An epidemic in the developed world: grandparent alienation 255



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There is an epidemic that is destroying the lives of both loving grandparents and also their precious little grandchildren. This epidemic goes by many names – grandparent alienation, grandparent abandonment, grandparent estrangement, severe child abuse, severe elder abuse, emotional domestic violence. Whatever you call it, it is rampant in our society and other countries of the developed world. It doesn’t just happen as a result of marriage breakdown, or because of teenage rebellion or because of childhood neglect or abuse. It happens in loving families. It has happened to us.

It has happened to our kind loving daughter who never caused us a day’s trouble. She met a controlling man and he quite literally swept her off her feet with his charms and affections. Things moved very fast and within a very short time wedding bells were planned; it was all about him and she fell under his spell. One by one, when he no longer had any need for a member of her childhood family, he would find fault in them and eliminate them. This narcissist managed to convince her that her childhood was unhappy and created the most bizarre and contradictory stories to support the case. She slowly believed that she had always had these thoughts. She was brainwashed; she was unable to see through his very powerful and evil brainwashing skills. She was unable to see what was happening to her life and therefore did not talk to anyone about it. His own family were able to remain in contact but we believe under his strict conditions. He also found faults in her friends and they too were eliminated. He had succeeded – he had isolated her. Their relationship resembled a cult. It was and is a one-on-one cultic relationship.

When children arrived on the scene, the isolation escalated. We, the grandparents, were never informed of an impending birth and have never ever set eyes on one of our grandchildren even though they live close by.

And so our grandchildren will be growing up under the control of a narcissist. They will also be being brainwashed. They quite likely will be being taught to hate. Children who suffer such alienation will sadly grow up with no cohesiveness and in their family lives and will be unbalanced without the knowledge of their roots. They will only know the splintered and dysfunctional lives their parents have taught them. But alienation is generational. It will repeat in the lives of the children whose parents are perpetrating it upon them. This cycle will continue. It will come back to bite our daughter and her husband.

When I look back over this horrible sequence of events I must find a weakness in my daughter in that she succumbed to her husband’s demands. That she could change from a kind compassionate girl to such a cruel person is so sad and so difficult to understand. This situation has been described as a living death. It is as though she is dead yet we know she is still alive. We cannot grieve properly – there is no body while she breathes in the same air just a short distance from us. We have many times suggested meeting up and talking through the issues but we get no response. We have told her that she is welcome back into our lives whenever she wishes. We will ask no questions.

Meanwhile we, the grandparents, must get on with our lives. I have never held back on talking to family and friends about what has happened. I have never even once had anyone say to me that we must have been bad parents (though one friend joked that we must have been bad people in a previous life). People who have known our family since our daughter was little have all initially reacted with disbelief and shock. In fact several friends have become concerned that the same thing could happen to them when they became grandparents. I don’t expect any of them to truly understand as you have to live this horror to appreciate the enormity of the situation. It was when I first talked to family and friends that I heard of the words brainwashing and narcissism. To date we have also spoken to a total of six psychologists/counsellors and in each meeting those same two words brainwashing and narcissism along with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) were mentioned. I guess I was very naïve. I also had never heard of the term family estrangement before. I had never ever heard of anyone distancing themselves from their family. Sure we didn’t always see eye to eye with our own parents but we would never have eliminated them from our lives. It makes no sense. Family is precious. Yes, I was very naïve. Now I find that there are so many support groups online. When I read of similar stories being told by people on the opposite side of the world I realise that we are not alone and that this situation is a worldwide epidemic.

I personally find that distraction is the only way I can cope. I plan to keep myself healthy so that I am still here when my grandchildren come looking for me one day – as they surely will.


Thank you to our anonymous contributor for sharing this story. 

Have you ever experienced this isolation? If so, how did you cope? If you’d like to write about it for Starts at 60 – we’d love to hear your stories. See our guidelines here and submit your articles to us here.


This writer has chosen to remain anonymous.

  1. Isn’t it a horrible thing for them . I was the opposite .. I wanted my mum & dad involved , my mum pushed us away , and when I was a single parent with my two sons , it was worse .. I just lived down the street from them , and she chose to not visit , my youngest son loved my dad. He’d ask to go see grandad , he’d be gone 10 mins then be back , saying “nana sent me home ” I tried so hard with her. I’d call in on the way home from work, mum would open the door and say ” what are you doing here “!! As if I didn’t have a home to go too!! I’d be just checking in to see how she was . Dad would be there sometimes . She just pushed us away . I loved my dad , mum was cruel, judging criticising .. It was painful . Once boys grown up I actually left the area and then the country .

