Let’s analyze a worst-case scenario for loving, caring parents.

You were pretty good parents but one of your children has turned out toxic – not a psychopath but someone who acts like she (or he) hates you.

It’s not your fault, but she blames you for not giving her everything she wanted or wants now, she’ll be sweet one moment and then abusive, vicious and hateful the next, she harasses and bullies you relentlessly when she wants something; she tries to involve the rest of the family in her schemes and feuds.  Or her boyfriend or husband hates you and she goes along with it and it gets worse every year.  And they’re narcissistic losers; they barely have enough money and you know that they’ll leech off you forever if you let them.

It breaks your heart, but finally you realize that you can’t help by giving them what they can’t earn themselves.  They’ll bleed you dry and still blame their problems on you.  They’ll bully and abuse you forever if you let them.  So you expect to live your whole life with the emotional pain of knowing that, despite your best efforts, you planted a bad seed.  But at least you can distance yourself physically and monetarily.

But that’s not the worst-case.  The worst-case is when that toxic child has children.  Your daughter has let you play with your grandchild, let you grow to love him and vice versa.  Of course he loves you; you’re the sane rock in his life.  He’s safe around you – no craziness, no yelling and screaming, no lies and broken promises, and no anxiety, brutality or manipulation of his affections like in his interactions with his mother and father.  You treat him with loving kindness and he can trust what you say.  When he’s with you he’s not stressed out; not blamed, guilty and abused for everything he does wrong.

The worst-case is when your daughter starts blackmailing you emotionally.  She won’t let you see your grandchild unless you play her games and give her everything she wants.  She raises the ante every day.  You know she lies to your grandchild about you and why he doesn’t see you.  It’s worse if she’s divorced because then you get jerked around and thrust in the middle by her ex-spouse and his family.

You love your grandson.  He’s important to you, you’re important to him and you hope you can be a lifeline to help him make a better life than the chaos he’s growing up in.  But no matter what you do, it’ll be wrong and your daughter will blame and abuse you.  There will be days when you want to run away, leave no forwarding address, change your names and fingerprints, get new social security numbers and telephones.  But you won’t because of the hope you can help your grandson.

What can you do to stop the bullying and extricate yourself from a horrible situation?

  • Usually there’s little you can do legally.  It’s hard to exercise “grandparents rights” if your daughter or her spouse won’t let you.  You can consult a lawyer and learn to document enough evidence to show delinquency and neglect so you can get custody, but that’s a faint hope.
  • You have to make one of the hardest decisions for anyone; how much will you sacrifice in order to get any time with your grandson?  Realize that no matter what you decide, your heart will be broken thousands of times until he’s independent and maybe even for your whole life.  Recognize also that nothing you do will change your daughter – this pain and violence to your spirit will go on as long as she has any control over your grandson.  Understand that she will trample any boundaries you think you’ve set.
  • There is no magic bullet that will cure her.  You won’t bring her to her senses, help her to act reasonably and consistently, make her to keep her promises, convert her to see that the child is better off with you or get her away from a controlling husband.  Even if you act reasonably, she won’t.  You’ll never understand why she does what she does; she’s selfish, nasty and changeable from moment to moment.  You’ll be embroiled in her painful games and anger as long as she controls your grandson.  Each episode will rip you apart.
  • Suppose you choose to get as much time with your grandson as you can; what are the best things you can do to help him?  Most people choose this path.  After all, how can we give up, turn our backs and live with our broken hearts?
    • In a loving couple, most grandparents differ over how much time and money they’re willing pay and how much pain they can stand for the privilege of seeing their grandchild.  Love each other and keep working with that difference, knowing that both your hearts are broken anew every day.  Don’t let this drive a wedge between you.
    • Plant seeds in your grandchild.  He sees the truth but he’s told by his parents that his vision is wrong.  He needs to learn to trust his vision.  He needs you to tell him that what he sees about his home and parents is true.  He’s not crazy – he didn’t do anything to deserve it; it’s not his fault; it’s just the way it is.  That won’t confuse him; that’ll reinforce his confidence and self-esteem.  He needs to know who’s jerking all of you around and the price you all have to pay as long as he’s in their clutches.
    • Collude with him to lie to his parents.  Strong children – survivors – sense what they need to do in order to stay safe in a chaotic and hostile world.  For example; he can’t say he’s having too much fun with you; that he loves you too much; that he’d rather be with you.  He already knows what he has to hide.
    • Make a safe place for his heart and his favorite stuff.  With you, he can dream big and not get his dreams crushed or used against him.  Keep your promises consistently.  Let him express his frustration and anger.  Anger is better than apathy or depression.  You can express your helplessness.  At your home, don’t let him use the tactics he sees at your daughter’s home.  Appeal to his better nature.  Be very gentle with correction and discipline; he gets yelled at enough at home.
    • Prepare him emotionally and spiritually for the future.  The more he can ignore his crazy parents, the better.  Keep a spark alive in him that by biding his time, one day he’ll get free.  He has to stop the bully in his head.  When he’s 18 (to pick a number) he can leave and make his own way.  Remind him of all the great and wonderful people who escaped from cages and prisons.  He owes your toxic daughter, his mother, absolutely nothing.
    • Prepare him economically for the future.  For him to live free he must plan to become monetarily independent.  Depending on his brains and talents, he has to develop a marketable skill, even if his parents don’t like it and he has to do it in secret.  Help him do that now and when he leaves home.
    • You’re unique – make up your tactics as you go along.  Get support to vent and help to plan.

Many children are too weak to overcome their toxic parenting.  But there are always some who are invulnerable to horrible circumstances, some who keep that spark alive and get free from the cage or prison they’ve been trapped in.

Your heart insists that you try to help your grandchildren.

In almost all cases where the child flies free, they never look back and neither do their grandparents.  If they or you look back, you’ll be turned into pillars of salt.

Endure the pain because of the hope.  Good luck.

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Ben Leichtling, Ph.D. is author of the books and CDs “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks,” “Parenting Bully-Proof Kids” and “Eliminate the High cost of Low Attitudes.” He is available for coaching, consulting and speaking.  To find practical, real-world tactics to stop bullies and bullying at home, school, work and in relationships, see his web site (http://www.BulliesBeGone.com) and blog (http://www.BulliesBeGoneBlog.com).

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