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posted: 12/1/2013 6:14 AM

Grandparents just need a little respect, response

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By Carolyn Hax

Q. I need help in handling my son and his wife, so I can keep my dignity, and still see my grandchild.

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Son and Wife are in their mid-40s, building a successful law firm, and live about 45 minutes away by car. I see them once or twice a month, mainly because I pick up my granddaughter to spend time with her; otherwise there would be much less contact. Son and Wife encourage my contact with their child; it gives them a break, of course.

My problem is that Son and Wife do not find it necessary to return my emails or phone calls or other common courtesies. For example, I have emailed asking if Granddaughter may go to a certain event. If the answer is no, they simply will not respond. I email asking them if I left my camera case at their house, I receive no response. I bought Granddaughter a Halloween costume, with her mother's knowledge and approval. When I came to bring it to her on Halloween, she was already wearing another costume. How do I handle this situation and keep my granddaughter and my self-respect?

A. I get it, I do. It is a healthy reflex, when someone mistreats us, to stop offering ourselves up for mistreatment.

But that reflex ill serves us when access to children or grandchildren is involved. You want to protect yourself and punish this couple by denying them your compliant presence, but we both know they'll barely flinch -- while you'll suffer greatly in denying yourself time with the child.

The solution that won't cost you so dearly, if you can do it without reservation, is to untie your dignity from the process of seeing the girl.

Try this: If you routinely hit traffic as you drove to see your granddaughter, then it would be an obstacle, but you'd never take it personally.

If you were hit by storms, or your car struggled with the hills, or your lower back got achy, then you would factor those obstacles into your decision to go but would also never think to take them personally or regard them as threats to your pride.

The way you describe your son and his wife, they're at the most demanding point in their careers. Not that that's an excuse, but, for our purposes, it's just a values-neutral* fact. And so a byproduct of their hard-charging ways is that common courtesies are lying dazed in a ditch wondering what hit them. I highly doubt it's just with you.

And so, for the purpose of nurturing your bond with your grandchild, I don't think your dignity will mind if you treat her parents' rudeness merely as the traffic you must endure to see her. Aggravating but impersonal, and ultimately irrelevant to your cause. I could argue the parents' rudeness is a reason not to give up, to provide the loving presence of someone who isn't in a rush.

Surely you want a relationship with your son, too, and have bruised feelings there, but I urge you to keep those out of the grandchild equation.

For what it's worth, there's probably a mode of communication Son and Wife prefer and therefore respond to better. Ask them. Text, perhaps? Or directly with Granddaughter's caregiver, for cases and costumes and such?

• Email Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com.

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