Dear Margo: When a Granny Doesn't Like Her Grandchild

Margo Howard’s advice

When a Granny Doesn’t Like Her Grandchild

Dear Margo: How young is too young to be a bad person? I never would have thought it could happen in my family, but my granddaughter, 12, is miserable, angry, morbid and, as I’ve recently discovered, seemingly incapable of being a positive human being. Last month, my son died in a car accident. He had been drinking, but I believe the greater culprit was a slippery road after a heavy rain. I am devastated, but this girl has yet to even shed a tear! She was always an odd child: quiet, aloof, refusing to associate with family unless forced to. The girl’s father just died, and she doesn’t seem bothered.

To make matters worse, she seems bizarrely fixated on other people’s grief while not experiencing any of her own. She asks whether we’ve cried, how much we’ve cried, why we’ve cried. She even asked that I cry for her! My husband says I’m being unreasonable, but I really can’t stand seeing this girl anymore. How can I be around a girl who could be so callous about the death of her own father? At this point, I just want to cut her out of my family’s life. But I do wish to see my grandson, my son’s other child. I’ve wondered whether therapy or medication could fix my granddaughter’s problems, but I suspect she may be beyond help. — Grandma Gives Up

Dear Grand: The death aside, this child sounds unhappy and perhaps disturbed. As for the loss of her father, her grieving behavior sounds unusual but not unfeeling. She sounds in no way oblivious and may have suppressed her grief by displacing it onto others. The fact that she’s discussing death makes me think the subject is on her radar screen. She may be in emotional, albeit not cognitive, denial. Instead of wishing not to deal with her, I would pay extra attention to her and try to get a dialogue going. You say nothing of the child’s mother, but a therapist would be helpful. — Margo, probingly

Repeated Mistakes

Dear Margo: One of my oldest friends is approaching dire financial straits. She has been “between jobs” for about a year and is the single parent of a teenage boy. She’s a professional who has held a series of jobs over the past five years, and I think she likes risk more than safety. With every job, there comes a point where she absolutely hates being there (the novelty has worn off), so she’ll quit or get laid off. And she has taken a rather laissez faire attitude about things. Until now.

Suddenly, it seems, she sees that no one wants to hire her (she’s in her 50s), and she’s starting to panic. I don’t know what, if anything, to do, except listen. She also has psychological issues that have been diagnosed, but she won’t follow through on medication. I feel there is nothing more to do to help her, but I don’t want to abandon her, either. Do you have the right advice for me in this situation? — Not Sure How To Help

Dear Not: Your friend is learning — perhaps a little late — that actions have consequences. There is nothing for you to do except encourage her, as a first step, to follow through with the medical advice she’s been given and get her to understand her own past actions. Should she be lucky enough to land a new job, you might remind her every now and then that it’s a job she needs. There is only so much a friend can do. — Margo, acceptingly

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Dear Margo is written by Margo Howard, Ann Landers’ daughter. All letters must be sent via the online form at Due to a high volume of e-mail, not all letters will be answered.


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70 Responses so far.

  1. avatar bleeble says:

    Re: letter #2 – How does one go about purposely getting laid off? I’ve heard of people getting laid off due to misfortune, downsizing, etc, but I didn’t know that one could cause a company to let them go without fault.

    • avatar luna midden says:

      lw2-A person, in response to bleeble, can do a ‘just enough to get by ‘ job, or have an attitude of not ‘really caring about the company’ so when it comes time for cutbacks, this is the person to go. BUT-if she has had a number of jobs in the last 5 years, I would think it was more-last one hired, first one fired. Most people CANNOT help being laid off. Even if you are a good to great worker, if the numbers are cut, YOU GO!.

      LW1-how does this GRANNY know that her granddaughter has not SHED A TEAR?? Not everyone can cry in public, or cries that easily… maybe that is why she is questioning the length of others’ crying??? She has a granddaughter who might be very very shy, or maybe, since she has been like this awhile, suffering from depression or another mental health ailment… or, maybe the girl realizes her GRANDMAMA is a judgemental witch who blames others and cuts off people quickly and wants to stay as far away as possible??? As for the angry, if it is new, or more then usual, she might not be blaming the wet road but the fact that DADDY DRANK and this is what KILLED HIM… not the wet roads, as GM is in denial about. (who knows, maybe dad’s drinking was alot more then GM knew or was willing to admit, and THAT AFFECTED the girl???). But, while Margo pleaded with GM to not stay way from her Granddaughter, I would first like to know if this grandmother is a nasty biatch first. Unfortunately, sometiMES it is BETTER not to see some relatives.

