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"My husband does not want to go." Meeting the needs of grandparents.

"My husband does not want to go."

Meeting the Needs of Grandparents

"WE ARE SUPPOSED to visit my daughter next week and my husband does not want to go." Mrs. Winston, a short, slender woman in her late sixties, teared as she spoke. "Jean lives 3,000 miles away, so we visit twice a year for four or five days at a time. When she first got married and even after her first child, Judy, was born, the visits were wonderful.

"Of course, Jeannie would insist on doing everything in her own house and complained that I still treated her like a child--you know, the usual `I can cook and clean and take care of my own house.' And I would say that we just didn't want to be a burden as guests. Harry would try to give them money, and my son-in-law would say he was glad to have us but it wasn't a hotel. So, we would leave gifts for the house or for our grandchild.

"But our visits have been terrible ever since her younger son, Jimmy, was born three years ago. Jean had a very long, difficult delivery with Jimmy. And it was clear from the day Jimmy was born that he was going to have problems in everything he did, whether it was walking or growing or anything else. We visited shortly after Jimmy was born and I guess we all were in a state of shock.

"We knew there was trouble when Jeannie's husband, Tom, called from the hospital to tell us that we had a grandson. But we didn't know the extent until we went there a week later. Neither Harry nor I slept the first night. We worried about everything and everybody -- Jimmy, Jeannie, Tom and Judy. Their present and future life seemed bleak. We still see the future as very sad. We didn't want to burden them -- so we tried to hide our worries and fears from Jeannie and Tom. But I just couldn't do it; I started crying whenever I saw Jean holding little Jimmy.

"Jeannie and Tom, who's an awfully nice guy, just seemed to be in a state of slow motion. We offered to stay; we offered to give them money; we offered to give them help. No matter what we said they'd say `We'll think about it; we'll get back to you.' And then, when we got home, we had a big fight. Harry got mad at me for crying and said I shouldn't act like a baby. Then he said `if they didn't want our help, the hell with them.' I defended Jean and told him he should be more sympathetic.

"That's what our visits have been like for the past three years. We try to help. I try to do things around the house. We buy things for the kids. They won't discuss what's going on and Jeannie says, `Don't worry' and looks terrible.

"We are very uncomfortable when we are there. We then have a big fight when we get home. So we have cut the visits from six days to five days to four days. In fact, if we didn't have to get thirty day advance airline tickets, we'd probably go and stay for a day or two and then leave.

"I've tried to discuss our visits with Jean. I asked if it would be better if we came less frequently, or whether only one of us should come, or whatever. She tells us not to worry; that it doesn't make any difference. Then I think, if it doesn't make any difference, I wonder why we go.

"Another thing that I worry about is that Jean and Tom live in a small town -- we're not sure they're getting the best professional advice. I guess once a year they go to the nearest big city, which is one hundred and fifty miles away, for expert consultation. But, Harry and I, we live in a big city and maybe we've got too little to do -- so we go to every lecture that we hear about that might help Jimmy. That's why we called you. We heard you speak a month ago, and we thought you could be helpful to us -- at least to get us ready for our visit.

"We're always sending Jeannie and Tom information about new things we hear about, new programs we hear about. Yet if we ask Jeannie did you read them, did you like them, do you want us to send them, Jeannie always says the same thing, "Don't worry."

"I'm not sure how to deal with Judy, their older daughter. If we compliment Judy on how well she is doing, we feel maybe we're slighting Jimmy. If we talk about our other daughter, Cindy, and her children, Harry and I begin to feel sad all over again.

"I try to help around Jean's house. I want to make sure we're not a burden. Last time, we offered to stay at a motel and Jeannie blew up. She felt that I was saying she wasn't a good daughter. That was the furthest thing from my mind.

"When our daughters were younger, we could talk about anything that was troubling them. I would wait up until they came home from dates, and I would hear their agonies, their anguishes, their jealousies, their fears. It was wonderful. I thought that was the way it was going to be for the rest of our lives. Harry says that was unrealistic; that even though I had a good relationship with my mother after we got married, we also wanted some distance.

"Harry has begun to sound like my daughter. That is, when I ask him for advice about what we should do, he says it won't make any difference. Last week he dropped a bomb. He said he wasn't going to go with me on this trip."

"Ruth is an angel." Harry Winston, a tall, white haired man in his late sixties, spoke quickly. "She has put up with me for over thirty five years. She knows I say things I don't mean. When I'm feeling down about things, I feel I'm the problem. I always thought I could do anything -- take care of any trouble -- but this thing has got me licked. I have talked to my friends at my club about this. One of the other fellows has a grandchild who has a different kind of problem. What he tells me is there are no right answers and no wrong answers; it doesn't make any difference what we do.

"We're both sensitive. Neither one of us likes criticism. Until Jimmy was born, I could count on one hand the arguments Ruthie and I have had. So when our daughters disagree with what we do, it hurts a lot. I don't think they recognize the fact that even though they are angry if we say anything that they feel is critical, they can say anything that's critical of us and we're not supposed to get angry.

"I talked to our older daughter, Cindy, about the visits and our efforts to help. She says we're too pushy; we're too intrusive; we're too insensitive.

