Are You There, Moms? It’s Me, Idiot How Do You Explain An Estranged Grandparent To Your Children?

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mom adviceAre You There, Moms? It’s Me, Idiot is an ongoing series dedicated to helping one very well-intentioned and dumb future-parent learn about the world of childrearing. Click here to see past columns.

We’re coming up on Father’s Day, which for me usually entails a grilling-themed bonanza and presenting my dad with some sort of Mickey Mantle-themed paraphernalia. I have had a pretty charmed life–despite some hellish years, my relationship with my parents is solid and ever improving. Mother’s and Father’s Day are fun days for me, and are free of too much baggage. But it’s obvious to me that those days aren’t so easy for many people who are estranged from their parents, and are a harsh reminder of their parents’ absence.

Bethany‘s touching post about the insensitive things estranged children hear around Father’s Day inspired me to ask a question I’ve been kicking around for quite some time: how do you explain estranged parents to kids?

While I am very, very lucky and count my blessings when it comes to my parents, someone I’m very close to–let’s just say his future is pretty linked to mine–doesn’t have the same family situation. He’s been estranged from his mother for years and speaks to his father a few times a year at most. Neither of his parents know where we live, where we work, or how to find us. He even changed his name.

And so how would a person in this situation explain the absence of grandparents to children? Do you lie, and say they’re dead? What’s an age appropriate way of saying “they’re alive, but they can’t be in your life because the choices they have made make that impossible.” How do you tell a kid that your own parents are bad people, and maybe even dangerous? I know that lying probably isn’t the way to go, but these concepts are hard for grown ups to even grasp (I still have trouble getting my head around it). How do you explain estrangement in kid-friendly terms?


  1. NoMissCleo...JustMe

    June 13, 2014 at 1:07 pm

    I’ve got a related, but different issue – how do we explain a grandparents suicide? Right now my daughter just knows that her daddy’s daddy is gone and that Daddy misses him very much. But someday she will ask about how he passed away and we aren’t quite sure how to answer that question. My husband doesn’t want to tell her, but I also think that if she were to find out the truth from someone other than us…that would be a betrayal of trust. I also fear for her mental health because my FIL, my husband and members of my family have all struggled with depression, anxiety, and addiction. Sigh. I wish I had an answer…

    • Momma425

      June 13, 2014 at 1:15 pm

      I had a friend who committed suicide as a teenager and his parents didn’t even use the word “suicide” very often.
      They choose to say that their son had a disease (depression) and died due to complications having to do with that.
      You can use it as a teaching moment to discuss depression, anxiety, and mental illness with your children.

    • pixie

      June 13, 2014 at 1:29 pm

      I think it’s important to have age-appropriate honesty and discussions with her as she grows. Knowing family health history, including mental health, is very important. I don’t think it would be a good idea in the long run to try and hide it forever. Pretty much, I’m agreeing with what Momma425 is saying. You probably shouldn’t go out and tell her at such a young age exactly what he did, but you probably also shouldn’t hide it, especially with a family history of mental health problems.

      I had a friend in elementary school whose mother committed suicide when my friend was very young, maybe in junior kindergarten or kindergarten. Her parents were already split up and she had a younger brother (and half-brother), but I remember she knew exactly how her mom died even in the first grade when I met her. And even though she knew the cause of death (and how it was done…I’m not sure how she knew that, somehow she did), her dad and step-mom never had a discussion about mental health and depression with her. That caused a lot of problems for her, such as becoming obsessed with the suicide note and acting out as she got older. Her younger brother, on the other hand, wasn’t told until he was a young teen and he was very upset. He had no memories of his mom, but felt that he’d been lied to his entire life.

      I know it’s a bit different from your situation, but that’s my two cents.

    • NoMissCleo...JustMe

      June 13, 2014 at 1:33 pm

      I’m definitely against hiding “family secrets” because I think family secrets breeds MORE family secrets, if you know what I mean. It’s just a fine line to walk because in essence, it’s really not my story to tell – it has to come from my husband – but we have to be on the same page. He has a very complicated relationship with his father, but I told him that she gets the luxury of NOT knowing his father’s sordid past, but instead to know all the good things about him. I don’t know. She’s three, so we obviously have some time before we REALLY have to address the issue.

