Surprisingly, I have been asked this question several times. A grandmother is estranged from her daughter and by default estranged from her grandchildren. She would like them to know that she loves them but she and her daughter have a very volatile relationship with little chance of repair.
There are layers and layers in the question, but with respect to all I’ll address only what was asked. Sometimes an answer to one question houses more answers anyway. In Constellation work we see – just like in sitcoms – how much grandparents usually love their grandchildren. The relationship is often a very spacious place in which love can be expressed without worry. The grandmother or grandfather is close to, but not so identified with, the grandchild, and thus may be freer to shower affection, to more fully express care. He or she is also older now, more seasoned, and often less frightened of relationship.
Sometimes we say that grandparents love their own child through the grandchild, giving him or her what they weren’t as well prepared to do 20 or 30 years ago. And often the adult child feels somewhat hurt by the new dynamic, seeing their mother or father suddenly be expressive, supportive, proud – after a lifetime of experiencing him or her as withholding, critical, disappointed.
Whatever the reason for estrangement, when we look at the line we see that the blockage between mother and daughter already affects three generations. The grandchildren are inadvertently cut off from one source of their strength without even knowing the details, and that will ripple down the line.
So, I invite this grandmother to step back from the scene for a moment in order to rejoin in a more expansive way. The connection to her grandchildren must include her daughter without asking anything of her. In other words, the grandmother can envision the “grand” in grandmother as creative and free. To wish, prod, provoke or scold her daughter only increases tension and further distorts connection.
How might she rejoin the scene? Perhaps she sets up a college fund for the grandchildren. Every week, on a Friday, she contributes something to it. A dollar, a twenty, a hundred, it doesn’t matter, it’s the currency, the energy going forward, taking care, carrying love and nourishment, even beyond this life.
Or perhaps she keeps a travel journal for them in which she describes the places she visits and what she learns along the way. There are photos and drawings and ticket stubs. She will leave this journal to them – or, it’s hoped, one day be able to give it to them. Either way, they will know, and feel even before they know, her presence.
She can also write a letter to her daughter. She looks at a photograph of the grandchildren she is so free to love, and she recalls in detail how they got here, reclaiming the safe and wonderful moments in that journey. She examines their faces and sees her daughter in them, how clearly she can be seen in their eyes, their hair, their smiles. She need not send this letter, but to write it turns a tide internally, so that she can be ready anew.
These types of gestures, in addition to their inherent beauty, create room for reconnection when the time comes. When her own desperation and anger and fear subside as she finds new ways to rejoin the scene, love’s sweet determination may very well find its way back into the conversation. There is no timeframe for that.