      • avatar Carib Island Girl says:

        You are wrong Luna – this kid seems to have been born with a severe personality disorder. Granny can see it and is very alarmed. Watch an episode of Deadly Women and get back to me. When the behaviors that at such a young age, there is little hope, it’s part of their personality. Disagree all you like, but the research backs me.

        • avatar mayma says:

          Research on what? A person you’ve never even seen, as described by an admittedly biased observer?

          • avatar Carib Island Girl says:

            My mother is a clinical psychologist. Access.

          • avatar mayma says:

            Holy cow. You are missing my point, which is that you are making an extreme judgment (Deadly Women? little hope?) of a kid you have never even laid eyes on, and who is being described by a woman who clearly has a screw loose. You believe a narrator who attributes a drunk-driving death to rain? A narrator who wants to know how to cut a kid out of her family while maintaining contact with her brother?

            Of course there’s tons of research on personality disorders, but that doesn’t mean this kid has one.

          • avatar Kathleen Hein says:

            And your mother would never dream of diagnosing a stranger based on someone else’s description!

          • avatar Claire Saenz says:

            Of course not. No competent clinician would ever diagnose a stranger based on a letter written by a third party to an advice columnist.

          • avatar Claire Saenz says:

            And I should also mention that personality disorders are never diagnosed before age 18. This girl is far too young to be diagnosed with one.

          • avatar CatA says:

            my thoughts exactly…

        • avatar Diagoras says:

          Oh that is nonsense. Not everyone cries in response to a death of a loved one, at least not at first and not necessarily in front of people. Plus, she’s probably angry that her dad was stupid enough to drive drunk and get himself killed. Why shouldn’t her reaction to his death be weird and complicated? Especially when the grandmother is so hostile toward the girl and in complete denial about her son’s irresponsible and fatal behavior.

          • avatar wendykh says:

            THIS! Grandma sounds in total denial “oh he was drunk, but I’m sure it was more about how it was raining.” Bitch please. The girl is FURIOUS at her dad for getting his ass killed and is trying to work through it. Granny needs to be taken out back and smacked into growing the hell up.

        • avatar Lym BO says:

          This girl obviously has some issues expressing her feelings. If she is asking someone else to cry for her then she understands it is an issue & is attempting to figure out what is normal. Some children are taught very young to not cry. Some also have someone telling her that her uncle & dad deserved it by their actions & it’s not worth crying over. The fact that the granny doesn’t attribute the child’s anger, depression & lack of emotion to the fact she has recently lost two very important men in her life is disturbing. She may have an attachment disorder–or not. As for not being positive, is Granny feeling particularly in a “positive mood” lately after the loss of her son & son-in-law? As for the aloofness, perhaps she doesn’t like Granny. Or maybe she is just shy & has an innate ability to sense granny is a bit whack.

        • avatar Lunita says:

          I’m astonished that you would say this girl has a severe personality disorder and that your only reference and “research” is a cable television show. Oh, and the fact that your mom is a clinical psychologist, which doesn’t make you one. Just reading the letter, it seems to me that the grandmother might never have been very fond of the granddaughter (referring to her behavior pre-accident as “odd”). Like others, I also found the grandmother’s assertion that the son’s accident was due more to rain than his drinking as strange. I don’t see anything morbid about an adolescent who is quiet around relatives, hasn’t cried (at least in front of anyone), and who asks who has cried. Many adolescents are surly around relatives. As luna midden pointed out, the girl may view the accident as her father’s fault since he was drinking, and perhaps she is angry at him. Maybe that makes her confused or also leads to her feeling guilty over the anger. Who knows? What seems apparent is that the LW is jumping to conclusions and judging her granddaughter–who is probably in need of a lot of support–very harshly.

    • avatar marie9999 says:

      My employer offers voluntary separations during lean times before the forced lay offs – but these separations are still a “lay off” with a severance package and eligibility for unemployment benefits from the state…

  2. avatar Carol David says:

    I think she means her friend’s attitude affects her job to the point where she gets “laid off.”

  3. avatar Lila says:

    Dear Gramma, you are teaching this girl that the adults in her life cannot be depended on, especially when they are needed most. Good job. Painful as it is for you, consider that her dad did something dumb and got himself removed from her life. She may partly be angry with him for leaving her, and she’s not entirely wrong about that.

    Here’s a little window to look through: My mother died when I was six. A suicide. Chose to leave her husband and two young kids. Oh, I know it was an act of terrible desperation, but still, that set me up for a miserable childhood. I still wrestle with blaming her for the years that followed.

