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Luann, Psychologist
Category: Mental Health
Satisfied Customers: 158
Experience:  Licensed Psychologist, 24 years experience working with children, adolescents, families and adults.
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I have custody of my 6yo grandson. My daughter moved away

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I have custody of my 6yo grandson. My daughter moved away for college when he was 18mo old, then moved back when he was 4, left again when he was 5 but has maintained contact regularly. We visit her fairly often (she is about 5.5 hrs away). Lately he has been very sad and cries often saying he misses his Mommy and wants to live with her. At this point in her life, it would not be stable for him due to her life choices. I am very concerned about the effects on him emotionally with her floating in and out of his day to day life. After every visit, it takes a few days for him for him to settle down again. Please, any advice....
Luann :


Luann :

It is so fantastic that your grandson has you in his life. Having a stable, reliable adult makes a huge impact on a child's development. It is natural that he would want the love and approval of his mother. While it is great that he has had regular contact with her, it also makes him sad that he doesn't have her all the time. He can not understand that his mother's choices make it a bad idea to live with her or to understand that things are better for him with you. In his self-centered child's mind, he probably thinks that there is something wrong with him or that he did something wrong. Make sure that you tell him over and over that it is not his fault that his mother can't care for him. Keep giving him the message that he did not do anything wrong and that his mother loves him, she just can't take care of him right now. It is normal and appropriate that it takes him a few days to adjust after a visit. He has so many mixed emotions. Create some new traditions that will help him transition. Go to a favorite spot for lunch or dinner where he can tell you about his visit. Let him make a card to send to his mom after a visit. Maybe between visits you could keep a picture journal that he shares with her on visits. Ask him what would help him get over his sad feelings, you may be surprised how insightful he is. If you continue to be concerned about him or he seems to be stuck in his sadness it may be helpful to seek therapy. Find someone who is experienced in working with children and uses a play therapy approach. Good luck to both of you. Let me know if you have other questions.


Thank you for your response. Your advice makes sense and I will definitely navigate the conversations this direction. The events leading to this point are many and would take too long to type but just to share a little more detail, my daughter was spending the night with a friend 3/2004, in 5/04 I discovered she was pregnant at 15. She claimed to have been raped. These events changed our lives forever. I pursued the legal system for a period of time, I eventually was told by the DA's office to take my daughter home and take care of her. Her Dad decided to take a job away from home. That left me with 2 children, 1 of them pregnant. Her Dad was adamant that I take her to have an abortion, I refused - I was adamant that she make the decision even though I was well aware that at 15, she could not possibly make a mature decision but I refused to take that responsibility - I knew that whatever choice I made, I would always be blamed for it. Her Dad eventually knew that an abortion was not going to happen, he then (and his family) wanted the baby put up for adoption. Our daughter decided to keep the baby, I was also well aware that I would be the one taking care of the baby. Her Dad ended up moving back to SC where he is from and we eventually divorced 4 yrs later. Fast forward 6.5 yrs later and we have the most beautiful, smart, interesting grandchild who is now asking questions and is old enough now to voice his feelings quite well. A short summation of my daughter since 5/ 2006 (baby now 18 mo old) she graduated HS (1) year early, moved to SC w/her Dad to attend college. The next year I discovered she was using cocaine - we sent her to rehab. Upon her return to SC, we discovered her continued use of drugs - went sent her back to rehab again. This time she met a young man (at rehab) whom she decided to move to CO, 1.5 yrs later they were in a car wreck, the woman they hit head on died. 12/09 my daughter had to go back to WY to testify in court (as she was the only witness) against the guy who was 'huffing' Dust Off, he was sentenced to 20 yrs in prison. Our daughter returned home 5/09, she OD'd that day and we started the nighmarish course of psychiatric hospital stays, regimens of many, many, many prescription psychotrophic drugs etc, etc. 3/10 I discovered she had hidden valium in her belongings, I reported this to her dr., they evicted her from the program she was in and pulled all of the meds. Amazingly enough, she had -0- withdrawal. I made her go to work, she met a guy and moved out. Several relationships later by 6/10, she moved back to SC w/her Dad and has been there ever since. Back to the child, I have never, ever left him with her alone. Just to make it clear, he has never gone and stayed with her alone, I always go and we are always together. I know since moving back to SC she has continued to use alcohol and I know for sure continues to smoke marijuana. She floats in and out of friendships and goes from one intimate relationship to another. When we are all together, she does give the child attention, at least initially, then after a few days it is not as much. When together, he (Ryan) constantly wants to know where she is. I see sadness in his eyes and it breaks my heart. He is my priority, he is an innocent child. I also love her very much and my heart breaks for her but I feel at this point it would be unsafe and dangerous for him to be with her alone. In the past year she has threatened to regain custody. I am not worried about a judge giving her custody. I want to do all I can to make sure Ryan has a stable, loving, nuturing environment. I also want him to know she loves him and she is his mother. He tells me often he is going to live with her and he misses her. I am just unsure how to reassure him and how to make him understand he needs to be with me. I am so afraid he will feel insecure and grow up to be angry etc, etc. I want to protect him, I also want to protect her. Again, any additional words of wisdom would help my uncertainty and goal of doing the right things. Thanks,

Luann :

Wow, what a journey you have been on. It sounds like you have done a wonderful job taking care of your grandchild and loving your daughter. You are doing all the right things. Your grandson will figure things out in time. At his age he needs to hold on to the fantasy that one day he will live with his mom, I would not try to challenge that dream. Just focus on the here and now, "right now you can't live with her", "right now it is best for you to live with you". Help him to label his feelings. While he is smart, he is still only 6 and 6 year olds are not great at identifying emotions. When he looks sad or angry or hurt, give him that feedback, "you look sad" or "I bet you feel angry when your mom won't play with you". Normalize his feelings, "most kids feel hurt and sad when they don't get to see their mom very often". or "most kids feel angry when their mom ignores them". There are some wonderful children's books that address these issues and different family arrangements. Go to your library and ask the children's librarian for some recommendations. Children's books help children understand their situations and give adults the language to explain things at a child's level. Also be honest with him about his mother's problems when he asks or seems confused. Don't give him too much information, but let him know that his mother has problems which prevent her from being the best mother she can be. There are children's books about alcohol and drug abuse which might be helpful too. Don't forget to get support for yourself too.This is a very difficult situation and you need to take care of your needs to be your best.