    • pixie

      June 13, 2014 at 1:54 pm

      Yeah, I agree that family secrets breed more family secrets, and that it has to come from him. Hopefully, with time, you’ll both come up with some sort of solution and get on the same page. I also understand that it’s probably very hard on your husband because of how his father died and the complicated relationship.

      I just unfortunately witnessed two extreme opposites (well, witnessed one and heard about the other through a mutual friend) within the same family to a suicide and how the remaining parent handled telling his children. And I’m sure he and the step-mom did what they thought was best, so I’m trying not to sound like I’m judging them – they were really nice people. Unfortunately, my friend kind of fell into a not-so-good crowd of people and began really acting out in grade 7 and 8 that I decided it was best to go to a different high school (which I’m kind of happy I did because she pulled a knife on another friend in grade 9; a mutual friend that I still had contact with in high school told me about that and her brother learning about his mom’s death). I hold no ill will against her and hope she’s gotten the help she needed, and obviously, her and her brother are not examples of what happens to every kid who learns too soon (for their maturity) or much later than they would have liked.

    • NoMissCleo...JustMe

      June 13, 2014 at 4:11 pm

      You know, I’m really proud of my husband for the man he has become because of and in spite of his father’s life and death. It was an event that so acutely shaped his world view, but yet he has come to the realization that even though he has followed in his father’s footsteps career-wise, he has the opportunity to be the family man and father that his dad never was. Of course, holidays and birthdays are hard because we have a beautiful little girl who would love to have another Grandpa hanging around loving on her, but all things considered – he has a really good attitude about the whole thing.

    • pixie

      June 13, 2014 at 4:23 pm

      That’s good. And I hope I didn’t come across as suggesting your husband is anything less than a wonderful man and father, because I wasn’t 🙂

    • NoMissCleo...JustMe

      June 13, 2014 at 6:29 pm

      No, no, no…your statement about his relationship being complicated was spot on and as far as he has come (he wouldn’t even MENTION his dad when we first dated), there is still a lot of room for him to grow – especially in how he communicates about his father to our girl. It’s just when I read that I realized that he has made tremendous strides and I’m really proud of him for that and I’m telling random people on the internet about it because when I tell him, he just blushes and scoffs. 🙂

    • Lee

      June 13, 2014 at 1:59 pm

      My paternal grandfather was a sociopath and committed “police assisted” suicide. My family DOES NOT talk about it. I found out from my mom when I was around 13. They always just said he died in a tragic accident which was a good enough explanation for me a child. It does suck that I can’t ask questions about it even as an adult because my dad and aunt still really hurt over it and my mom doesn’t really have the answers. I suggest being open even though it is a hard topic.

    • K.

      June 13, 2014 at 2:27 pm

      Depression is in my family as well.

      I second the advice that you should be honest about it and that you also think of it as a disease (which it is), and like many chronic diseases, some people manage to be cured and some people die from it. Most live their lives managing it–that’s obviously not stuff you would tell a little kid, but I think it’d be important for a teenager or older child to know in case they ever become depressed.

      For a young child, I’m not sure if “suicide” is the way to go, in the sense that you could couch it in terms of, “Grandpa was very, very sick.” It might be a little much for a 3yo to learn that people can willfully kill themselves.

    • NoMissCleo...JustMe

      June 13, 2014 at 4:12 pm

      Yeah. We’re not going that route quite yet. I told my husband he needs to give his dad a “grandpa” name and just say that he was sick and passed away.

  2. Bethany Ramos

    June 13, 2014 at 1:09 pm

    Thanks for the shout out! I really look forward to hearing responses here.

  3. jane

    June 13, 2014 at 1:14 pm

    We don’t have this situation, but in response to any tough question, I always think that the answer is age-appropriate honesty. Don’t say that someone who is alive is dead. I think when kids are really young you can just say “they live really far away so it’s hard to see them.” When they get a little older it’s “we made a choice to live really far away because we don’t get along very well and fight a lot.” And a little older you can start explaining the reasons behind the estrangement.

    The one thing that I would add is that you should always reassure them that you would never ever make the choice to be away from your kids. Something about “making different choices as a dad so that we can be close forever.” I also think that it’s important to be honest about your feelings about the estrangement. “Yes, sometimes it does make me sad that they’re so far away.” “I am sad that we can’t be friends, but sometimes two people just really can’t get along.” “It would make me sad if you and I didn’t speak to each other, but I’ve gotten pretty used to not speaking to my dad.”