    13 REPLY
    • So very sad for you n your children…I have a friend whose mother did the same thing to her. She managed to get to see her dad on his deathbed only by means of sneaking into the hospital out of visiting hours with a lot of help from her daughter….it was so sad to see it happening And my heart goes out to you

    • Man that’s horrible… But I think your mum was hormonal….or suffering depression… Or anxiety … Can’t control it when it hits… Seems to eat at the compassion side of the brain. Hope you are happy where you are now and your children are happy also….

    • My heart goes out to you. My husband & I come from extended families so we love having our daughters & three GK’s around. We wouldn’t have it any other way!

    • Very sad for you. Did you ever ask your mum why she didn’t want to have the grand kids in her life.

    • This is so sad and I feel so much for people who can not see there grandchildren. Just hope when they get older they come looking for you all. Good luck to you all.

    • Dear Janice you have been cruelly treated.that should never have happened,your mum will be so sorry about what she did to you!i am pleased you have got on with your life I wish you all the best.

    • Very sad but you are obviously a survivor, my ex mother in law was a terribly unhappy nasty lady and I ended up choosing to not see her, my then husband was told by myself he could visit her with our daughters anytime, but I couldn’t put up with her any longer…it is self protection in my eyes

    • Yes my mum was the same we all loved dad but you would call in and she would slam the door in your face or say what do you want. So now dad has gone she wonders why no one visits her. Bugger the wrong one went first.

    • My mother is the same and poor dad follows along. I have the joy of a wonderful grandson and I am involved as much as the parents allow. I tread very carefully! He is so worth it!

    • Somebody has to be related to the bad people.

      I bet Mother’s Day is hard for you.

      People think when you become a mother you stop craving the love of your own mother… Truth is… you want that love even more.

      Stay strong.

      Adopt ‘other’ mothers. Their age is not an issue, all that matters is they ‘mother love’ you.

    • My son is dead and I cry every day Mother’s Day is a bugger but I am blessed with 7 beautiful grandsons and I love them and they love me. It’s just wonderful my kids and the 11 of them won’t even walk across the road to say hello after the way she treats me. Her loss not mine.

    • Oh sad Jenny .. I don’t get to see my grandchildren . My sons and their children live in Nz . My eldest won’t come to Australia ..

  2. Very sad and would hate to be in that situation. All the best and hope your daughter wakes up and sees the error of her ways

  3. Yes in same situation. I am the “mother in law”. My son doesn’t have the guts to stand firm and it also doesn’t help that there are cultural differences as well. Very hard to cope with emotionally.

    1 REPLY
  4. Its sad ,but it happens , cnt be force it ,it have to come fron daughter /son to b closer with mum nd dad ,so the kids cn be part of grandparents life ,if the daughter /son listen to his/her partner it mean ,he/she are just selfish person,if my partner /husband said to me i dnt want to the kids around ur parents /his parents … i would tell him off ,or i wont say anything to him, my children wont missed out only becuase some1 who is selfish /narcissistic not way …..i was blessed having both my grandparents , im a grown up woman i still missed them “/ i want my kids to feel the same way “)

  5. How sad. Can’t understand how a grandmother could also cause estrangement. My grandchildren mean the world to me, and my husband!

    1 REPLY
    • thing is Margaret, you are not on your own with this; my younger sister has turned her back on her gorgeous daughter hubby and grandies….it is sooo ditsressing and sooo common out there! all I can say is – hugs to y’all.

  6. Can u post about the support groups pls? My son won’t speak 2me and I haven’t seen my 2grandchildren, I’ve given up hope

    9 REPLY
    • don’t give up as they children get older, they will want to know about you and will probably come and find you

    • Have you tried writing a letter, Judith? Sometimes we can say the things we want to say without the face to face friction. Cruel situation for both you and the grandchildren. Best of luck.

    • Christine its ok to write a letter but what if the wife gets hold of it first reads it then destroys it and never gives to that ladys son??

    • I did msg him months back, Christine, saying how life is so short and unpredictable, asking how we could reconcile, only 2be verbally abused again. Hard 2get my head around so try not 2dwell on it

    • I would also like to know where the support groups are. I adore my only grandson and his mother {my daughter} uses it to punish me and claims I love him more than her.
      Walking on eggshells is my life around her if I want to see my grandson at all. It is excrutiating. I have tried talking, written her letters from my heart, nothing works.