Thanks again, this is the type of feedback I need. Ideas for the best ways to respond. I never want to isolate him or his feelings or make him feel like he cannot tell me how he is feeling. Admittedly, at times , it is hard for me to hear/see him feel this way even in my own selfish way, but just as quickly I know children need to know their Mom loves them. It is such a massively difficult and overwhelming situation at times. My frustration, at times with her, gets the best of me. I want to make her do the right things in life and lately I have a sense of time slipping by too quickly, he will be 7 in 3 months. I envision him growing up and her then having such grief for not choosing a different path - the right path to be a good mother. She has these fantasies of having him but she has -0- plan for how to make that happen. I feel scared for her, she has some wonderful qualities and I know she will have so much remorse in the future. How do I make her realize the mistakes she is making now????? Another hidden point of contention with me is the fact that for all these years she told me she was raped, I have learned recently she has been in contact with the bio father and they were even making plans to get a lawyer to try to get custody of Ryan (she was really pushing him to do this). After all of these events and all I have done for her, it is earth shattering to not only learn that apparently she was not raped but she has plotted to try to get custody back. She has no idea I know these things. I think in some ways she wants him back just to say she has custody - she misses the point of the most basic day to day responsibilities: brushing his teeth, dental appts, doing homework, cutting finger nails etc, etc, etc, etc. To take it a step further, I still struggle daily to come to terms with how all of this happened. Our family was a normal Mom, Dad, son, daughter. We both worked, took our kids on vacation, worked on our home, surrounded them with love. No abuse, no alcohol, no drugs. When our daughter turned 13 - life started to change. Another point to mention, during her various hospital stays, she was dx as Bipolar/Schizoaffective (unsure of exact spelling). I know these dx are made from a history of behavior but how can someone continue to function w/o counseling or meds if this dx is correct???? This is a very, very brief synopsis of the past 9 yrs actually. The events and situations have been far too many to describe. Thanks again,

Luann :

It sounds like your daughter has a dual diagnosis which means she has a mental illness and a drug/alcohol problem. Oftentimes people like her use drug/alcohol to self-medicate. Not a good plan but as you have probably come to realize there is nothing you can do to make her "see the light" and change. All you can do is continue to love her but keep setting boundaries. I encourage you to check out the National Alliance on Mental Illness, They are a great resource for family members and may have a support group in your area. I also encourage you to go to Alanon. You will find a lot of support and people to talk to about your frustrations with your daughter. Don't neglect yourself, take care of you.

Luann and other Mental Health Specialists are ready to help you
Customer: replied 5 years ago.
Another ? please. In the past few months, at various times when Ryan would be talking with his Mom he would tell her he wanted to live with her and ask why he couldn't live with her. This all started initially with her planting the seed that she wanted him to live with her. Sometimes he will tell her this if I have fussed at him for not listening or put him in time-out for misbehaving. Sometimes I am sure he just simply misses her. At times it is as if he is playing one against the other, I believe this is unacceptable behavior and he should not be allowed to do this. I am unsure how to address this with him. I don't want to create a situation where he cannot talk with her on the phone but I don't want them to have these conversations. I have expressed to my daughter last week, after learning that she told him she would be getting a 2bdrm apt for them and he would be with her after finishing the 1st grade, to please not tell him timelines or promise him things that may not happen-it only makes it more difficult for him. I am also trying to keep her calm. If she and I have a disagreement, it usually becomes a very unpleasant situation. How can I explain to Ryan or encourage Ryan to not talk about this? Would it even be healthy to discourage him from having these conversations? My true feeling is my daughter needs to explain to Ryan that someday she hopes they will live together, she just doesn't know when but remind him that we visit as often as we can and they can talk on the phone often. My frustration with this is making me feel really unhappy and a little angry. It seems it is always one situation or another. I am not unaware of the fact that it does make him sad and I am sure in some ways it makes her sad. The bot***** *****ne is he would still be an experiment for her and would suffer emotionally and physcially, she cannot even pay a cell phone bill much less care for a child. Please offer any advice you have. Thanks!


You are right to be distressed about these conversations. There is not much you can do to change or control what your daughter says. You can only influence what happens between you and Ryan. Tell him what you stated to me - That his mom would like them to live together someday. None of you knows when. Then go back to the here and now - right now, he can't live with his mom because she can't care for him. He will probably point out that she is going to get a 2 br apt, that she said after 1st grade . . . Simply point out that sometimes adults say things but don't follow through or actually do what they say they are going to do. Give an example of a time his mom said she was going to do something and then didn't. Explain that this is one of his mom's "problems" that she needs to work on. It is not his fault, it is her problem. End by saying how much his mom loves him and wants those things to be true but she just can't do it right now. Be simple and gentle but give him the truth. I hope that is helpful.