    Her family, most notably my grandfather, wanted nothing to do with us afterward. My Dad was alone, his parents and brother were dead, and work kept him away for all but a couple of our waking hours per day. Result: growing up with precious little adult guidance. Raised by wolves, as it were.

    Oh, there were other adults around – teachers, neighbors, parents of friends. Quick to criticize a lot of superficial crap, as I recall, not so much to really listen or mentor as a wild wolf-child needs. Think this made me a weird, oblivious kid? You bet. Think that affected me socially? YES. The emotions eventually left on my surface were anger and hostility, because somewhere along the way it seemed that anything else just opened the way to getting hurt more. So I buried everything else. Not for public consumption.

    It took a long time, and a very scary conscious effort, to get… somewhere quasi-normal. No, Margo, no therapy here. I just decided, as a young adult, to take a few bricks out of my defenses. I will always have trust issues, but that’s protective so I’m OK with it.

    I have often wondered how different, how much easier things might have been, if I had had a steady, loving, available adult mentor in my childhood. Maybe I could have been more loving and positive and even had a social grace or two. But I had your granddaughter’s ill luck, a stressed and often bitter single parent, and adults who could have engaged with me but didn’t, except in negative ways.

    I neither knew nor mourned when my grandfather died. I had not seen or heard from anyone on that side of the family since age 6. They were strangers, and so shall you be.

    Your granddaughter has a big rough patch ahead, but she will probably get through it and turn out more or less OK by her 20s. No thanks to you.

    • avatar Frau Quink says:

      Hello, Lila,

      Kudos to you! You did come out being on top of it, and you do have my admiration.
      Warm regards, and all the best,

      • avatar Lila says:

        Vielen dank, Frau Quink, this kind of letter just pushes my buttons. This grandmother needs to imagine what the 12-year-old CHILD is going through. And openly preferring one grandchild over the other – ugh! She is doing a lot of damage.

    • avatar CatA says:

      Lila, your testimony shows how strong a person can become by living through tragic circumstances (meine grosse Bewunderung) – let’s hope the granddaughter has the fortitude to weather this chapter of her life, or the assistance of other strong adults or a therapist to help.

    • avatar V says:

      Lila, Very well said.

  4. avatar Toni Jean says:

    Lw1: very sorry for your loss. Your granddaughter needs your help. I’m going to lay it out for you. If your son died in a drunk driving accident then he had a drinking problem. Your granddaughter was living in a bad home situation, probably much worse than you know. What you’re in is denial. Your granddaughter needs counseling and you do too. There may be some terrible but legitimate reasons why your granddaughter is processing mixed feelings.
    To the irritation if LW2, I’m sending you all prayer and light during such a difficult time.

    • avatar Toni Jean says:

      Apologies Dear Margo, the person who hated prayer was dear Abby’s LW. I should always read you FIRST!

    • avatar mmht says:

      I think you nailed LW#1 on the head! That grandmother made me so angry I wanted to reach through my computer and smack her.

  5. avatar Belinda Joy says:

    Letter #1 – As President Obama often says “Someone needs to be the adult in the room….”

    This applies in this situation. Although I am sorry for this letter writer’s loss, she needs to grow up. Understandably she is in denial about her son’s death. If he was drinking and driving when he died, no Dear, it wasn’t the slippery roads. It was him. And although she did not say, we can only hope HE was the only one killed.

    If this little girl truly is and has always been as negative as you describe, that speaks more to how she was/is being raised, and the fault lies with her parents (your son included). I am going to make the assumption that she was close to her father (if not, why would the grandmother be so put off that she is not mourning his loss) if this is true, why had he not taken steps to help her get help for her personality disorders?

    You are behaving more like a 12 year old than she is. Almost tantamount to pouting and stomping your feet and shouting “I’m taking my ball and going home!” She isn’t mourning in the way you want her or expect her to…..really? In order to mourn she must cry like you have? No, it doesn’t work that way.

    Something tells me it may not be the 12 year old that is in need of help, it is this grandmother. She is in denial about the true cause of her son’s death and she is using her granddaughter as a source to displace her grief over her loss. It is much easier to make a big deal about how the child is behaving, than sitting in idle thought and deal with her own loss of her son.

    Letter #2 – The friend has psychiatric issues so extreme that they require medication? Nope, there is nothing that you can say to this woman until she is back on her meds and able to receive your sage advice. The first step is to attempt to encourage her to get back on her prescribed medication. If she won’t or refuses, I would sever the relationship. And as you walk away remind yourself of what Margo so perfectly said “There is only so much a friend can do”

    With the latest rash of mass murders and shootings, mental illness is yet again in the forefront of a national discussion. On one hand we must have sympathy for those struggling with mental issues, but on the other hand they MUST be held accountable for their life decisions. It’s not enough to constantly say “they can’t help themselves, they have emotional issues….” If she can apply for and hold down jobs, even temporarily, she has the ability to apply rational thought. So she should recognize help is being offered to her. If she doesn’t accept it, I say leave her alone.

