The generation game: grandparenting and parental alienation

There is a place in our lives from where we can stand and look back and forward all at the same time. That day is the day that our grandchildren are born and we experience, perhaps for the first time, a sense of self standing in a line that stretches back into the past whilst at the same time we cradle the future in our arms. Grandparenting brings with it a perspective on life which is not yet achieved when we become parents and it causes us too to be especially vulnerable.

For grandparents, the love of the child of our own child is unique in all of the relationships that we can experience.  Not only do we suddenly experience ourselves within the perspective of generations, we also  experience  giving love entirely whilst negotiating our place in the hierarchy which surrounds the child. As such, as grandparents, we are at a cross roads of interfamilial dynamics.  Little wonder the world around our grandchildren can sometimes become tangled with mixed messages and complex meaning.

There is an old saying that goes ‘a son is a son until he takes a wife, a daughter’s a daughter for life‘ and it is no accident that many of the paternal grandparents that I work with become the ones who are pushed to the margins of their grandchild’s life in the years after separation.  When the family is together, the lines of relationship may be criss crossed and grandparents may be more or less equally welcome in the lives of their grandchildren. Come separation however, the relationship between the mother of the children and her own mother (and sometimes father) can become a determinant of how well the family manages post separation relationships between children and both sides of the family.

I am not jumping here on the bandwagon of grandparent bashing or indeed grandparent idealising.  Grandparents are simply people who are no more or less special than parents, they are simply different and bring to children’s lives different things.  In terms of how grandparents go through family separation, some grandparents maternal and paternal are brilliant at negotiating the challenges of relationships, some are not.  Those who are not can act to compound the problems that face children in the family accidentally, whilst those who are deliberately difficult and who become fused with a parent who has taken control are deeply problematic for children.  In other words, there are alienating grandparents and alienated grandparents and they each experience their own unique and yet similar experience to that of the parents they watch going through family separation.

And it is not the case that it is automatically the maternal grandparents who remain close to the children, in cases where mothers are evicted from their children’s lives by alienating fathers, there are often paternal grandparents in support of that behaviour.  Issues of power and control, which play out through generations are often reinforced by the actions of grandparents who have learned that behaviour from those who brought them into the world.

In that respect, the alienated child often has four generations of behavioural imperatives to contend with.  Their parent and then their grandparent who learned from their own parent and grandparent about what happens when the family is in crisis.  This is how transgenerational ghosting happens, where repeated patterns of estrangement and relationship severance are learned and grandparents are key conduits in that phenomenon.

Just as an alienated parent must look to examine the routes that brought them first into relationship with an alienating ex, grandparents must seek to examine the ways in which they have been part of the dance which has lead to the frozen place that their grandchild now occupies.  When alienation strikes, whilst it is not useful to spend hours berating and blaming onself, knowing your own place in the family history can bring great clarity about how best to help (or not).  Many grandparents, particularly paternal grandmothers, see themselves as bridge makers, honest brokers or fixers of the broken relationships.  Whilst in some cases this can help, it can aso hinder, causing deepening of the dynamics instead of alleviating them, causing great pain as the offers of help are rejected, pushed away or seen as the cause of further rejection in children.  For grandparents, the greatest risk is the breaking of their own hearts as they stand helplessly by and watch the fall out from the family separation they are helpless to resolve.  For any grandparent in those circumstances it can be a devastating experience to lose such a special relationship at the same point in time that it becomes clear that it was only on loan to you anyway.  On loan, with special conditions attached. Conditions which required you not to challenge the giver of the loan (parent) and not to assume any right to a relationship independent of the giver of the loan. Conditions which can become virtually impossible after separation when emotions are high and negativity between parents is at its peak.

Post separation relationships illuminate the criss crossed lines of power and control very effectively.  Suddenly the relationship that was had with grandchildren is visibly entwined with the power of a parent to gift it or withhold it.  Suddenly the relationship is no longer straightforward but is experienced within the all encompassing power of a parent to give or take away permission. Suddenly they are not YOUR grandchildren but HIS or HER children and things as simple as an outing to a pantomime or a trip into town becomes the kind of task that even the most skilled negotiator would find daunting.  For many grandparents, this first encounter with the mother or father of their grandchildren as an alienator is a deeply shocking (and often painful) one.

And cross generational arguments about power and control are common in families where alienation strikes.  As the hierarchy begins to fragment and the holding of power and control changes hands, grandparents, like parents can feel the shunting to the margins of the children’s lives that takes place in alienation.  Slowly but surely the special times are eroded. Slowly and insidiously, the things that grandchildren used to enjoy become discarded and eventually it becomes clear that the removal of the special relationship is complete as the child tips over the point of no return.

What sadness and sorrow waits on that day, when grandparents watch for their loved ones who no longer come and when the joy of standing in the generational line becomes the ache of the empty space.  Like burying a child, losing a grandchild to alienation is to be in the wrong place in the march of time.  It is too painful and too wrong for too many to bear.

