Diana Boggia: Grandmother seeks advice for difficult decision

Diana Boggia

Dear Diana, I am asking for your advice on how we should go about a transition of our grandson to another family member, so our grandson doesn’t feel we have rejected him. We have raised him since he was born, and he will soon be 5. He is a wonderful child and a joy to raise. My husband and I are 70, and our other son and his wife, who live in California with their 1-year-old, have suggested that they finish raising him since, by the time he becomes a teenager, we will be quite old.

If my son and his wife do take him, they don’t want to wait because they feel the transition will be much harder on everyone. I can’t imagine giving him up, but I feel it may be best for him. He has an opportunity to grow up in a loving family with a little cousin, almost like a sibling, with young parents who can provide him with a wonderful life. My son is a doctor and my daughter-in-law is a teacher.

My husband and I are very willing to relocate to California to help with the transition, and also continue to be a part of his life. We have indicated that we would like to move with him, and perhaps have him stay with us on weekends. However, my daughter-in-law has indicated that she feels a clean break would be best, so there aren’t mixed messages, different parenting styles or conflicts with discipline. Sincerely, A loving grandmother.

Dear Loving Grandmother, I cannot imagine how difficult this decision must be, and I recognize the enormous courage you possess as you prepare to give up what you love the most. Taking time to look at this situation from everyone’s perspective is very important, because everyone’s actions and responses will determine the success of your grandson’s transition.

You and your husband are the only parents he has ever known. Although you are not his biological parent, you have taken on that role, and he loves, trusts and depends upon you for everything. You are undoubtedly the two most important people in his life.

Although perhaps easier to have one set of “parents” provide discipline, I believe that an abrupt, clean break may cause unnecessary grief, accompanied with feelings of abandonment, as, through the eyes of a child, you have given him away. That may evoke feelings of anger and distrust, making it exceptionally difficult for him to bond with his new family as he sorts through his emotions. In the course of one day, he will be living with a completely new family, in a new state, without security or connectors, such as friends or anything else familiar. Children thrive on safety and sameness. This would be a difficult situation for anyone to adjust to, let alone a 5-year-old, who can’t conceptually understand that you are sending him off for a better life.

Another option is for you and your husband to spend a few months there, helping him transition to his new life, but that would be costly (if you stayed in a hotel) or disruptive to everyone (if you stayed with your son in his home, with two sets of “parents” implementing the rules.)

If you relocate with your grandson and find a home near his new family, he can adjust slowly, with everyone interacting for family activities, outings, meals and holidays, allowing him to begin to build a relationship with his uncle, aunt and cousin. Continuous interaction for about a month might help him become comfortable enough to have a sleepover weekend at their house. The more time he spends there, the more comfortable he will be with their lifestyle, so gradually he could build to spending three nights, then four nights, etc., with them. Your close proximity would be his safety net, with him knowing that you are there if he needs you. If the idea is truly to transition him, and you have the opportunity to relocate to help him through, then do so as a family, with ease and comfort.

I believe he will always want — and need — you to be a part of his life.

Diana Boggia, M.Ed., is a parenting educator in Stark County, Ohio. Send your child-rearing questions to Family Matters@cantonrep.com or The Repository, c/o Family Matters, 500 Market Ave. S, Canton, OH 44702. Find additional parenting resources, along with links to all of her columns, at Diana Boggia’s website, www.yourperfectchild.com.