    • Judith, maybe in the future he will get the same treatment from his children, then he will understand the pain he put you through. Some children are very self righteous and unforgiving yet the parents are expected to put up with whatever they dish out. At least you have tried. No-one is perfect and life is indeed very short. Pity your son can’t see this.

  7. This is my story also. Except in my case it is my son who seems to be totally dominated by his partner. I have never seen my 3 year old granddaughter. I keep sending her birthday and Christmas presents but I don’t know if she ever gets them.

    16 REPLY
    • That’s sad… They might think you don’t care… If they not too far away why don’t you go for a visit or phone up to speak to your son and grand daughter…

    • The same with me an insecure wife talked my son to leave and work in the country. Since they moved I saw their son then my husband died both left after the funeral and blocked me out of their lives completely. They had a second baby I have not seen I sent gifts no response. So now I do what they want no contact. He has no contact with any members of my family even his grandmother and his childhood mates she has isolated him

    • Oh I’ve tried building bridges alright Diane. We have almost had a ‘meeting’ with our son and our granddaughter, but then he cancelled at the last minute. He is weak.

    • I refuse to be held to ransom over grandchildren. No calls, no presents from me. You are only hurting yourself. Hard but true!

    • Yes we where the same with my husbands grandchildren sent xmas Easter birthday presents we have stopped now as we never ever knew if they got them so no more my kids are different we get a phone call every time to say thanks. He hasn’t seen his grand children for nine years but it dosent seem to worry him. As he said I was ready to walk away years ago.

    • I was at a market many years ago this lady asked me how old my daughter was I asked why she told me she has a grand daughter and grandson about the same ages as mine who she knits and sews for and sends the presents to them but they never ever say thank u and he son doesn’t come and see her nor rings anymore since he married but he did put a mothers day card in her letter box but couldn’t come to her door to see her.. this lady was in tears as he husband had also passed away and she just wanted to see her son and grand children so I took her for a coffee and she talked and talked I felt so sorry for her she said she had just come from the solicitors remaking her will that seeing her son doesn’t care about her and her grand children don’t ever ring she has left everything to an organisation that looks after abandoned animals.. she just wanted someone to talk to her I often think of this lady that was a very long time ago and I have never forgotten that day…I was also stopped from seeing or speaking to my daughter and grand daughter but that grand daughter still wont have a long conversation with me she has been told so much crap and lies about me from her fathers family and her father …

    • I have spoken to some of my cousins about MY Grandparents as their mother hated them and would not let them or their father see his parents.. I asked how come u want to know about them now they have been dead for years?? make me sick to hear family looking into the grandparents after them being gone for over 50yrs… \

    • God Cheryl….my heart just aches for her! We count ourselves sooo lucky that we have a great relationship with our daughter, her husband and his 2 sons…they are a 10hr return drive away but we visit – phone – txt and Skype….I just do not understand folk who turn away from their parents/children….but then – who am I to comment as am the eldest of 8 – 5 of us get on so well…2 are unaccounted for and ahve careers in Psych; and we believe, are responsible for our much loved mothers premature death; they have turned their backs on us after ripping mum and us off, and now after 9 years I can I can finally relax and say ‘they sure as shootin’ are not our problem’ anymore – a good feeling; the other 1? well, kinda screwed up, and blames us all for her life! sad but again, i am now walking away from her and her mad ways…she is missing out on such a loot of love and laughter…aren’t families just plain weird?

    • Omg I feel so bad for you other grand parents. I’m blessed only have one daughter we have always been best friends I see my grand children nearly every day. We are all really close. I think today grandparents can seek visitation right. For the ones that would go down that path maybe you want to give it a try. Good luck to you all.

    • If men isolate their partners, they are called all sorts of names…most of them applicable…but it seems if women do the same, it is somehow acceptable. Parents do NOT have the right to interfere with the relationship theirchildren have withnother members of their family, unless there is a risk of abuse or other danger. I feel that some parents are going to be in for some uncomfortable questions in the future…as they should be. I hope it hurts.

  8. I find it hard to do the right thing by all of them. Some are raised manners and respect. Some are raised to be destructive with no conform or respect . some families don’t want their children to know the old ways as they were wrong… It all too hard sometimes…I’ve seen total rudeness and disrespect directed at grandparents that’s bought them to tears… Not like it was for some..

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