Like the grandmother who asked me this week for a hug so that she could hug someone who had hugged her grandchild, this loss is unspeakable.

But it is not untreatable.  And when we begin to understand that parental alienation is a problem with a human face and that those faces range from the very youngest to the very oldest of our citizens, we will begin to heal the intergenerational hurts and we will stop the institutionalised support of this very human problem.

I left this grandmother this week angry, sorry and saddened by the suffering that is caused by the people who look away from this problem when they could so easily understand how to put things right.  So much wasted resource, so much indifference.

It is incumbent upon all of us, no matter where we are in the generational march across the years, to do something about it. For today’s alienated grandparents we are already running out of time, for the grandparents of tomorrow that alienated children will one day be, time is something that we simply cannot waste.

18 comments

  1. Greg Downing · November 27, 2014

    Karen

    Thank you for all the work you do to help so many and the awareness you bring to the widely damaging domino effect of Parental Alienation.

    My mother passed away yesterday, with one ungranted dying wish to see her grand daughter again after over 5 years of alienation. Unfortunately the Alienating Parent still has no understanding or remorse of the damage she is causing her child, through placing her in a glass prison with a lock sealed by an emotionally abusive lock.

    I hope soon PA will be understood and socially reprimanded and maybe one day like Brazil and other countries become illegal.

    25 April Parental Alienation Awareness Day

    Like

    • karenwoodall · November 27, 2014

      How sad Greg, for your mum, your daughter and for you. A legacy created for your daughter by her mother which will be a scar her whole life. My deepest condolensces for your sad loss, sending my love x

      Like

    • PapaMissingKids · November 28, 2014

      Thank you for this article too Karen.

      Greg, my sincere condolenses and prayers for you and your family at this very sad time.. I also worry my children may not know my mother before it is too late so again I empathise. And again, sometimes all that is left is prayer when it all seems so helpless.

      “….whilst those who are deliberately difficult and who become fused with a parent who has taken control are deeply problematic for children…”

      Yes, my children’s maternal grandfather was always so fused with his daughter during the marriage that it was as if there was a competition with me. God only knows how fused they are now….

      “Like the grandmother who asked me this week for a hug so that she could hug someone who had hugged her grandchild, this loss is unspeakable.”

      Yes, I can completely empathise with this too.

      “It is incumbent upon all of us, no matter where we are in the generational march across the years, to do something about it. For today’s alienated grandparents we are already running out of time, for the grandparents of tomorrow that alienated children will one day be, time is something that we simply cannot waste.”

      The one with the biggest onus to do something would, again, be my children’s maternal grandfather….and yet he is the problem!

      Like

  2. Paulette · November 27, 2014

    My husbands daughter has been alienated from our family, we still communicate through phone every now and then and take her presents for birthday and xmas but she does not wish to come out with us anywhere and her mother prompts her on the phone what to say. My husbands mother seems not to support her son in this and wants him to do what she wants and thinks that if she can try and get her to come out then all is well and fine even though we have stressed the poisonous things she has been subjected to because of trying to make her pick between families. We have read all your blogs and my husband is now being empathetic and trying to keep the contact through phone and not forcing his own wants upon his daughter he is doing very well with this as it’s hard for him. His mother doesn’t seem to understand the enormity of what these people have done to this child to make her not want to be involved with our family even to the point she dislikes her own siblings and doesn’t care of any family members from our side. Could you please give me some advice on what role should my husbands mother take as everytime she keeps bringing it up he shuts down and loses his focus on what he needs to do which recently has caused a huge stress on our family?

    Like

  3. J · November 27, 2014

    I was fortunate to have had a truly idyllic childhood with two amazing parents that loved me, and each other to the end. Now my Dad has gone, and especially since it coincided with his death last year, I cannot even begin to understand how my mother, now rapidly approaching 90, copes with the loss to alienation of her only Grandson … truly heartbreaking!

    Like

    • Anonymous · April 27, 2015

      What a blessing that you don’t know the horror that severe Alienation can do to a family and a person. Thank GOD you have a decent family 🙂
      Some of us…not at all. 😦

      Like

  4. Glynis Hunt · November 27, 2014

    Yet again, another post that brings a rush of emotion and tears. There seemed to be nothing we could do to change anything and yes as a paternal grandmother I could do little to halt the process. I danced around and tried to fit myself to the situation and was put through hoops in the process. Not one day goes by when I wake up without my first waking thought being of the loss of these children. I have no clue how the years will stretch ahead without them in our lives because the hollowness and the hopelessness just cling onto you like a black cloak. I really do work hard at moving forward but the inner me chokes with the absolute sadness and waste of it all. Its only in reading the fight that you continue to battle for all of us that I find some small light that perhaps things can change, sadly most likely too late for this family xxxx

