Dear Margo: Closing Down a Demanding Granny

My special needs child isn’t good with change and Grandma wants her to sleep over once a week. How do I tell her no? Margo Howard’s advice

Closing Down a Demanding Granny

Dear Margo: I am a single mother to a special needs child. Not so unusual, right? However, I am also a soldier in the U.S. Army. My ex-husband is also in the military, and we are both currently deployed overseas. He and I maintain an amicable relationship. It seems that when it comes to our daughter, we are on the same page (thankfully). While we are both deployed, my family has taken on the responsibility of caring for “Emma.” My family, of course, adores her, and my sister has done a wonderful job of raising her.

During the time I’ve been away, my former mother-in-law has insisted on more and more visitation. Emma does not deal well with transition and functions better with a strict routine. Because of this, I’ve allowed Grandma one weekday visit and an overnight every other weekend (despite the fact that it takes Emma almost four days to get back to her schedule). Now she is demanding an overnight every single weekend! Does this woman not realize how hard it is for Emma to go back and forth for even one night?

Now I want to restrict all visitation with Grandma until her son comes home, and he has said he would even tell her as much. I would appreciate your opinion. — Fed-Up Mom/Soldier

Dear Fed: Great good luck that your ex agrees with you about Emma and his mother. I would, indeed, let him deliver the message that the main consideration must be what is best for the child. A four-day readjustment is not worth one visit. Have your family suggest she come for an afternoon at “Emma’s house” and bag the sleepovers. If Grandma balks, have Emma’s doctor write a note to remind the old girl that her grandchild is a special needs child. The strength of your position is that Emma’s needs are special. — Margo, concurringly

In the End, People Do as They Like

Dear Margo: I need advice about dealing with my brother’s relationship. He’s been dating a woman for three years (she’s 23, he’s 28), and as far as my family can see, he is not really committed to her. He seems to be coasting along, while she is very marriage-oriented and has even planned her dream wedding.

In addition to this, she is very controlling of him and has no interest in our family to the point of rudeness. A recent example was when I was visiting their house (I live on another continent). I sat alone in the living room while she stayed in their bedroom. My brother is no saint, and he can be snappish with her. He has also complained about her weight gain since they started dating.

My family has always told my brother that if she makes him happy, then we are happy for him, no matter how she behaves toward us. I’m thinking about sitting down with him and having a frank talk, telling him that if he’s not planning to marry her, then he shouldn’t stay with her, as it’s unfair. We are close and confide in each other a lot, so I feel I am well positioned to do this.

Would that be interfering? I don’t want to alienate my brother or further damage my relationship with someone who could turn out to be my sister-in-law. — Navigating Difficult Relationships

Dear Nav: My hunch is that your bro will tire of the controlling lady friend who is wedding-minded, rude … and gaining weight. But do feel free to have “the talk.” That way you will know you’ve gone on record, and of course, he will do just exactly as he pleases. I don’t think you could further damage the relationship with what’s-her-name, because, really, what is more dismissive than hiding in her bedroom when you are visiting? There is a message, however, in your brother’s acceptance of her imposing a distance between them and the family he supposedly likes. Maybe they deserve each other. — Margo, domestically

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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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57 comments so far.

  1. avatar NicoleDSK says:

    LW2… I realize that this puts me in the minority, but if your brother (or anyone else) is being cruel to someone then hell yeah, say something. Stringing someone along who you know wants to marry you, who you have no intention of marrying, is cruel.

  2. avatar D C says:

    I know I’m coming late to the party, but have been on vacation and just now have access again. 

    LW 1 – I have a special needs child (autistic) and completely understand where you are coming from.  However, I think maybe grandma probably thinks her granddaughter would be better able to handle the visits if she had them more often, so she could get used to them. 

    It’s heartbreaking for a grandparent to feel so disconnected to a grandchild, and telling her “you’re not good for my kid” is tragic.  There has to be a better choice for all than to just cut a grandparent out of a child’s life.  And I know it’s really hard when you’re away.  And just how is the child’s adjustment going to be affected when her parents come home?  That will be a big deal too.  I think the family as a whole needs to work harder to make the situation work without destroying the relationship with grandma. 

    My child has gotten better over the years at handling changes.  Maybe yours will too.  In this case it’s worth the effort to keep trying. 

  3. avatar lw2 says:

    Hi everyone, LW2 here. Thanks for all your opinions–they’ve all been helpful. I realize after reading your responses that the weight issue may not be 100 percent clear. My brother has voiced privately to me that he feels less attracted to his girlfriend because of her weight gain. He says he feels guilty for thinking these thoughts and has tried to encourage her to eat healthier and work out with him. At no point has he been cruel to her.

    Are there divorcees out there who wish a loved one had pointed out before the marriage their SOs weren’t a good match? I don’t want to be controlling, but when you see a loved one heading towards a huge mistake, where is an acceptable line between saying something with the hope of saving both parties heartache in the future and just letting them get on with it? I guess that’s what I wanted to figure out by asking this question.

    Anyway, I spoke to him last week (he brought up the issue) and rephrased the question to this: “Ask yourself these questions–you don’t need to give me the answer. 1. Do you want to marry her? and 2. Do you want her to be the mother of your children?”, which I thought was gentler than my original letter.

    • avatar mjd4 says:

      I am divorced and I cannot imagine that it have been remotely helpful for anyone to have pointed out that I was making a mistake. I think I would have laughed them off as not knowing what they were talking about, or gotten defensive. Asking questions to help me clarify my own thoughts might have helped, but only if it didn’t sound as though you were trying to steer me toward the “right” answer.