With my mom passing in 2018, I was thinking more and more about the girls’ grandmother (ex husband’s mother) over the last year—grandma J was always very nice to me and just loved the girls, but during the divorce she had to pick a side, which I always understood. I also know she was troubled by my ex’s behavior, she shared with me a few times about it, but he was a bully, and when the legal stuff came down, she stood by him. After all, he was living with her at the time and who knows what he was saying to her about me (my hunch, she’ll take the kids and you’ll never see the girls).
Last year, I heard through the grapevine that grandma had asked my ex to leave her home, as the conflict between him and his older brother was too stressful for my former mother in law (apparently this happened soon after my mom had passed away). Given my ex’s difficulty with anger, this was not a surprise to me, but also weirdly validating that finally, after all these years, grandma J was standing her ground and asking for a peaceful house. That house had seen so much anger and violence through the years with my ex’s father’s alcoholism and anger outbursts before he passed in the late 90s. In hindsight, it’s clear how he inherited them, and how his family dynamic was set in stone…
Over the years, I’ve thought of Grandma J and the girls’ Uncle (he went on record during the legal proceedings, stating that his brother had an anger problem and he feared for the girls’ safety—the one person who said anything), and missed them. I understood they had to be divided from me. In the beginning of post-divorce life, I tried to reach out for the girls’ sake, but the ex stepped in, demanding how “dare” I contact his mom. So instead, I did do small things—i.e. every Christmas, I wondered if the treats that the girls made ever made it through to them when he lived there. Last year, after I learned he moved out, the girls and I made our own short visit to drop off home made cookies and goodies at the holidays.
And when DD1 made her school tennis team last year, I called and had a nice chat with Grandma about the girls; and once, when DD2 was sick, I asked Grandma to watch her, when the Ex couldn’t (the rules say under certain conditions, I have to ask him first), and that was so nice!
So after talking some more with my therapist this year, I decided that when DD1 made her tennis team again (yay, DD1!), I would call again. And the beauty of this year’s tennis season—there’s Saturday matches scheduled. That meant if Grandma was open to it, I could invite her to come along with us and she could watch her granddaughter play. I contacted both Grandma J and quietly asked DD1’s coaches if she would be playing and they said yes! So once all was confirmed, the girls and I picked up grandma and off we went, to have a wonderful afternoon together. I happened to be on team snack duty, so after we dropped DD1 early for pre-match practice, DD2, Grandma, and I went to run errands and pick up snacks.
When we returned, we unfortunately learned that DD1 *wasn’t* going to play—at the other team’s request, they asked to keep our stronger players off the court, as they were mostly beginners, so in the spirit of sportsmanship our coaches agreed (which I think was good role modeling for the girls). We spent the afternoon waiting for the rain to come and go, grandma at least got to watch DD1 play an exhibition with her teammate, then it was time to pass out snacks and then I took a picture of the girls with their grandma, and we headed back home.
On the way home, teenager DD1 actually said, “thank you for coming with us today, grandma j” and DD2 chimed in, too. And when we dropped her off, they gave her big hugs and as we drove away, DD2 was hollering out the window: I LOVE YOU GRANDMA J!!
Me: Heart swoon.
We were mere minutes away when Grandma called me, she had forgotten to give me a card she said—so we circled back. She handed me a card and meanwhile little sister repeated her hugs and hollering and off we went back to our day. I was really happy.
And then I opened the envelope---
A letter from my ex’s older brother, who I had barely spoken to in 8 years—and my jaw dropped and the tears just started streaming. There are three takeaways from the letter:
1 - He thanked me so much and was so happy about my including his mom on today’s outing.
2 - His “ass brother” won’t let his mom see the kids and it’s been like this for a long time; she’s bought gifts for them and they have sat there for weeks, until she’s accepted that he and the girls aren’t going to drop by and pick them up. And this situation is so hard on her.
3 - He hopes that I can include her in the future.
