This month marks the third month of the relationship advice column that I was asked to write for the Tampa newspaper, Insight Tampa. The following question came in this month and was the only one I tackled being that the answer took up so much space. If you missed the previous columns, you can find them here, and here. Thanks to those of you who have given feedback on the blog and Facebook.
This month's question was particularly tricky for me in that I'm not a grandmother yet. I hesitate to give advice about something I've never faced. Keep in mind as well, this is not a Christian paper to say the least, and I am instructed not to answer from the Bible, or my role as a pastor. However, I did some research and prayed for wisdom, and...here we go...
I’m hoping you can give me advice that will assist me in seeing my grandchildren again. I’m facing a difficult situation with my adult son and his wife, who won’t let me see the grandchildren unless I do exactly what they want me to do. They put many unreasonable expectations on me and use the grandchildren as leverage to get what they want. For instance my son wanted me to co-sign for his car and I wouldn’t, so now I don’t get to see the kids anymore. I’m angry, and don’t know what my next step should be. I’ve thought about fighting for visitation but I don’t know whether that would be the best route to go. I’ve cried until I don’t think I can cry anymore. If you were me, what would you do?
My heart goes out to you. This is a sticky situation and unfortunately it’s not the first time I’ve heard of this. It’s a shame that such an issue as “grandparent visitation rights” even has to exist, but it is reality in our world today.
I know a number of people personally who are in your situation who have been advised to legally fight for grandparent visitation rights. This is certainly a consideration, and at the end of the day no one really knows whether it’s the right decision, except you. I do caution that if fighting for visitation backfires and you don’t win, you risk losing all opportunity to see your grandchildren in the future, being that your son and daughter in law are going to be even angrier than before. I don’t say this to depress you, simply as a reality.
I am not an attorney nor am I qualified to give legal advice. Therefore, I must give the caveat that you should not consider this as official legal advice. I did, however, want to be informed on this issue before I answered you, so I did some research to find out something about Florida law in this regard.
Information gained from Legal Match states the following regarding grandparents rights and Florida law:
“The fundamental right held by parents to determine how their children are raised and who visits them is balanced against the best interests of the child in question.
Several conditions must be met before a court will grant visitation rights to grandparents in Florida. First, the court must find that visitation by the grandparents is in the interest of the child, and at least one of the following conditions has been met:
- The parents’ marriage has been dissolved
- A parent has deserted the child
- The child was born out of wedlock
In determining the best interests of the child, the Florida court will consider all relevant factors. Some examples of these factors include the preference of the child, the health of the child and the grandparents, and the length and quality of the pre-existing relationship between the child and the grandparents.”
Through further research at www.grandparents.com I found out that the most restrictive states concerning grandparents rights are Florida, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania. These three states require proof that grandparents have a parent-child relationship with their grandchild, meaning they have often stood in for the child’s parents. Grandparents may have to show they took care of the child full-time while parents were gone for extended periods of time or that they participated in typical parental duties — taking the child to doctor appointments or attending PTA meetings.
As you can see, gaining visitation rights may not be easy, particularly in the state of Florida. That is not to say that you should not pursue this, I am simply being honest with you that it may be a tremendous uphill battle.
All things considered, my advice to you would be to try to build a bridge with your son and daughter in law, as much as possible, without giving in to their manipulation. I know that’s much easier said than done! Apparently they have no problem making unreasonable demands. Certainly it was inappropriate to ask you to co-sign for a car loan and then withhold your grandchildren for not doing it. I implore you to reject these demands, and at the same time, encourage you continue to try to build a relationship. When they demand inappropriate things, firmly but gently know that you are unable to meet their demand. Keep your voice even toned - no need to yell or retaliate. Respond with a calm confidence.
Keep any discussion about the grandchildren separate from other matters such as the car loan. For instance, I would not say, “No, I can’t co-sign for your car, but I hope you’ll still let me see the kids!” These are two separate issues. Don’t blend them, as far as it depends on you!
Also, take great care never to discuss any of this around the grandchildren. The conflict with your son and daughter in law are adult matters the grandchildren are not equipped to handle. Furthermore, even as they grow older, it’s important to respect the role their parents hold in their life. It would never be appropriate to mingle the issues you have with their parents into your relationship.
Model for your son and daughter in law what you want to receive. Make sure you are respectful of their personal boundaries. Don’t just drop by without calling, no matter how bad you want to see the kids. Be considerate of their household. It’s important to show respect in order to receive it.
Reach out through whatever means possible to the grandchildren -- phone, letter, e-mail, gifts for birthdays and holidays, etc. Continue to reach out in love. Consider that millions of grandparents rarely see their grandchildren because they live far away. What would you do if you were one of those grandparents? How would you connect? Begin to think about creative ways to reach out. Find a way to connect. Drop them a card in the mail. If they are teenagers, send a message on Facebook and let them know you are thinking of them.
Be thankful for whatever time you do have with the grandchildren. If their parents agree to let you take them out for an afternoon for ice cream, be grateful for that. Don’t focus on what you don’t have, focus on what you do have. Follow up by thanking them for the opportunity.
Last month here in my column I mentioned the book, Boundaries by John Townsend and Henry Cloud. This would be a great book for you to read as well, to assist you in building a healthy relationship with your family.
Finally, I encourage you to enjoy your life now. I realize this situation with your grandchildren is heartbreaking. I don’t minimize the pain of this loss. At the same time, if any of us wait for all of our problems to be solved, we will never enjoy life. The truth is that you can enjoy your life even while you are waiting for problems to be resolved. Don’t allow the situation with your children and grandchildren to rob you of every bit of your happiness.
Char, I know it’s not an easy road that you walk. My thoughts and prayers are with you.
E--Mail your questions for future columns to firstname.lastname@example.org. Due to space and time every question will not appear in the monthly column, however Deanna welcomes you to interact with her where she blogs daily at www.deannashrodes.net.
Deanna is an author, speaker and certified coach who loves living in the Tampa Bay area with her husband of 25 years and their three children.