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Carolyn Hax: What can parent do about estranged daughter and grandma?

Dear Carolyn: My daughter is not speaking to my mother. It’s a complicated issue involving my mother interfering in her parenting, and it’s been a source of contention for some time. It came to a head a few months ago, and my daughter has drawn a hard line.

My mother admits she is in the wrong but says she is unable to stop her actions. These involve undermining my daughter and her husband in their parenting, of one of the children in particular. There’s no danger to the child. It’s simply a matter of disagreement about what the granddaughter should be allowed to do, and my mum aiding and abetting her to do it even though she knows my daughter has said no.

My mother and my daughter haven’t spoken for months. It’s affecting everyone in the family. My mother is old, and I know if anything happened to her, my daughter would be devastated, but I have pointed that out gently and my daughter still will no longer put up with what she sees as a betrayal.

I am so sad. They’re both immensely stubborn, and experience tells me my interference only makes things worse. But it’s going on and on, and the hardest thing is they both adore each other. Should I continue to keep out of it, or try to convince my daughter to soften her approach? My mum is wrong but she’s also old and upset and it’s awful.

Tell us: What’s your favorite Carolyn Hax column about becoming an adult?

Stuck: I bet it is awful, for all of you.

But is it really “complicated”?

Your mother declares herself “unable” to stop, and you seem to buy that wholesale because she’s “old,” but if I were your daughter, I’d be seething at both of you for that alone — for so blithely accepting Great-Grandma as a helpless victim of her own impulses.

Your mom has one mandate here: to apologize, make amends and butt out. Any bystanders — you — with any other agenda are only making things worse.

You say you’ve kept yourself out of it. However, things you “point out,” even “gently,” are a form of involvement — in which your sympathies plainly lie with your mom.

If you really want your daughter to soften, then validate her. Seems counterintuitive, but support builds confidence, which makes people more flexible. Every time you negate your daughter’s distress relative to your mom’s, you feed her distrust and reinforce her choice of estrangement to safeguard her parental authority. (To save words and attention spans, I’ll cover all the gray area on that authority with a basic rule: With non-abusive parents, either support them or shut up.)

You can also give your mom’s excuses no quarter.

Even the sad possibility of “anything” happening to your mom — to any of you — during this estrangement is information they possess and a risk they’ve assumed.

I take your word for it, by the way, that your mom’s issue is stubbornness vs. cognitive decline. But if she knows not what she does, then your appropriate role extends to enlightening your daughter as needed — while still supporting her efforts to insulate her household from the effects.

Otherwise, though, the reallocation of your support from your mom to your daughter is the extent of your appropriate involvement here.

You and your mom presumably can summon, like it was yesterday, how you felt during some of those endless days of rearing children. Presumably you can imagine also having to battle on a whole other front with an intrusive relative. Remind yourself of that whenever you’re tempted to treat your daughter as the one who needs to bend.

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