My heart about burst with sadness. I knew my ex is vindictive, and I knew he could be this difficult. But to be so mean to keep our daughters from having a relationship with their grandmother makes me cry so hard. I’m getting teary just writing down these words.
But I sat with the letter for a little while, and then I couldn’t keep it in. I didn’t know what to do with it. I shared it with my hubby, just because I was so hurt about it. Then I shared it with my attorney, the girls play therapist, and with my therapist. Because I need a village to help me deal with all the feelings this brought up.
Attorney: This is so SAD and MEAN, and she thinks I should include both grandma and uncle for the holidays and into the future!
Play Therapist: Well, the rule is that anything that involves the ex and the ex’s family should come from the girls. They know there is a price to defying him and to ask the girls how important it is to have occasional contact with their grandma. The thought of that defying cost needs to be factored into anything that I decide. Also, if they want to have contact, to let the Ex know.
My therapist: The way the girls reacted showed that they wanted Grandma with them and they are bonded with her, and that I did the right thing to include her. The abusive Ex shouldn’t dictate or keep the girls from having a relationship with their grandma.
Me: I think I did the right thing, but did I? Crying at the sadness of this situation and also second guessing myself. And then I think about how my mom loved spending time with the girls, how she was here very year until her Parkinsons’ got so bad she couldn’t travel (DD2’s first birthday party was her last visit). And then the ensuing years when we would visit her, no matter how badly her Parkinsons affected her, she would plan these fun schemes with the girls in mind—visiting Mammoth Cave, or roadtripping to see family, or making sun prints with leaves and special paper outside of her assisted living porch. She would give anything to have more time with the girls. I think she’s watching them from heaven, too.
Regarding the price: that evening, I overheard the girls’ phone conversation with their dad, who didn’t sound happy we included grandma j, prompting DD1 to declare it was ‘weird.’ And when I followed up with her afterwards, she said it *is* weird, I’m divorced from grandma’s son. And I responded, I understood it seems weird… it’s just that grandma j is the nicest lady on the planet, and it’s okay that grandma j and mom are nice to each other, and we are her family. She grumbled a bit, but then we were off to a dinner event with our friends, which turned out to be great fun (lots of laughter and silliness ensued).
I did quietly share with two of my closer friends on the side at this dinner—who’ve known about our situation for years and who’ve supported DD1 with our complicated divorce situation, they reinforced that the girls absolutely need to include grandma. And one mom said, so what if it’s weird? Just tell her, hey, what family *isn’t* weird these days? LOL.
So on the way home, I reinforced with the girls that their grandma is their family, that i am their mom and also their family, and it’s ok that we are friends . That I didn’t realize they didn’t see her too much, and it’s ok to see her sometimes with mom, because she’s always been nice to me and I’ve been nice to her, that I didn’t know what was up between her and dad, but she’s still their grandma. DD1 says it will probably feel weird and I said it’s ok to be weird. That doesn’t mean we aren’t family, and lots of families are weird. And they seemed to be okay with this, humming and singing along to the music all the way home…
Conclusion-in-Progress: I wish there was a how-to guide on how to navigate this particular road. I guess I’m creating the map as I take in all this information. I’m of the mind that someone needs to be the adult in the room and facilitate a relationship between the girls and their grandma, who is not getting any younger. She is seriously the nicest lady on the planet, so kind and generous, and she seemed so thankful have this time. And Uncle’s letter just validated that need to be included.
At the same time, I feel more cautious, considering what the play therapist said. I vacillate between—outrage that he would be so cruel to his mom and also deny the girls time with his mom, and then worrying how this will impact the girls, grandma, and me. Deep down my intuition tells me to keep finding small ways to include her, to keep the bridge open, the girls deserve to have grandma in their lives, even just a little bit.
So what is the price? Is it too high for a grandma to love her granddaughters, and for her granddaughters to love her back? I wish I knew better what to do.
Having just watched Frozen 2 (along with a million dollars worth of other people, lol), I think at this point, since I don’t know the way, I’ll keep choosing what I think is the next right thing to do.
p.s. I miss my mom.