"I love to see my grandchildren and so does Ruth. Jimmy, unfortunately, has trouble. It doesn't mean I love him any less; I just don't know what to do for him. When we go home, we think of all the things we did when they were growing up. There wasn't anything that we wouldn't do to help them.

"Now I'm afraid that Jeannie doesn't know how much we want help. When we offer to help, she says we do too much. If we don't offer to help, we feel we've abandoned her. I don't know why she seems to be so hurt when we're there. Neither Ruth nor I know what we should do. It sure is true that when we get home, we feel worse. So, we don't know whether to visit or not. When we don't hear from either of our children, we worry. So, okay, I am willing to go to visit, but what's the deal about our marriage?


Mrs. Winston came because "Her marriage was failing." She felt that a major rift was taking place, and she did not know what to do or how to get her husband to cooperate. Mr. Winston was puzzled by his wife's anxiety and complaints. He felt unappreciated not only by his wife but by his daughters. He felt that he did everything he could for his wife and could not understand what else she might want.

The Winstons agreed that their problems started when their youngest daughter, Jean, gave birth to a child with serious disabilities. They were overwhelmed by the situation they found when they visited a week after the baby was born. Although they had promised each other not to show their daughter and son-in-law how upset they were, Mrs. Winston began to cry when she entered her daughter's house. The Winstons still remembered how they had "failed their daughter."

During the Winstons' visits over the past three years, they would discuss in advance how they should behave during the next visit. However, no matter what was planned, they continued their usual behavior. Mrs. Winston still tried to take over the daily management of her daughter's house. Her daughter argued about how much she was doing and, despite trying to stop, she could not.

Mr. Winston wanted to play a more supportive role and listen but he still offered financial support when he arrived which was still rejected by his increasingly angry son-in-law. Mr. Winston would then withdraw from participating in discussions with either his daughter or son-in-law. He was then criticized by Mrs. Winston for not caring.

The current crisis emerged when Mr. Winston said that he was not going to go with Mrs. Winston on a visit that was about to take place. Mrs. Winston felt that his absence would create a rift with her daughter that could never be repaired and a rift with her husband that could not be healed.

When the last child leaves home to become independent, parents have to re-evaluate their relationship with one another. They often have not had time together to think about what they wanted from each other for many years. Because of increased time together, couples often become more aware of or attuned to the frailties of each other. Ordinarily, the couple has learned to accommodate to these traits over a long period of time, but they may now be seen as things that require change.

When children leave home, they continue to work on the problems of independence and separateness from their parents that have begun many years earlier. Aspects of these struggles come into view when their parents visit them in their own homes. The visits may still arouse old feelings of dependency. The parents may deal with their adult children as if they are twelve years old or younger and the adult children may act accordingly.

Early in a marriage, children and their parents have to learn about their new roles together. The Winstons had been managing these issues comfortably when their daughter was first married. They both described how much they had enjoyed these visits. They, along with their daughter, teased Mrs. Winston about the way she still wanted to do things for her daughter that Jean could do for herself, and her father still tried to make everybody feel good by offering to buy whatever they needed.

When crises emerge in the lives of adult children, it can be disruptive to the process of independence and separation. When a child with a disability is born, adult children may be particularly vulnerable and may need a great deal of support. During the crisis, their parents may find themselves wanting to do the kinds of things they did when their children were younger. They may finally find themselves taking over and acting as if the adult child was an infant -- helpless and incompetent. This can occur when their child has a baby with a disability. What is often forgotten is parents (now grandparents) may be struggling with similar kinds of feelings. In recent years we have learned a lot about how to help the parents, but we have given little attention to grandparents and other family members.

It can be difficult for any couple when they have time to devote to their own lives that was not available for over twenty years or more. No matter how good the relationship has been between the couple, at this stage in life they have to re-examine what and why they do things and how they are going to behave toward their adult children.

The Winstons had done well until the birth of their grandson who had a disability. They both discussed with joy and pride how well their visits to their children had gone and how much they enjoyed playing with their grandchildren. They were teased about the way they did things but this was accepted by both of them in the good nature in which the teasing was done. After the birth of the grandchild with the disability, the attention to their idiosyncrasies took place in the context of how much anguish they felt during their visits.

Mr. and Mrs. Winston found that it was possible to distinguish their needs as husband and wife rather than view themselves as grandparents. They both were surprised about the reassurance they needed after 35 years of a marriage that both had found fulfilling. They were able to see their continued concerns were not flaws but issues that could be discussed by them. Then they reviewed their plans for the next visit to their daughter's.

First they understood that it was very important that they listen to their daughter and son-in-law. They realized that because they themselves were so anxious, they got very busy when they visited as a way of feeling less anxious. But their activities prevented any possible discussion with their daughter and son-in-law.

After they returned from what both considered a better visit, they met monthly to discuss their own lives, as well as how they should deal with their children. They realized that their daughter and son-in-law could use a rest from the everyday care of their children. They planned to take care of both their grandchildren and give their daughter and son-in-law a chance to take a three day vacation. Their daughter and son-in-law were delighted and everybody looked forward to the next visit.
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Title Annotation:counseling case involving grandparents of severely disabled child
Author:Schleifer, Maxwell J.
Publication:The Exceptional Parent
Date:Mar 1, 1990
Previous Article:Independence Day: designing computer solutions for individuals with disability.
Next Article:Let's play games!!

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