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"Over the past 10 years, Jasmine has gradually isolated our son from us and his friends, to the point where we are all but estranged and he has no one except her." (achiartistul/Getty Images/iStockphoto)
"Over the past 10 years, Jasmine has gradually isolated our son from us and his friends, to the point where we are all but estranged and he has no one except her." (achiartistul/Getty Images/iStockphoto)

My son’s wife has isolated him from our family. What do I do? Add to ...

The question

Before my son met and married Jasmine, our family was close and loving. Of course, we had the odd disagreement, from which we quickly recovered. We have two other adult children and daughters-in-law and no difficulty there.

Over the past 10 years, Jasmine has gradually isolated our son from us and his friends, to the point where we are all but estranged and he has no one except her. It’s incredibly painful, especially now that they have children. Since she has “blacklisted” her own family, too, our grandchildren may grow up not knowing any grandparents or extended families. We aren’t perfect, but wrack our brains trying to understand what we could have done so wrong. We know that Jasmine suffers from anxiety and self-esteem problems. Anything we do to try to remedy the situation, such as sitting down for a heart-to-heart talk, makes it worse. Friends say we should tell him what we really think (they think he’s being severely controlled); others say we should just take any opportunity to make any kind of contact. Please help us. We are very upset and distressed and don’t want to make things worse.

 

The answer

I’m not surprised you’re distressed and upset. That is a truly distressing and upsetting situation.

Before getting into the nuts and bolts of what I think you should do, I’d like to say a couple of things:

First, simply to lament the fact grandparents don’t have more rights in the access-to-grandkids department.

And it does seem to happen a fair amount: After divorce, disaster, estrangement from the parents, the grandparents find themselves denied access to the offspring of their offspring.

But I think it stinks. And if it were up to me, they’d be able to sue for access to grandkids.

(Technically, they can: What happens when they do varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction – Quebec, Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan all have a grandparent’s rights legislation – but suffice to say the parents tend to hold all the cards and the grandparents lose unless it’s some kind of extreme situation of abuse or neglect etc.)

I mean, after all the years you put in raising your son, all the love and sleepless nights, the blood and sweat and tears (not to mention the rancid, revolting poo in his stinking, steaming diapers), this Jasmine character comes sashaying along, no offense, and suddenly, you can’t see him or your grandchildren.

And why would anyone want to deny grandparents access? Just on a practical level, my parents were invaluable in terms of babysitting, helping fund their educations and so forth. Grandparents impart wisdom, cash and can teach life skills the parents might not have.

(My grandfather taught me how to fish and shoot a gun.)

Just as awful, I’d think: being denied access to your own son. It’s one of my wife’s biggest fears. Like you, we have three boys, all (despite being teenagers) sweet, kind, gentle souls, so much so we worry they will one day be taken in hand by strong-willed women and turned into their – I’m reaching for a prison slang term here but since it’s a family-friendly paper let’s say “personal butlers.”

Which is what it sounds like is happening to your son.

As to what you should do … I have to say I don’t quite agree with either of your groups of friends.

To those who say, “Tell him what [you] really think [that he’s being severely controlled],” I would say: “But follow your own logic: If he is indeed being severely controlled, would he not then be likely to turn around and report that selfsame conversation to his wife – thus inflaming the situation further?”

I certainly understand the urge to tell your son to grow a pair, remember who raised him (I know I’d be tempted myself) and that he owes you, but I could also see that blowing up in your face.

To the friends who say simply seize every opportunity you can to obtain any scrap of contact with him, I’d say: You’re on the right track, but I’d take it one step further.

My own tack would be a killing-them-with-kindness-type approach. Invite them to things. Write them positive, friendly e-mails with no thought of reply. Send them little presents, even.

I know it might seem counterintuitive. But pure, unalloyed, lighthearted kindness has a way of wearing down even the crabbiest, most misanthropic and eremitic of souls. I’ve seen it happen.

Above all, be patient. Eventually your son may tire on his own of his cloistered little world, of being a prisoner in his own home and decide he would like to see – and for his children to see – friends and extended family after all.

At which point, if I know parents, you will welcome your prodigal son back into the fold with open arms.

 

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