I have a 16-year-old granddaughter, her father is not happy in the marital relationship, and therefore without meaning to, is verbally abusing the daughter. It is obvious that the father is hurting terribly inside. The verbal abuse is harming my granddaughter’s self esteem. Do you have any tips on how I can help this family?
Grandparents are always in a difficult situation when it comes to intervening with a grandchild. Grandparents can often see what is going on. But if they try to do anything, they risk being seen as interfering and offending the parents. The worst outcome occurs when the grandchild is cut off from the grandparent.
Your granddaughter is at risk because her father is attacking her and because her parents’ relationship is collapsing.
Several things could help your granddaughter.
First of all, maintain as close a relationship with your granddaughter as you can. If you live in the same city, spend time with her. Make sure she knows that you think she is a talented and capable person. It doesn’t matter what activities you do, as long as she is supported. She will need strength in this storm. If she lives far away, keep in touch by phone, email or letter.
Second, you have to let her father (your son or son-in-law) know that no matter how he is feeling his daughter needs a positive relationship with him. Even if you have a strained relationship with him, you will have to find a way of talking to him. It will be easier if you have a close and positive relationship.
If he lives in the same area, take him for a coffee or dinner. First tell him you are concerned about how he is doing. Understand his suffering with his marriage (even if it is your daughter who is causing the strain). Don’t take sides. Don’t try and solve the problem. Just listen and understand. If it makes sense, encourage him to get some marriage counselling.
Then move your focus to your granddaughter. Point out how important a father’s relationship with his teenage daughter is. Mention some of the positives that you have noticed in the past with their relationship.
Calmly and without accusing, say what you think. Tell him that you are concerned about your granddaughter’s reaction to what he says. Let him know you think that, even though he is not intending to, his daughter is being harmed.
He may react with anger and denial. If he does, respond with quiet warmth and firmness.
Even if he does not react well, your words may help him change what he does.
If you are not in the same city, you may want to speak to him on the phone, but maybe a letter or email is better. Again, follow the sequence of understanding his pain, noting the importance and positives of his relationship with his daughter and then mentioning your concerns.
You can also encourage your granddaughter to seek psychological help from her family doctor, school counselor or a psychologist, priest or rabbi.