    My experience is that kids will ask surprisingly little, and are happy with simple answers for a long long time.

    • Linzon

      June 13, 2014 at 5:26 pm

      Thank you, this is a great post. Right now my 3-year old is content with “He lives in (city) and that’s really far away from us” but I wasn’t sure where to go next.

    • gothicgaelicgirl

      June 14, 2014 at 11:10 am

      Pretty much the same response my parents gave us (me and bro) when they were divorcing, they said “We love you guys, but we get on better living in our own houses, instead of not getting on in one house”

      It worked for us lol

  4. Megan Zander

    June 13, 2014 at 1:16 pm

    “His future is pretty linked to mine”- hold the Zak Morris phone- does Julia have NEWS???

    • Julia Sonenshein

      June 13, 2014 at 2:33 pm

      I PROMISE that if I had news, you all would know about it big time!

    • Elisa Probert

      June 13, 2014 at 3:12 pm

      We’re watching you, young lady!

    • Valerie

      June 13, 2014 at 2:37 pm

      My love for you deepens with that reference.

    • Elizabeth Johnson

      June 13, 2014 at 7:45 pm


      ☭☭☭ ☭�☭☭ ☭☭☭ ☭�☭☭ ☭☭☭

    • Megan Zander

      June 13, 2014 at 10:30 pm

      I miss you!!!

    • Valerie

      June 14, 2014 at 9:43 am

      I just messaged you!!!! Miss you!!!

  5. Megan Zander

    June 13, 2014 at 1:18 pm

    I have no clue, and it will have to answer this question one day. Hoping for some good answers here momjones where are you?

    • momjones

      June 13, 2014 at 1:27 pm

      I am so touched that you asked me for some input. Posts like this always break my heart – my own experiences include incredibly loving grandparents (all of them), and parents (in laws too). Of course, age appropriate is a main thing. I also think that such horrifying behavior is a result of some kind of untreated mental illness, and perhaps you could approach it that way. Maybe mention that dealing with the person could make you or your child ill in some way, and it is healthier for you to stay away from them. And of course, you could always assure your children that you will always take care of them as well as make sure you and they are healthy. This, too, gives you the opportunity to teach them compassion and understanding for those with mental illness without being specific about the things they have done.

    • Megan Zander

      June 13, 2014 at 1:29 pm

      Thank you! I really like the idea of approaching it as an illness/ sickness. As always, so helpful.

    • momjones

      June 13, 2014 at 1:32 pm

      The thing is to not make them scared of mental illness, but to make it clear that the person involved has chosen not to get help or treatment. That way you are not excusing the behavior nor or you implying that mental illness is a big, bad, terrifying thing.

    • NoMissCleo...JustMe

      June 13, 2014 at 1:36 pm

      And you can also include a lesson about protecting oneself from harmful influences. That it’s okay to not always be friendly with people that are mean or toxic in your life. “Right now we are going to take care of us and that means maybe not seeing Granny for awhile so that we can stay healthy and content.”

  6. Lindsey

    June 13, 2014 at 1:22 pm

    I’d say go along the route of some families have grandparents and some don’t. Or, just the truth, that sometimes dads and moms are bad.

  7. val97

    June 13, 2014 at 1:23 pm

    My mom did not speak to her mother for something like 10 years. She lived in a different state, and my mother just told us it was too far away and too expensive to call. I guess we never really questioned it because we were so young. They reconciled when I was 9 or 10, and then she would send cards. I visited her as a teen. But we were never close.

    My husband is estranged from both his biological father and step-father. His father was just never in his life; his stepfather was abusive. The kids are very close with his mother and her husband (his “new” stepfather), so that’s not really an issue either. They are the grandparents.

    Finally, I think I’ve mentioned it before, but my son’s biological father is not in his life. I’ve explained that he is an addict and unable to care for kids, but that maybe he and my son can meet sometime when my son is an adult. I try to bring him up in conversation, like, oh, your bio father (we call him by his first name) does that sport, was good at math, etc. But surprisingly I get very few questions. It’s just not part of our daily lives.