    • avatar LuckySeven says:

      I was aghast at this letter, and even more because it was from a *grandmother*: Someone who should be old and wise enough to have more insight.

      If the granddaughter is acting like this, something hasn’t been right in her home for a long time, and I’d bet good money it was related to the son/her father’s drinking (because if he died drinking and driving, he had a problem, no matter what his mother thinks). This whole family needs help. The granddaughter needs help, the grandmother needs help, undoubtedly the surviving wife/child’s mother needs help.

      For the record, grandma, I would have reacted the same way when I was your granddaughter’s age. I’ve always been the type to fight emotions until I can’t keep them down any longer; luckily, I didn’t have to go through anything this horrible when I was so young.

      • avatar mmht says:

        Agreed! This child is going to be much better off without this judgmental b***h in her life!

      • avatar carol grzonka says:

        my father died when i was 13 after a long illness. i didn’t cry for months. i was too terrified at being left to my mother’s tender mercies. being beaten bloody with regularity, being ostracized from my family with no one permitted to talk to me and other atrocities. congrats granny, you’re only 1 step up from this. your granddaughter had to live in a situation with a drinker that you willfully ignore, even  now, and you blame HER for not grieving as you see fit. if i had anything to say about it, you’d be out of both these children’s lives. the complication of you saying to the boy ‘you’re grieving properly and to the girl ‘you’re not’ is highly destructive.

  6. avatar judgingamy says:

    Wow, at first I was angry at grandma, but now thinking about it, grandma might be doing granddaughter a favor by removing herself from granddaughter’s life. I wonder if it occured to Oblivious and Judgemental Grandma that perhaps granddaughter has some serious anger at her father that no one is addressing. Perhaps she truly hasn’t shed a tear- not because she is a cold unfeeling morbid child, but because her anger right now is covering her sadness. Maybe she feels guilt on top of anger for not feeling more sad. Maybe dad had a drinking problem and was unpleasant and his death brought some relief. Who really can tell from a short letter.

    Here is what we do know from the letter: 1. granddaughter has never been close to the family, and grandma has concluded there is something wrong with her, as opposed to chalking it up to shyness, undiagnosed autism, or a myriad of other possibilities that have nothing to do with her being a sociopath in the making. 2. Grandma does not hold her son responsible for any of his mistakes, but expects the 12 year old to behave like an adult, and 3. Grandma thinks all people should grieve the same way, and anyone who doesn’t should be alienated or cut off from the family. All three things point to Grandma being the problem, not the granddaughter. Perhaps cutting herself off from the child will do more good than harm.

    • avatar mayma says:

      You forgot #4 that points to Granny being the problem — Granny wants to maintain a relationship with the other child, just not the granddaughter. Peachy!

    • avatar Toni Jean says:

      Number 1900. Granddaughter’s behavior is extremely indicative of sexual abuse.
      grandma needs to start putting someone else first. NOW.

  7. avatar David Bolton says:

    LW1: Whatever the granddaughter’s problem—your melodramatic and extremely negative attitude towards her is only fuel for the fire. And I can tell you from personal experience that showing love to one grandchild while withholding it from another is one of the worst things you can do, not only to them but to yourself. It WILL bite you on the ass—mark my words.

    LW2: “Suddenly, it seems, she sees that no one wants to hire her (she’s in her 50s), and she’s starting to panic. I don’t know what, if anything, to do, except listen.”

    What exactly are you supposed to do—run through the town and ring bells? You are the ant, and she is the grasshopper. Feast on her corpse after the snows finally come.

  8. avatar Frau Quink says:

    As to Ltr.# 1: This child seems to be severely traumatized and deserves her Grandmother’s compassion, and not her disdain……..

  9. avatar Cindy Marek says:

    L #1: Is it possible this girl has been abused by someone close to the family? It’s also possible that she is mentally ill. She needs help. Talk with her mother (whether you’re close to d-i-l or not).

    L #2: Wow. Yeah…actions have consequences. If/when she does get another job, tell her to “bite the bullet” and keep it. She no longer has the luxury of lots of jobs or age on her side. Glad my dad drilled this into my head very young: “YOU CAN CHOOSE TO DO WHATEVER YOU WANT, BUT YOU CANNOT CHOOSE THE CONSEQUENCES.” Thank you dad!