Help! Our Wonderful Teenage Granddaughter Is Ruining My Life.

Advice on manners and morals.
Feb. 2 2012 6:30 AM

Empty Nest Wanted

We didn’t expect to be raising a grandchild at our age. Is it OK to ship her off?

Emily Yoffe.
Emily Yoffe

Photograph by Teresa Castracane.

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Dear Prudence:
My husband and I have been happily married for three years. We each have grown children from our first marriages. His daughter had a baby as a teenager, and my husband and his first wife raised “Maggie” until she was 5 years old. After Maggie’s father was discharged from the military, he and his wife raised her. Last summer, he was convicted of a crime and incarcerated. His wife divorced him and was unable to care for Maggie, so she came to live with us. She is a 16-year-old high-school sophomore, very pretty and well-behaved; she is involved in sports and sees a therapist weekly. My husband has been appointed her legal guardian until she turns 18. He and I work full time and have had to give up kayaking and travel for family dinners and sports practice. I’m feeling a huge sense of loss about my wonderful life with my husband. I know this sounds selfish, but I raised my kids, and I was looking forward to our gradual retirement and relaxing of responsibilities. Maggie's mother is now married, has small children, and lives across the country. We have taken Maggie to visit, and it’s gone well. I would like Maggie to go live with her mother, who loves the idea, because she’s been wracked with guilt for abandoning her. She and her husband are struggling financially, but my husband and I could help. My husband is a kind man, and he is afraid to let his granddaughter go again. Maggie would prefer to live with us in comfort than with her birth mother and her family. What should we do?

—Wicked Step-Grandmother

Dear Wicked,
Let’s say Maggie was a dog. You wouldn’t advocate re-homing her yet again, because it would be too traumatic. You are rightly feeling wicked because you know making Maggie live with a group of struggling virtual strangers will be disastrous. It's good to facilitate a relationship between Maggie and her mother, but you don’t send a high school sophomore to start over at a new school with a new family. Let’s be blunt about your self-interest. Maggie is 16 and, despite everything she’s been through, on the right track. If she continues along this path, in two years she will be heading off to college. But if you want your husband to withdraw the love, support, and stability she has with you two, then you will vastly increase the chances that this girl falls apart. In that case, you will have an undone teenager living in your basement for the foreseeable future. Sure, you’d like your life to look like a Cialis commercial (presumably without the need for Cialis). But instead, for the next couple of years, it’ll be more like a Playtex Sport tampon advertisement. (And I don’t understand why the three of you can’t do some traveling and kayaking together.) You married a decent man who’s now the legal guardian of his granddaughter. Honor that obligation and the fact that he took it on. It’s likely you will benefit from having chosen someone who doesn’t flinch when circumstances get tough. Surely by this point in your life, you know how fleeting two years will be. I also have a 16-year-old high-school sophomore, and my husband and I are feeling acutely how swiftly the time will pass before our daughter is off.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence Video: My Mom Won’t Shut Up!

Dear Prudence,
Three months ago I lost my baby girl, who was stillborn at six months. I am 40 years old, and after years of trying, this would have been our first child. My husband and I went from planning a baby shower to organizing a burial. Our friends were supportive and loving, and one of them in particular took the lead in sending word out and checking on me. “Ashley” has two kids and one on the way. She is a good friend, but some things she says are hurtful, such as: "I'm so much more blessed than you." Or she’ll call and chatter about how her daughter is giving her a hard time, then say she pities me because I don’t have children. Recently she asked if I was having the worst winter of my life. I responded that it wasn't the best, to which she said she was having a great winter. She also pries about what’s happening at my workplace and acts as if we are in some kind of competition. It’s hard to make friends in our small community, but I fear I’ve made a mistake in letting her get so close during this crisis. How do I deal with this?

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—Not So Blessed Friend

Dear Not,
Ashley’s not your friend; you’re her foil. Of course she was deeply involved when you suffered your grievous loss—other people’s pain appears to be a balm to her. It seems you have become her walking evil eye; as long as you suffer, the fates leave her unscathed. I understand that the last thing you need is a confrontation with her, but you must stop being subjected to her malign and twisted comments. I don’t have much hope for this friendship. People like Ashley tend to be low on self-insight and high on self-justification. The next time she tells you how blessed she is and how benighted you are, you should say something like, “What a hurtful thing to say, and I can’t imagine why you would say it. Especially since I lost my baby, you’ve made many such observations, and I don’t want to hear anymore.” If she apologizes, she’s on probation. If she responds with umbrage and self-pity (my prediction) no matter how small your town, you need to put distance between the two of you. She may badger you to continue the friendship, but tell her you two need a break. It may seem like one more wrenching thing in your life to lose a friend, but removing Ashley will likely help your recovery. When you’re up for it, explore book clubs, yoga classes, or other ways to find like-minded people. Please consider contacting Share, a pregnancy and infant loss support organization. Through their online or in-person groups, you will find nonjudgmental people who truly understand what you’re going through.

—Prudie

Dear Prudie,
My brother and sister-in-law have been married for two years but have yet to consummate their marriage. Our family has gathered through tidbits of information that there are several issues. Among them: They were both virgins when they married in their early 20s. She has no sex drive and severe anxiety about how painful intercourse might be. He spent the first six months of the marriage in extreme frustration but now seems to believe that things will just work themselves out. Neither expresses a need for help. They do talk about having children soon, which is awkward to hear. The men in my family have tried to give him advice on how to alleviate her fear and ignite her desire, but he either doesn't get it or it just isn't working. She is also fixated on male celebrities and talks about them like she should be talking about her husband. I love her dearly, and we want to intervene somehow to help them. What should we do?

—Outside Looking In

Dear Outside,
It’s too bad celebrities don’t offer their services for such situations. Maybe a few days with Robert Pattinson of the Twilight series could rouse your sister-in-law from the sexually dead. Forget the tips from Uncle Dick; this couple needs serious intervention. I suggest separate conversations. Have a trusted male family member pull your brother aside, and since you have a good relationship with your sister-in-law, sit down and talk with her. Direct both of them to the website of Dr. Clifford and Joyce Penner, who are Christian sex therapists. (I know you haven’t mentioned religion, but Christian sex therapists know a lot about unconsummated marriages.) The Penners’ website has books and DVDs that can give this couple some comforting information and instruction. They could also contact the Penners for help or a referral. Accept that they are both adults and might not take your advice. In which case, if she turns up pregnant, consider it a miracle.

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