    I think, at least in my experience, that kids are very much about the day to day. If there’s someone they’ve never met, that person is just kind of an idea and not really present in their minds much.

  8. biggerthanthesound

    June 13, 2014 at 1:31 pm

    Kind of not the same thing, but my kids aren’t seeing their dad right now. What I tell them is that sometimes we don’t see dad and that’s okay. He is still loving you and thinking about you. If they asked me about their paternal grandparents, I would say the same thing. I don’t want my kids to think that anything is more important to their dad or grandparents than seeing them and at the same time I don’t want them to feel stress about the situation. So far, it has worked awesome and they don’t seem to be traumatized.

  9. Lilly

    June 13, 2014 at 1:40 pm

    My son is weirdly helped I think by the fact that my father passed away 5 years ago, so grandfathers aren’t really in the picture for him — little dude is surrounded by a zillion aunts and only grandmas he lives a pretty spoiled life.
    Since he is really young I am sure at some point he will ask my husband about his dad, I am not sure what we’ll say. I think it will be weird as my husband has had no contact with anyone related to his father for about 15-20 years, hell half the time I even forget that his father is alive and kicking somewhere.

  10. K.

    June 13, 2014 at 1:45 pm

    This isn’t my experience, so take this with a grain of salt, but I think that honesty and simplicity are your best bets.

    “Grandpa and I don’t get a long very well so we don’t see him very often.” That’d be my instinct for what to say. Sometimes, I think that adults tend to overthink how kids are going to feel and react and end up putting ideas into their heads that they wouldn’t have (“Mom and I are getting a divorce–but it’s not your fault!” was one I’ve heard several people complain about–like, it had never occurred to them that it WOULD be their fault, but since everyone kept telling them it wasn’t…they sort of started to wonder if it was some kind of cover-up).

  11. noodlestein

    June 13, 2014 at 1:50 pm

    I’d go for simple, age appropriate honesty, like everyone has said. Kid are SO much more resiliant than we give them credit for. I think that if it’s handled with simplicity and caring, they will be able to handle it just fine. Kids are pretty smart.

  12. T.F.

    June 13, 2014 at 2:32 pm

    My mother is estranged from her father and has been for my entire life. I’ve never met the man. I don’t recall being given any explanation as a child (although I’ve heard the story as an adult). Maybe a “he’s not around” or “he wasn’t very nice” was said when I was little but I don’t remember for sure. It honestly, for me, was a complete and total non-issue. I didn’t have a grandpa on that side of the family, just like lots of kids. I never felt like anything was lacking in my life, or I was missing out on some special relationship. I’m sure it also helped that no one in my mom’s family talked to him, so there wasn’t any drama about it. I had no grandfather, the end.

    I always shake my head at people who say things like “but your kids need a grandparent!” to those who are estranged. The way I look at it is that if my mom, whom I love tremendously, has decided that being around this person isn’t good for me, I trust her judgment. My husband and I are in the same situation now, as he doesn’t speak to his father. Because of my experience, I’m not at all stressed about my daughter asking about it, if she even ever does.

  13. Elisa Probert

    June 13, 2014 at 3:11 pm

    I don’t really know…Sigh Wish I did, as I’m probably going to have to have a similar talk with my own kids when I have them.

    When I was about 15, my siblings and I asked our mom to cut off contact with her mother. I didn’t know all the details then, other than my grandmother would constantly say ugly, hurtful, thoughtless things and then expect Mom to be glad she’d said them. Our reasoning was simple. Mom talks to Grandma for a half hour, Mom ends up crying for the better part of a week, and during that time, we have no mom to speak of. Better to lose a grandparent we’d barely met than to have someone we lived with and needed and loved being completely non-functional.

    That lasted maybe ten years, then Mom’s older brother passed away and Mom became the oldest of Grandma’s kids. Which, according to her upbringing, means she has to “take care of mom” when she can’t care for herself any longer. I’m trying desperately to convince her that when that time comes, she does NOT have to bring her mother to live with her. My sister is living at home on disability due to some severe emotional problems, and if our grandmother is there, all the time, it will kill my sister. If my grandmother does end up at my mom’s house, I will offer my sister my loft to live in. Unfortunately, I do want a kid or two, and she really can’t handle being around children, either. But better that than a vicious, bitter, and hateful woman who believes that anyone who is disabled or who has Down’s syndrome or is deaf should be locked up “away from normal people,”

    • AwesomeMargie

      June 13, 2014 at 3:30 pm

      That is awful. I am so sorry.

