them. She has young children who are more active than my son and his wife want in their home. When I visit I try to split my time between their families. But, now my son does not even want his children to come to my daughter’s house or to get together at all because the behavior of my daughter’s children is not what they like. He even said my three-year-old grandson was dangerous. I sort of laughed and said, “He’s two feet tall, for heaven’s sakes.”
I’m sort of strict when it comes to parenting, so I somewhat understand where they are coming from, but now I feel torn between my two children and my grandchildren during my short visits to their homes. My other children have always felt this couple has removed themselves from the family and, while I agree, I’m the mom, so I can’t just ignore it like they can.
What do I tell my daughter? My daughter already has her feelings hurt because they never get invited over to my son’s house. What should she do? What should I do? It all seemed to start a couple of years ago when she let her baby walk into her brother’s living room with some food. I don’t want my trips to enjoy my grandchildren to be stressful or painful for my daughter.
Although you ultimately long for family unity, the current climate requires you to adjust to the unique needs of your children and their children. Even though your children aren’t choosing closeness with each other, you can still build individual relationships with each of your children and their children. No one is blocking you from that opportunity.
It’s important to honor the individual preferences and family dynamics that now exist in your family. As you know, each of your children were born with unique temperaments, personalities, and preferences that have nothing to do with you or your family culture. These differences became more pronounced when they chose spouses who bring their own unique preferences to the family. As each new family added children with their own specific needs and desires, the culture you carefully cultivated with your husband continues to expand into a universe full of new opportunities to discover and rediscover your children and grandchildren.
Even though your other children behave in ways that make sense to you, be careful you don’t write off your son and his wife based on these strong preferences they’ve shared with the family. Stay curious and open so you can know who they are and why they feel so strongly about their boundaries. People behave in ways that make sense to them, so do everything you can to learn more about them.
Not only do we have individual temperaments and personalities, but we also go through different experiences in this school of life that forge the way we see the world. See if you can build the kind of relationship with each of your children and grandchildren to better understand these stories so you can relate to them in a more meaningful way.
You can encourage your daughter to take this approach as well. They have strong preferences that surprise you and your other children. Instead of backing off and feeling silenced by these boundaries, try asking questions in a spirit of curiosity and genuine inquiry. Let your son and his wife know that you want to better understand why certain things are so important to them.
You can ask these questions in a formal setting, but I recommend you continue to build your relationship with them in ways that allow you to observe, ask, and learn who they are in a way that shows how important they are to you. Their strong preferences create the impression that there can’t be a discussion. Your son and his wife may not be very sensitive in how they share their preferences. This can make it difficult to approach them and ask sincere questions.
The purpose of these conversations isn’t to change their minds or pull them back to your comfort zone, but rather to better understand them. When people feel genuinely understood, they generally become more flexible.
Keep visiting with your son and his wife. Continue visiting with your daughter. Make sure you don’t talk about your son with your other children in a way that pits them against each other. You can set the example in your family that there is room for different personalities and preferences.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at firstname.lastname@example.org
About the Author
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, UT. He is the owner of Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com) and the founding director of LifeStar of St. George, an outpatient treatment program for couples and individuals impacted by pornography and sexual addiction (www.lifestarstgeorge.com). He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, available at Deseret Book, and the audio series “Strengthening Recovery Through Strengthening Marriage”, available at www.marriage-recovery.com. He also writes a weekly relationship column for the St. George News (www.stgnews.com). He holds a bachelors degree from BYU in communications studies and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Auburn University. He served a full-time mission to the Dominican Republic. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.