Life Hax: Our son committed a felony and we’re paying for it

by DGO Web Administrator

Our son committed a felony two and a half years ago. It was a horrific shock and he has been receiving the best possible treatment. It was not a crime against people.Since that time, our other children (with one exception) will not allow us to have their children at our home unless they are personally present, though we baby-sat frequently before this. One of our children will not allow us to be alone with our grandchildren at all. We raised these adult children too, and they know we would never hurt our grandchildren. Neither of us had any criminal history. Our grandchildren love us and do want to be with us.We would never leave our son (their brother) alone with them, and he has always been kind and loving to the grandchildren. Our children know this.Our counselor told us our children are “overreacting,” we are clearly no danger to our grandchildren, and time would help. It’s been two and a half years and there is no change. Once-close relationships are now distant.We recently discovered one child lied to us about the whereabouts of our grandson, when he was cared for at the home of a couple (not related) after we had offered to watch him.We are heartbroken. What can we do?Rejected Grandparents

Not much, except to be patient and steadfast and worthy of your children’s trust.

You have been all along, you say? Good then. Waiting is agony, yes. But not having to change course will help.

If you haven’t, though – if there was a part of this you could have fixed before but didn’t, taken responsibility for but haven’t, told your counselor and included in your letter but chose not to, and/or could remedy now with your other kids if you only summoned the courage to – then that’s exactly what needs your attention.

And acting as if there is no such error to atone for will only worsen the estrangement.

I am not saying you’ve made this mistake. It’s just possible. It’s also possible you didn’t and these children are indeed overreacting, at a great cost to you and their kids.

I know which version you think is true. Access to your grandkids, though, lies in the version your kids think is true. So if there’s a difference in perception, then you must address that.

Can you say which version your kids believe?

One more thing. Your counselor gave you the same baseline advice to give it time. But the other part you cite, that “our children are ‘overreacting’ [and] we are clearly no danger,” sounds awfully definitive for a therapist – or anyone who hasn’t lived in your home – to say. Is it possible you’re hearing only the absolution you want to hear?

And looking for me to second it?

Again – I can’t say you’re doing this. Just that it’s both possible and would help explain why your kids remain distant.

If instead you’re just caught in the undertow of your son’s mistake, then that is indeed heartrending, and unfair. And all you can do is wait.

Close friends and family want to know why my five-year relationship just ended, as my partner and I were living together and actively making plans to get married and start a family. “We just outgrew each other and are happier apart” suffices for some who ask, but not the ones who know us really well.Can you clarify why I should not tell people that my partner was a lowlife and a thief who stole thousands of dollars from me within six months – a fact I have so far kept to myself in an attempt to be fair to him?DisclosureWhat about the truth is unfair? Is there some question about his guilt?

Did he commit a crime for which he can be prosecuted?


If you just don’t want to get into it with anyone, then feel free to tell the people who knew you well that he turned out to be a really bad guy and you’re not ready to talk about it. That’s your prerogative – to protect you, not your ex.

My daughter and her boyfriend moved into my house a few months ago because they were having financial difficulties and I wanted her to be able to finish her degree, which she did in May. I started noticing how little she wanted to communicate with me, but I thought she was just busy and stressed.Her boyfriend has anger issues that I have seen exposed at various times.This past week we drove out of town to go to the funeral of a family friend, just the two of us, and she talked the whole time. She was open and friendly just like the girl I knew growing up. When we returned home, she grew silent again and a little rude, and once again just stayed in her room with Boyfriend much like before.Now I’m considering that he is controlling of her, and I’m wondering how to handle this. Do I give her my thoughts? Where are the lines drawn between interference in her life and my concerns?Concerned Mom

The line falls between what you observe and what you conclude.

What you observe is yours, and powerful.

What you conclude is speculation, and the space between what you know and what you think you know is where all the hard feelings collect, and where defensiveness can take root. Voice your concern that he’s controlling, for example, or even that you just suspect or fear he might be, and you invite your daughter to feel (a) dense or naive or embarrassed or ashamed for missing it herself; (b) resentful that you think she’s too dense or naive to have noticed this herself, or too inept to choose a good boyfriend; (c) protective of this person she obviously cares about, problematic though he may be.

And, you may actually be wrong. That he’s controlling seems to make sense, but isn’t the only possible explanation.

If instead you stick only to what you see, then you can’t be wrong and don’t leave room for anyone to argue with you. “I noticed something the other day. You have been quiet lately. In the car on our trip, though, you were really talkative – like you used to be (I had a really nice time, by the way … ). Anyway, when we got home, you withdrew into your cocoon with [boyfriend] and got quiet again. I’m mentioning it because it’s something people tend not to see about themselves.”

Again – don’t draw conclusions. Note this wording doesn’t assign any blame: Not, “He changes you” or “You change for him” – just, “Your behavior changes.” SAY WHAT YOU SEE.

If she pushes back, then articulate your intent: “I’m not saying who or what or why – just that I notice a difference. If you’re in a good emotional place, then that’s what matters.”

Because it is, for one. And, conveniently, it’s also the hardest thing to fake if it’s not true. She can trust her own taste in men, she can explain her mood changes, she can defend his anger issues, she can rationalize whatever stress she is under right now – but the sensation of someone weighing her down is hard to deny forever, if that indeed is what’s going on. Please be patient enough to allow her to connect her dots to yours.

Carolyn Hax is a syndicated advice columnist for The Washington Post. She started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. Email her at [email protected].


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