    • Elisa Probert

      June 13, 2014 at 3:46 pm

      Yeah…my grandmother is a horrible person. After she got divorced from my grandfather, she did things like returning any and all cards and letters from him or his sisters. She’d return child support checks and then tell my mom and her siblings that their dad wasn’t sending them and that he never wanted to hear from them again.

      She’d be late coming home from work, and then hit my mom for doing the responsible thing and cooking some dinner for the younger siblings, because she was “trying to take her place.” I’ve actually heard her say she wishes abortions had been easier to get in the 50s because she would have gotten one instead of having my mother.

      Not once has she ever said anything that was unconditionally nice to my mom or any of my mom’s kids. And still, I feel guilty for not calling her more than once a year.

      I’ve had a recurring dream where I had a baby, and it was a dwarf, and she said something to the effect of “it would be better off dead” and I tell her to go fuck herself in the eye with steak knife. I think, if and when I do actually have a child, she will not be welcome in our lives. Much better than ending up telling somebody to go do that!

    • AwesomeMargie

      June 13, 2014 at 3:58 pm

      Absolutely. I don’t speak to my MIL because nothing is her fault. It’s everyone else’s. This time it happened to be mine. Whatever. I haven’t let her see my 22 month old son since he was just a month old.

      I don’t have to put up with anything. Ugh. Families.

      You have my hugs, friend.

    • C.J.

      June 13, 2014 at 4:03 pm

      That’s terrible, I hope your mom is able to realize she deserves better than that. I know it is hard not to feel guilty but there is nothing you can do about people like that. My life has been much better since I learned that I need to let it go and stop feel obligated.

    • gothicgaelicgirl

      June 14, 2014 at 11:13 am

      I hate when people think that just because someone is family, means they can get away with this kind of shit.
      I didn’t speak to my father for nearly two years because he was a very negative person.
      Thankfully, he got the help he needed to show him that he is very critical and old fashioned.

      We’re getting on better than ever, but the amount of people who told me “O he’s your DAD, you HAVE to get on with him”

      Em no, if someone is being a negative influence and draining any joy from you, you do not need that shit.

      I am sorry you have to go through that and that your mother has to go through it.

  14. AwesomeMargie

    June 13, 2014 at 3:15 pm

    This. My dad was estranged from his dad and I always thought he was dead until I was a teenager. My parents were honest and gave me facts rather than their personal opinions such as, “Fuck that guy.” Eventually we all reunited only for Grandpa to get over something silly and stop speaking to my dad. (He died never making up with him.) Yet, I continued to visit because I was fascinated by Grandpa and wanted to know about my family history, etc. My parents never stopped me and encouraged me. A few years ago, a month after my son was born, my husband and him mom had a falling out and me, trying to mediate, got blamed for everything by her. I am the bad person? Well, for now, while my son is still young (almost 2 years old) and I don’t want her to see my son. She badmouthed the mother of my husband’s nieces to their faces and in front of me so I know she will badmouth me to my son. For now, I don’t speak to her as well as getting to see my son. My husband, however, can visit and interact with her all he wants but he chooses not to. If this rift continues, I will follow my parents’ example and be honest about Grandma without interjecting too many adjectives about her behavior.

  15. Rainyjane

    June 13, 2014 at 3:32 pm

    Simple, age appropriate honesty.
    I would call my relationship with my father, estranged, except for the fact my family moved back in with my parents and I have to have contact with him. My father is an alcoholic, bully. So explaining to my daughter why she can’t go to the store with pop pop (bc on two separate occasions he didn’t buckle you into your car seat & blamed me when I freaked bc I bought “this stupid contraption” instead of admitting he made a mistake. Oh, and the f act we’re never sure when he’s sober.) has had it’s challenges.
    I am so upset with myself for bringing my daughter into this living situation. I NEVER wanted to move back in with him after college, bc of his abuse growing up. And I feel so guilty that my daughter knows what alcohol is, that it causes people to be mean and that, stay away from pop pop bc he’s drunk, is in her vocabulary. She knows that mommy and daddy love her and no matter where we are we are together and it’s our family & we are not going any where. So I think that makes her feel secure.
    We also tell her that what my father does, mommy and daddy do not agree with, and we do not do that in our family.

