She resents her grandmother

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

I just feel I need to let this all out or I’ll scream. I suppose I should explain before I actually ask anything, so here goes:

My grandmother moved into my home with me and my parents about a month ago. My grandfather passed away in February, leaving my grandmother alone and, therefore, in need of a new home. Where she used to live, a thousand miles away, she was near my aunt and uncle, her daughter and son (each with their own families.) One would expect that either one of them would take in my grandmother, but both simply rejected her (my aunt went so far as to bluntly tell my grandmother that her grandchildren don’t love her, which I find harsh.) So, my father offered our home because his older brother refused to have my grandmother live with his family as well. My father was my grandmother’s only choice, basically.

The thing is, before my grandfather passed away, my father had offered that they both move in with us (actually in our home), where we could take care of them, especially Grandpa because he was sick. Instead, she said she’d rather live near my Aunt and Uncle, who told her she’d have to get her own apartment. because neither of them wanted to live with her. I’ve always have this resentment towards her decision to reject my willing father for the cold shoulders of his younger siblings, mainly because my father grew depressed for a short time, knowing he couldn’t be at his father’s side in his time of need.

So, she moves in with us once Grandpa dies, about three days after the funeral (which I couldn’t attend because of travel expenses, which I also resent.) She moves in, and for some bizarre reason, treats me as if she’s known me my entire life. I should mention that I have only visited her approximately four times in my life, each years apart, and every time I would be next to my grandfather’s side, not hers. I never had the opportunity to get to know my grandmother, and frankly, at the age of 18, I don’t want to anymore. She had eighteen years to call me, to write me a letter, to talk to me whenever I visited, to get to know me. And she never did, always wanting to know my other relatives despite the fact that I was right in front of her. So, when she suddenly hugs me and calls me sweet pet names, I only awkwardly returned some polite affection. She is my grandmother, after all.

The reason I mention any of this is because of a particular incident that occurred when I was six. At the age of six, I was spinning in my grandfather’s revolving chair, when suddenly I heard my grandmother yell at my mother. It wasn’t until a little bit later that I realized my grandmother had insulted my mother in front of my father, claiming that my mother was the “worst decision [my father] ever made” and that my mother didn’t deserve to be my father’s wife. Today they are married for 20 years, so clearly she was wrong. At the time, we were living in her house, and so naturally, after that debacle, my mother packed our things and we left. Only three years ago did my mother forgive my grandmother, but she never forgets. Not that type of pain. And I’m sorry, but if someone insults my mother, then so have she insulted me. After all, if my mother is such a horrible marital decision, then I must be a bastard of a child in my grandmother’s eyes.

This brings to the current situation: my grandmother hasn’t necessarily changed her ways. She criticizes my mother constantly, especially when they are alone (sometimes I’ll overhear), and worse, she won’t criticize my mother in front of my father. God forbid my father realizes that my grandmother still doesn’t like my mother, despite the fact that we are her only means of a place to stay. My mother is getting so tense, and frankly, she scares when she talks because it makes me paranoid that my grandmother could lead to the separation of my parents. The three of us: my father, my mother, and I have been like the Three Musketeers, as cliche as that sounds. To have a weed in our garden is unbearable.

Even worse, she criticizes me behind my back to my mother. Apparently in her eyes, I’m spoiled, lazy, too giving towards my friends, and too distant from her that she thinks I hate her. I’m an only child, but I’m not spoiled. Everything I have, I worked for. And when she says I’m too giving towards my friends, she dislikes the fact that I invite my friends over to my house and let them eat dinner with my family, and that my father gives my friends and I too many car rides. She has no idea that my friends give me way more than I have ever given them, and this is the only I can think of to repay them. To offer my home. And suddenly, she, a woman who has never been in my home, has the nerve to tell who I may share it with?

As for the distance, of course I am distant. I should also mention, that in the first week she lived here, she called my Aunt and Uncle in Portland every single day. My Uncle, who had never called my house once, did. Just to speak to my grandmother. I cannot even explain the utter ANGER I had when he did, but I politely passed the phone. After one week, she went back to her apartment because she “wasn’t sure” if she wanted to live with us, wanted to live with the only part of family who take her. You know, that or living alone near two children who don’t want to live with her. After some time of deciding (God, it was months), she decided to completely move in. And then she expects me, the Yo-Yo of Grandchild she wants me to be, to suddenly open my arms and love her as if I haven’t been stabbed in the heart, constantly told that I mean absolutely nothing to her compared to my precious younger cousins and horrible aunts and uncles? Really?

In the past month, I’ve been agitated. I’ve isolated myself to my room as much as possible, just to avoid being around her. If I’m in the same room with her, I’m expected to serve her because she’s “frail” and expected to talk to her because she needs company. Yet, if I try, she just mentions my other family. Her interest in me isn’t much.

So there’s all this pain on my behalf, only to get topped with the pain that my mother experiences. My grandmother frightens me and makes insecure that the great bond I have with my family is slowly breaking. But how I could I tell this to my father? He doesn’t want reject his mother from our home, and doesn’t want to send her to a retirement home. But she’s tearing us apart. I mean, my suffering will end because I’m going off to college in September, but what my mother?

I don’t know what to do, how to deal with this. I don’t know if I should confront this issue. My mother just says that this phase will pass, my grandmother will realize the meaning of the phrase “beggars can’t be choosers,” but I’m not sure. And worse, I’ve been distancing myself from my father because I’m scared that I’ll break down in front of him. I don’t want him to choose between his family and his mother, but part of me does.

What do I do?

A: Your grandmother is in mourning. She is elderly, apparently frail, and has lost her husband, her home, and her own support system. She has also been told by the children she thought were closest to her that she isn’t welcome. On top of that, old conflicts between your mother and grandmother haven’t been resolved. It makes sense that Grandma didn’t want to move in with your family. It makes sense that she tried to move back to her home for awhile. it makes sense that she is angry and resentful at being in her situation at her age. She may sometimes take it out on others and sometimes try to make the best of it. What looks like manipulation on her part may instead be her struggle to come to terms with all her losses.

I’m sure it isn’t new information to your father that two of the most important people in his life (his wife and his mother) are in conflict. That was hard enough. Now you add yourself to the mix by becoming your mom’s champion in an old argument. That’s really not helpful. Yes, your life has been disrupted. But you have your whole life ahead of you. You’re going off to college in the next few weeks and can get on with your life. Grandma’s life has been tragically disrupted by the death of her partner and, apparently, such poor planning on everyone’s part that she is financially unable to take care of herself, has to be dependent on others, and has to live with someone she has never found a way to like. From her point of view: What has she to look forward to?

The most mature and loving thing you can do for your family is to encourage everyone, including you, to get into some family therapy. Old wounds need to be resolved if everyone is going to find a way to live together happily. Blaming, criticizing, and judging need to be replaced with understanding, compassion, and compromise. I did a web search and found many qualified, licensed marriage and family therapists in your area. Ask your family doctor, clergyperson, or trusted friends for a referral. A few sessions now could well save your family years of pain.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 6 Sep 2009

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2009). She resents her grandmother. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 27, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2009/09/06/she-resents-her-grandmother/