Today on Dear Abby, a reader wrote in with a problem that some of us have been on the other side of:
Dear Abby: My oldest granddaughter, “Allie,” is a psychiatrist. I have always loved her, been proud of her accomplishments and have had a warm relationship with her.
Her mother—my daughter—got drunk and made several angry, harsh phone calls to Allie. Since then, Allie has refused contact with everyone in the family. I have written to her numerous times and so has my daughter, begging for forgiveness. My daughter has quit drinking, thanks to the patience and loving support of my family. She has also come out of an abusive marriage.
Allie gave birth to a baby girl last year. I have never seen my great-grandchild and it breaks my heart. Abby, what can I do to restore a good relationship with my granddaughter? I love her and pray for her every day.
I must say, I dreaded Abby’s response to this letter, given that it painted a tragic tale of family torn asunder, a mother trying to reform herself, and saddened grandmas. I’ve had to cut off family members for my own health and protection, and it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that some FWD readers have had to do the same, for a wide variety of reasons. So I was expecting a lecture about how Allie ‘owes’ her family something and the grandmother should continue trying to pressure her into repairing the family’s relationship.
Here’s what Abby said:
Dear Grieving Grandma: As your letter proves, being a mental health professional does not exempt someone from having family problems. Depending upon what your daughter said to Allie, it is understandable that she might want to protect herself—and her baby—from her verbally abusive, alcoholic parent. While it may be harsh for Allie to have cut off contact with all of her maternal relatives, including you, she may have done so to prevent you from trying to pressure her to “forgive” her mother for what has been an ongoing pattern of behavior.
Write Allie one more letter advising her that her mother is no longer drinking and has left her abusive marriage. Continue loving and praying for her. But until your granddaughter decides on her own to relent, there is nothing you can do to “fix” this. I’m sorry.
Abby, I want to hug you and hand you a cupcake. This advice is right on. She reiterates that Allie may have been entirely justified in making her decision. Reading between the lines, Abby seems to be gently suggesting that Grandma should not have ‘written her numerous times’ and should have instead given her some space. The letter concludes by giving her permission to try one more time, something I personally feel iffy about, but, in the end, it reiterates that this is up to Allie, not the family, and that Grandma is just going to have to accept that.
Yes, Abby, yes. People who choose to cut off their family members do not do so on a whim. They do so to protect themselves. The last thing that people who make that choice want is badgering from other people in the family, or from family friends. They want to be left alone, and they want their choices respected.
Unfortunately, when these situations happen, many people often take it upon themselves to ‘fix’ them. As a result, people are forced not only to cut off the offending individuals, but the entire family, because they fear exactly this situation, people demanding to play a role in ‘reconciliation.’ In these situations, the offender is often painted as the injured party, and no one talks about the isolation experienced by the person who has to cut people off. If these decisions could be made and respected, people like Allie wouldn’t have to cut off contact with family members they may love very much.
You are allowed to protect yourself by choosing the people you associate with, including your family members, and you are allowed to not have this turned into a big drama with people insisting on getting involved left and right. You have the right to autonomy over your body and in your relationships, and it’s nice to see Abby stating that, albeit in somewhat less aggressive terms than I would have!