  16. Zettai

    June 13, 2014 at 3:41 pm

    I’ll probably the use the same line that my husband and I tell my well-meaning (but nosy) in-laws, and that’s a simple “We/they don’t get along.”

  17. C.J.

    June 13, 2014 at 3:49 pm

    I have an estranged sister and an estranged grandmother. I have always been truthful with my kids in an age appropriate way. when they were younger I told them their aunt had a sickness in her mind and that hopefully one day she would get better and come around again. They know my grandmother is not a nice person. They don’t ask about her and they don’t want to see her. She hurt them enough that I will never make them see her even if I lose my mind and go see her again before she dies.

  18. Lpag

    June 13, 2014 at 4:02 pm

    I am struggling with this myself. My eldest is 3 and my husband’s parents are not in the picture. So far he hasn’t noticed that he’s missing a set of grandparents (it helps that my parents are divorced and remarried, so my kids do have four grandparents in their lives), but one of these days he’s gonna figure out that something is missing. And I have no idea how to explain it…

  19. Greta Young

    June 13, 2014 at 5:23 pm

    Not estrangement exactly, but somewhat related — My kid’s dad never knew his biological father. When his mother got pregnant, the father gave her an ultimatum: it’s him or me. (She chose the unborn baby; he disappeared). He never even paid child support for 20 years, until the state caught up with him and she finally got a few grand in arrears, decades after she needed it.
    So we have no idea who our daughter’s paternal grandfather is (and no information about any of his ancestors), other than a first & last name and the state he lived in 30 years ago. I’m sure the topic will arise come family-tree assignments in grade school… but I see no point in concocting an alternative story. When our daughter starts asking us questions, we’ll try to be direct while remaining age-appropriate and neutral. A simple answer like “We never knew Grandpa Mike” is accurate, yet avoids projecting all the loss and abandonment issues onto one more generation.
    Ultimately, I don’t think young kids are going to miss what they don’t know they don’t have, if that makes sense. It’s a lot harder for my kid’s dad to deal with the the fact he never knew his father than it will be for our daughter to grow up knowing she has one Grandpa (my dad) who she sees often, who loves her a lot. I think there are ways to frame any situation in a sensitive yet honest light.

  20. Larkin

    June 13, 2014 at 9:31 pm

    I’m super curious to see how other people answer this. While I have a good relationship with both of my parents, my husband is completely estranged from his biological father. His stepfather is the one who raised him from the time he was very small, and he considers him to be his dad. Sadly, his stepfather passed away almost four years ago… so there will be no grandfather on that side.

    As far as my husband’s concerned, he’s going to the tell the as-yet-unborn kidlet that his late stepfather is his grandfather. If he had his way, he would never mention his biological father at all, but I’ve pointed out that this isn’t really realistic (especially since both his sister and his mother still talk to him on occasion, so he’s bound to come up in conversation). I’m hoping to be as honest as possible about the situation without getting into age-inappropriate details.

    Maybe something like: “[Bio dad] was Daddy’s father when he was born, but he and Daddy don’t see each other anymore. Grandpa [Stepfather] was the dad who took care of him and taught him things, just like Daddy does with you now.”

    • whiteroses

      June 13, 2014 at 9:59 pm

      My best friend’s husband is not my godson’s biological father. Over the years, she and I talked about how we would explain it all when he finally asked, just in case he asked me before her (his bio dad died in a car accident right after my godson was born, but he was never involved in my godson’s life).

      He asked his mom about it once, then he asked me. We both said the same thing: “Your daddy is your daddy. How you were born doesn’t matter that much. What matters is who is there for you.”

  21. Ingrid

    June 13, 2014 at 9:39 pm

    I grew up hearing about all the bad stuff my estranged grandfather did to my grandmother, dad, uncle. He was an abusive alcoholic, and no one had anything nice to say about him. I don’t remember my brother or I having any questions about him; he was a nonentity. I remember as a kid thinking it was nice to say “Grandpa” and everyone knew who I meant (my mom’s dad) because there was literally no relationship there. It was–and this was for us but not, I’m sure, for many people–very simply: “you have one grandfather.” I never thought it was weird.

