7.d. The Caretaker/Parents Conflict

This conflict is much like the divided loyalties and pain of children of divorce whose parents put them in the middle of a bitter battle. There may be old conflicts between the grandparents and parents that get re-enacted again in the reunited family.    Parents attribute the emotional distance between them and the newcomer child to “stories” the child heard from the grandparents who “badmouthed” them, or presented them as a neglectful and uncaring parent.  In Avelina’s case, she recalled: “My mother told my daughter that if it wasn’t for her taking care of her, who knows what would have happened to her, since I just didn’t care and had abandoned her.”  Of course, when they reunited, conflict was rampant between this daughter and this mother. In spite of the assurances from the mother, that the story the grandmother had told her was false, the doubt regarding her mother’s love and commitment still lingered in this daughter’s heart. The daughter was always reacting with rejection and rebelliousness to the mother’s efforts to establish a closer relationship and all she said she wanted was to go back home to her grandmother.

Sometimes, whether the parents are right or wrong about their evaluation of the grandparents’ “wrongdoings” as parents, or in raising the grandchild, they start to criticize the grandparents to the child. This causes immediate anger and resentment in the child who has internalized these figures as his/her “real” parents and experiences great loyalty towards them. Luis, amid tears of anger would say:” I won’t tolerate my mother talking bad things about my grandma. I get very angry and I start yelling at her. Shut up! I love my grandma!” This of course is heard by the mother as “…and I don’t love you!” which creates in her an even bigger impulse to attack the grandmother and put her down in the eyes of the child, thus increasing the battle.

Many times the conflict is over child rearing practices. Some parents complain that the grandparents spoiled the kids, never teaching them to assume any of the household responsibilities. They feel that now they have to undo all the damage.  Underneath all criticism, there may also be a feeling of jealousy at the sad truth that their parents were much more nurturing and accepting of the behavior of their grandchildren than they had ever been with them.  Instead, to these parents growing up, they may have been abusive, inflexible and harsh. Some adults can express these feelings of jealousy directly and allow themselves to mourn the loss of a better childhood. For others, these feelings are buried under many stories they tell themselves of why the conflict keeps growing between their kids and themselves.