Several years ago, my then teenage grandson stole property from my home. When I noticed the property was missing, I asked my daughter about it and she responded, “Somehow, it ended up in his suitcase. I will send it back.” I let some time pass before asking about it again and she responded, “I’m leaving that choice up to him.” The property was never returned so when birthdays and Christmas came along, I did not mail the usual check I had been sending him since birth because I believe you do not reward bad behavior. She feels the money is his entitlement and has not spoken to me since. They live many states away and I seldom see them so it’s not a big void in my life, but I hate to think we can no longer have any kind of relationship over this.
Also, a similar situation happened with her eldest son five years ago when he got married. I sent a check for their wedding and several years later heard that his bride was unhappy that I had not sent a gift when they married. I went to the bank for a copy of the certified check and his signature was on it. He had cashed the check, tossed the card, and hid from his new bride that he’d done that. When I asked him about it, he said it “slipped his mind.” I’m still waiting for an apology for that but I’m certain it will never arrive. How should I respond?
It’s painful to experience a complete lack of ownership from not only your grandchildren, but also from their mother. Healthy relationships require mutual respect, which, sadly, is missing in your relationships with these family members. Let’s talk about how you can respond.
It’s important to recognize that every person in these scenarios responded in ways that made sense to them. Your teen grandson felt good about stealing property and not returning it. Your daughter felt good about not mailing it back and allowing him to decide how he wanted to handle it. Your married grandson felt good about hiding money from his new wife. You felt good about halting the annual gifts of money to your grandsons and sending the message that you don’t reward bad behavior.
The result of these combined choices has left your family with more distance than you likely anticipated. It’s tragic, for sure. It’s also honest. In other words, you’ve asked them to be accountable for the mistakes they’ve made, and they’ve chosen to disregard their individual responsibilities. You’ve chosen not to continue forward as if everything is repaired. You’re responding from a place of honesty and integrity and their responses reflect their true intentions to not make restitution.
I see the pain, for sure. However, living in a false reality is much more damaging than enduring the pain of an honest reality. You could certainly ignore it and move forward as if it didn’t happen. I don’t know if the stolen item has any lasting value to you, but I can tell that expecting your family members to treat you and your property with respect is important to you.
Even though you asked your daughter to intervene and help him learn some important lessons, she chose to leave this between you and him. Your choice to hold him accountable for his dishonest behavior is how you’re handling his choice to do nothing about it. Since it’s between you and your grandson now, perhaps you can use this as an opportunity to focus on relationship instead of consequences.
You don’t have to use money to repair the relationship, but you can still make attempts to engage with him directly. Perhaps you make time to visit with him and see how he feels about what happened. Perhaps you let him know that the item isn’t more important than your relationship with him, but that you’d like to have him consider the impact of his choices on you and others. You could also stop talking about the stolen item and the failure of accountability and, instead, just focus on spending time building a relationship with him.
If your money is the only connection to you, then perhaps you can reconsider why this is the case. I’m certainly not blaming you for his lack of integrity. However, I do recommend you look closely at your own interpersonal efforts in your relationship with your daughter and grandsons. Have you made ongoing efforts over the years to be a part of their lives? While there is no excuse for stealing, you can make sure you’re doing everything you can to build relationship with them.
It’s painful to have your daughter and grandsons distance themselves over material reasons. I encourage you to invite them into relationship. Let them know you want to find ways to rebuild and reconnect with them. You can still certainly hold your financial limits with them, as you need to feel good about how you’re managing your resources. You can let them know you’d like to put the money and things aside and build a more meaningful connection. They may not be interested, but I encourage you to consider this as a way to rebuild a bridge with them.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at [email protected]
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About the Author
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, host of the podcast, “From Crisis to Connection”, and creates online relationship courses. He earned degrees from Brigham Young University and Auburn University. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.
The advice offered through Geoff Steurer’s column is educational and informational in nature and is provided only as general information. It is not meant to establish a therapist-patient relationship or offer therapeutic advice, opinion, diagnosis treatment or to establish a standard of care. Although Geoff Steurer is a trained psychotherapist, he is not functioning in the role of a licensed therapist by writing this column, but rather using his training to inform these responses. Thus, the content is not intended to replace independent professional judgment. The content is not intended to solicit clients and should not be relied upon as medical or psychological advice of any kind or nature whatsoever. The information provided through this content should not be used for diagnosing or treating a mental health problem or disease. The information contained in these communications is not comprehensive and does not include all the potential information regarding the subject matter, but is merely intended to serve as one resource for general and educational purposes.