    Like

  5. CG · November 27, 2014

    My condolences to you Greg.
    My husband’s son is currently lost to him. My husband’s mother has been (is) wise I think to stand back a little and advise the long game (though its anything but a game). She has resisted getting involved so as not to force her grandson to have to make a stand and exclude them, although that’s happened anyway. She counsels patience, and encourages my husband to live his life (so the pain doesn’t kill us all in the meantime), and be ready for the sea-change when (if) it comes.
    The maternal grandmother, on the other hand, has gone out of her way to inflame the situation, to the extent that my husband’s son has even apologised (in the past) about his grandma’s behaviour.
    Both sets of grandparents are of a similar age, with a range of health problems across the spectrum. My husband’s parents live abroad, and when they last visited were only allowed one short monitored visit with their grandson (who previously lived very closely with them) with his mother directing the conversation. I don’t know how the paternal grandparents can live with themselves, knowing they actively helped deny the other grandparents that which they freely enjoy.
    Karen, I find the understanding that these are generational patterns really interesting and illuminating. Certainly I can see a pattern here of partner punishment, and generational rivalry. Which makes it so much more distressing to think the longer my husband’s son is immersed in this fetid atmosphere, the more he absorbs for his own future.

    Like

  6. Anne O Regan · November 28, 2014

    My son is an alienated parent, I am an alienated paternal grandmother. I wonder who will support us?who will tell us that all the love and care we gave and what to continue to give, to our children/ grandchildren will matter to them one day. Who will tell family courts that we do have a right to be in our children’s / grandchildren’s lives. We know that resident parents are completely in control especially if they are a mother. When will any government realise the system is failing children.

    Like

  7. PapaMissingKids · November 28, 2014

    Thank you for this article too Karen.

    “….whilst those who are deliberately difficult and who become fused with a parent who has taken control are deeply problematic for children…”

    Yes, my children’s maternal grandfather was always so fused with his daughter during the marriage that it was as if there was a competition with me. God only knows how fused they are now….

    “Like the grandmother who asked me this week for a hug so that she could hug someone who had hugged her grandchild, this loss is unspeakable.”

    Yes, I can completely empathise with this.

    “It is incumbent upon all of us, no matter where we are in the generational march across the years, to do something about it. For today’s alienated grandparents we are already running out of time, for the grandparents of tomorrow that alienated children will one day be, time is something that we simply cannot waste.”

    The one with the biggest onus to do something would, again, be my children’s maternal grandfather….and yet he is the problem!

    Greg, my sincere condolenses and prayers for you and your family at this very sad time.. I also worry my children may not know my mother before it is too late so again I empathise. And again, sometimes all that is left is prayer when it all seems so helpless.

    Like

  8. Grandmani · November 28, 2014

    Greg my condolences to you and your family.

    I am an alienated paternal grandmother facing a 4th sad Christmas denied ALL contact with my only grandson.now 15
    .I try to keep positive and have followed Karen’s advice,but when I occasionally catch sight of my grandson on his way to school (he lives less than a mile from my home) I am deliberately snubbed.So heartbreaking when I remember the happy times we shared for over 10 years
    Paternal grandfather died in March .I am now in my 80s and fear may die without healing the breach
    I worry constantly for my son who lives alone..The whole family are affected -my 2 daughters ,their partners and my granddaughter.Whenever we have a family gathering there is an’elephant in the room’.
    the maternal grandparents are both profoundly deaf and the step-dad is adopted so their may be generational issues there but no contacts and nothing we can do.
    Thank you again Karen for your amazing support and understanding
    .Please run a support day in West country soon. .

    Like

  9. Pingback: The generation game: grandparenting and parental alienation | spagnuoloadrian
  10. Luke Matthews · November 28, 2014

    Karen, thanks once again for an excellent article. I know it provides enormous comfort to all us alienated parents and grandparents to know that there are people who understand and listen to our issues.

    As I have previously written, I have not seen my 19 year old daughter now in over ten years as a consequence of alienation by her mother and respective family (incredulously supported by social services, CAFCASS and the UK Family Courts). I believe one way to help speed up the process of the alienated child recognising what has happened in their later years, is to get the subject of Parental Alienation right out into the open now and raise its ugly profile within the general public. One of the things I have done is to write and publish a book on the subject ( Title: Can’t Explain, available on Amazon). However, as a collective bunch, perhaps we can be much more effective, e.g. try and get the subject raised on TV, Radio, newspaper articles, even a protest March).

    April 25th is starting to be recognised in the UK as Parental Alienation Day. Perhaps we could make use of this.

    Like

    • karenwoodall · November 28, 2014

      Luke, thank you for your email and apologies for not coming back to you, things are so hectic here, I miss emails sometimes, could you email me and remind on Monday and I will respond. K

      Like

      • Luke Matthews · November 29, 2014

        Hi Karen, I sent e-mail today (10:15am) and hopefully it will get through.
        Regards Luke.

        Like

  11. Howie Dennison · November 28, 2014

    Thanks Karen. Yes, parental alienation will only get better when we each do something about it.

    Like

  12. Pingback: The generation game: grandparenting and parental alienation | The Long Term Effects of Parental Alienation
  13. daveyone1 · November 29, 2014

    Reblogged this on World4Justice : NOW! Lobby Forum..

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s