HI, CAROLYN: I have been estranged from my son for about 12 years; he refuses to have any contact with me. It was his decision soon after I divorced his mother. Ironically, a few years after that, my son was divorced from his first wife. He is now remarried. I learned recently he and his second wife just had a baby, my granddaughter. I am thinking of corresponding with his wife in order to convince her I should be able to see my granddaughter. Such attempts could create friction in my son's marriage. Should I try to convince my daughter-in-law that I should be able to see my granddaughter, or just wait for a time my son might seek reconciliation?
L.: Oh my goodness no no no. It would be bad enough if you tried to get access to your son through this emotional backdoor — but trying it to gain access to your granddaughter? Because you think you "should" have access? That would be an inexcusable invasion of your son's household for your own emotional ends.
I take your pain seriously. If any of my kids cuts me off, a part of me will die.
But even pain that profound doesn't justify undermining your son's rightful authority to decide who has access to his family.
That you would consider doing so is the second thing in your letter to say, "Please get therapy," if at all possible.
The first is the estrangement itself. The endless variations on the countless possibilities for what can go haywire in a family actually fit pretty well into three boxes: 1. You did something to estrange your son and you know it but won't give him the satisfaction of owning it; 2. You did something to estrange your son and lack the self-awareness to see and understand it; 3. You did nothing to your son to justify estrangement, making your current torment the equivalent of prison for a crime you didn't commit. All of these are the kind of serious, complicated problems therapy exists to address.
And backdoor contact is the kind of boundary violation it exists to prevent.
You sound past due to run your estrangement problem, whichever one it happens to be, by a practitioner trained to help you figure it out.
So start looking for someone today, please, before you do something three generations regret.
DEAR CAROLYN: What to do about my girlfriend who doesn't want my kids around and who threatens to end our relationship if I let them come over?
ANONYMOUS: 1. Break up with her immediately;
2. Ask yourself why you had to ask, and didn't just break up with her immediately when you learned she was not only selfish, but also a bully. And: Therapy. If you can.
3. Apologize to your kids for not waking up to her poor character — and to your mistake in choosing her — immediately. Apologize for the amount of time you exposed them to her toxicity before you figured it all out. Even if they didn't spend time with her, you did, as she actively campaigned to make you less available to them.
4. Promise them you will choose more carefully next time, if there is a next time while they are still minors.
5. Keep your promise.