Q. My daughter was recently divorced from her husband of 12 years who often travels on business. They were high school sweethearts and married young. He is a good man, but they just didn’t get along anymore. They have two children, 10 and 7, who I’m very worried about. I see them cry and act out when they are with me. It’s not just a divorce that the kids have to deal with, which is hard enough, but to make matters worse, my 35-year-old daughter seems to have reverted into a selfish child. At first she dated like a 16-year-old would, then she met a man who made things worse. He is very controlling and a negative influence on her. The kids (who sense they are unwelcome in his presence) do not like him, and neither do I or my husband. There is something very cold and unfeeling about him. I can’t figure out what she sees in him (nobody can), but he has a Svengali-like spell over her. It is causing her to be extremely selfish, neglect her children, and think the world revolves around her. She expects me to drop everything and babysit whenever she wants so she can gallivant around with this man and take romantic vacations with him. Of course I love the kids too much to turn her down, and am concerned who they’d be left with if I did. On top of everything else, she shows me no respect, gratefulness, or common courtesy and seems to think she’s entitled to everything I do for her and the children. When she was sick in the hospital recently, I was the one taking care of everyone, while her boyfriend never even came to visit her. I’ve tried to get her to seek help, but she refuses to talk to a therapist. Do you have any ideas on how I can better handle the situation?
A. I’ve noticed that many people who get married very young and then later get divorced, have a tendency to regress for a while and revert into another “childhood” of sorts, whereas people who marry at an older age are often more content with their partner because they have already sowed their oats and experienced several romantic relationships. You didn’t say how long she has been divorced, so I don’t know if you can chalk this up to such a phenomenon, but it’s an important point to keep in mind.
Unfortunately, there isn’t much room for children when one is “gallivanting” around on dates and romantic vacations, and I’m sure it is very hard on them to have a mother who is doing just that, especially when their father is often out of town. Pat yourself on the back for being such a doting and caring Grandma. You are putting the children first, which is something your daughter has not chosen to do. It’s unfortunate she has picked a man who separates her from her kids instead of sometimes including them as part of the package. It’s also quite distressing that she doesn’t think there is anything wrong with her behavior and therefore has no desire to seek help, but there is nothing you can do about that fact. Learning to deal with things that are out of your control is very difficult, but it is a necessary life lesson. Better to focus on what is in your control. As I see it, there are two things that fit the bill, and here are my suggestions.
1. Tell your daughter you cannot watch the kids whenever she wants to leave them. She is clearly taking advantage of you and it’s your right to put your foot down and let her know that you have a life, too. However, if you are worried they may not be left with a suitable babysitter, I can totally understand why you choose to be there for them. When you babysit, put a positive spin on it. Use that time with them as bonus time. Plan fun activities to do with them. Not only will they grow up knowing just how much you love them, but your home will be the safe and stable port in the storm.
2. I also think you should sit your daughter down at a time when neither of you are in a rush, both of you are calm, and no one else is around. Then approach the problem in a constructive way. That means a civil, respectful, and non-emotional discussion of what’s on your mind and what is worrying you. This is not the time to insult her boyfriend, reprimand her, or raise your voice. Approach her from a place of love. Let her know how her children are feeling, as they may not be acting that way around her. Appeal to her sense of motherhood without pointing out her deficiencies. If there’s hope for changing her ways, that discussion may be a good start. If not, then hopefully with some time she will see her boyfriend (who may just be her “transitional” man) in a realistic light and realize that not only would he be a poor stepfather, but he’d make a lousy husband, too. Good luck!
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