  22. Guest

    June 13, 2014 at 10:47 pm

    Well my Mom just never brought up us having a Grandpa and I never asked. I had a baller Grandma so it didn’t prompt any questions. Then he showed up with his wife to a cousin’s grad party when I was about 9-10 and she said who he was. I didn’t ask until much later what happened but basically my aunt told me he was an alcoholic who left my Grandma high and dry with four children, never paid support, and only showed up to tell her that she had a new step mom in 7th grade. There was also talk about a possible half sibling out somewhere. The next time I saw him was when I watched him pass away at age 12. My mom waited until the very last minute to take us to say goodbye (to a guy I didn’t know) because I think she didn’t want to talk to him. I have a feeling some stuff may have gone down but I’ll probably never know. She didn’t cry when he passed or at his funeral. After he passed though my wonderful Grandma made sure we invited my newly widowed Step-Grandma to all of our family events. I actually got to know her and was able to say goodbye while she was still awake on her death bed. So I would say that out of some bad came good.

  23. footnotegirl

    June 13, 2014 at 11:18 pm

    As someone who dearly WISHES that grandma had been estranged and not part of our lives? You tell them in an age appropriate manner. When younger, don’t even mention the grandparent and they simply won’t ask. Once older, a slow growth from “We don’t see Grandx” to “Grandx was not a nice person.” to “We don’t feel safe around Grandx.” and then the full story when they’re old enough.

  24. SarahJane86

    June 13, 2014 at 11:44 pm

    I don’t? She is only 4, and hasn’t worked out she’s one grandparent short, but I have never even thought to mention it….

  25. Natalie

    June 14, 2014 at 12:57 am

    We weren’t exactly estranged from my paternal grandparents, but my siblings and I haven’t had a lot to do with them throughout our lives. My grandparents played favourites, both with their own children and then with their grandchildren. My dad’s younger sister has always been their favourite, followed by his second-elder sister, and then he and his oldest sister kinda come third/fourth depending on how they’re feeling. Luckily my dads a sensible kinda guy who doesn’t have a chip on his shoulder about it, so when the favouritism bled through to the next generation he was a great role model for us.

    Pretty much, my dad’s younger sister is still the favourite, and her kids are the favourite grand kids. The eldest is the absolute favourite, and it was kinda funny for me to watch the younger get drunk for the first time and admit to me that he finally understood how the rest of us cousins felt, because he realised his older sister was the number one grandchild!

    But, despite my mum hating the whole favouritism thing, my parents never bad mouthed my grandparents in front of us as kids. My grandparents lack of interest in us and our lives was a non-issue, and until my adult years I actually didn’t realise that other kids didn’t have that experience. Mum and dad just treated it like a normal part of life, and I’m sure that if we ever asked (I’m not sure we ever did!) they would just explain it the same way I now explain it to people who had awesome grandparents – they’re nice people we see once a year or so, who give us a small bottle of soft drink when we visit, but who we don’t have a lot in common with. And I think that not making it into a big deal, and just treating it like a fact of life, helped us as kids.

    That being said, I may have blocked out a bit of it. Mum told me a story a few years back that broke my heart for child me – for the favourite cousins 6th birthday, my grandad made her a beautiful wooden dollhouse that had working lights and everything. Apparently little me, whose 6th birthday was approaching, was head over heels in love with this house, and assumed that I, too, would receive one for my birthday. I don’t think it will surprise anyone to find out that I got something along the lines of coat hangers and hankies for that birthday. Luckily, my parents cushioned the blow and got my a wooden Barbie house, sadly knowing that my grandad wouldn’t think to make me a house too.

    But…yeah. Sometimes family suck, and sometimes you end up with awesome parents who fill in the gaps with more of their own love.

  26. Kelly

    June 14, 2014 at 7:43 pm

    I tell my son the truth. My parents are mean, abusive people and no one should tolerate abuse from anyone. It’s not ok to abuse someone because they’re your wife or husband or even your child.

  27. allisonjayne

    June 16, 2014 at 1:07 pm

    My kid is only 3, but I’m already a bit worried about all the family details she’ll end up knowing. I want to be honest with her, but I also don’t want her to feel like I’m unloading on her emotionally. I have friends who feel like their parents use them as free therapy and tell them too much…I don’t know where that line is exactly though. Sigh.

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