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My father is a very demanding person, to the point of being unreasonable a lot of the time IMO. But lately it has been getting worse and I feel like i just don't have the energy to deal with it because it all seems so petty.

I am married with two children, a 4 year old and a 3 month old We live about 2 hours away from him. Most of the disagreements we have are about him being able to see our children, basically he can see them whenever he wants but he demands that we take them down there to see him, which is difficult because of the distance. He is divorced from my mother, who sees the children more often because she lives closer.

Some specific examples of his behavior I have a problem with are:

  1. when our youngest son was born he had a serious heart condition that needed several risky operations. We choose to stay in hospital with him in case anything went wrong, so we could say good bye. During this time my eldest son was being looked after by my mother because it was the easiest and most convenient option at the time. My father took this as some sort of personal insult that we didn't let him look after our eldest son and actually phoned me to discuss it with me which I thought was very selfish and inconsiderate of him considering what we were going through at the time.

  2. when we came out of hospital my father wanted my eldest son to go and spend a couple of days with him. We didn't think it was a good idea because he had already been away from us for two weeks and we didn't want him to be insecure or feel pushed out by the new baby. It might have felt like we were sending him away. So we told my father that he would be able to visit only after a couple of months had passed when he was on summer holiday from school. In response to this my father wrote me a letter accusing me of wanting to punish him by stopping him from seeing his grandson.

  3. He asks us to go down there at short notice, this causes two problems. The drive down there causes my significant neck and back pain and usually triggers a migraine which will stay with me all weekend. I have a very stressful job and I need to relax to be in any fit state to go to work the following week, taking a 4 year old and a newborn away for the weekend i find very stressful and does not allow me the time I need to decompress. So when i refuse to go he asks me why I don't want to go and see him, I do not know how to respond to that because it isn't that I don't want to see him just that we have other things that have to be the priority.

  4. He instant messages me at work and if i don't respond almost immediately he will ask me why I am obviously ignoring him. I answer him when I can, but my main responsibility is to do my work and I cannot always answer him right away.

Am I being unreasonable? If not, how can I get him to see that his behavior is inappropriate and to back off?

  • What does he say when you bring those topics to him? Did you clearly explain him that you'd love to see him more often and have him seeing the kids more often, but with a newborn it makes any kind of scheduling hectic (maybe try to ask him if he remembers how tough it was when you were born!). Tell him how tired you are, and how you'd rather for now keep weekends light and as relaxing as possible. Is he single? He might be demanding because he feels lonely and depressed, and needs the reassurance that he is important in your and your kids's life. – Fanny H. Sep 11 '14 at 15:33
  • How human societies basically work: Your parents care for you, and you care for your kids. Yes, there's obligations to your parents, too. But first and foremost are the obligations to your children, as they cannot fend for themselves. So whenever I had to chose between the wellbeing of my children and that of their grandparents, the children won. Each and every time. (Making that plain and clear and very transparent to the grandparents helped a lot.) Should my children ever value my wellbeing higher than that of my grandchildren, I will reconsider the decision to never beat my children. – sbi Sep 12 '14 at 18:13
  • Does he work. If not, he has all the time in the world and is the one who needs to make the effort. – Thorbjørn Ravn Andersen Aug 2 '17 at 8:54
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No, you are not unreasonable.

Your father is overstepping his bounds. He may be lonely, he may be a control freak.

1) & 2). Did you explain your reasoning to him? But don't mention this again. It is in the past. If your dad brings it up, simply say that it was NOT an insult, and what was best for your son.

3) Make a schedule. Tell him how often you will go down and stick to it. Tell him when he can come up. Say you love to see him, but your life is busy with little children. Figure out how often you are comfortable making the drive, and tell him that is the way it is. Also, TELL him about your back pain, the migraines, the stressful job.

4) I have noticed that many older generations don't understand email, IMs and texts - thinking it is more like a phone. You have to 'train' him. Never answer right away on emails, text and IMs. Tell him it is not a synchronous medium, and that you don't answer anyone right away. If he doesn't get it, you may have to set your IM to be 'away', or block him.

5) Consider video chatting with the kids and grandfather. My parents & in-laws are on a different continent, and they love to chat on video.

basically, like with kids, sometimes parents needs boundaries. Since parents are adults, you should be able to spell it out. Sometimes you have to very direct: It hurts me when you think I don't want to see you. I really do, but the drive is too far to doo too often. Please don't pressure me to come down more often than we agreed on, it makes me upset that you think we keep your grandchildren from you.

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The more your father feels pushed away the more outrageous the demands he will make. If he was seeing you enough in person, he wouldn't care how long you took to return texts or IMs. Basically as he feels left out, he is thrashing around trying to find a way to connect that will work. If you add to that any vagueness in your explanations ("we just can't fit it in this weekend" rather than "driving to you is going to be too hard on my neck and I have a very stressful week coming up at work") then his behaviour will continue to escalate.

First, I encourage you to look very closely at what you want. If you genuinely want to see your father every few months then don't pretend (at least to yourself and within your nuclear family) otherwise. It is ok for that to be the frequency at which you see him. If you genuinely want to see him (and for your children to see him) as often as your mother, then you can work towards making that happen, given the restrictions you have in place. You don't need to tell your father what you decide but you do need to really truly know your own wants and wishes on this matter.

Next, try to give him what he wants on some small thing. This should de-escalate the demands a little. For example, IM or text him occasionally even before he reaches out to you, instead of thinking "phew, a whole morning in which my father left me alone, thank heaven for a little peace." When you decline one of his requests, make sure that you both explain your reason and offer an alternative. Examples:

  • This is not a weekend I we can put the babies in the car and drive to you. I'm sorry and I would love to see you. Is there any way you can come to us?
  • This weekend we have already made plans. How about the weekend after? Let's plan it now so I can be sure we can do it.

Get him on Skype or FaceTime or whatever so he can interact with the children and with you. Send him pictures randomly of the kids eating breakfast or some artwork the older one made, or other day to day little stuff. Help him feel that connection and help the kids feel it too.

Being a parent is super hard. It's exhausting. Some days the kids take all your energy, and this is without either the parent or the child having a health problem. To find anything else for someone who doesn't actually live in your house seems like it must be impossible. A grandparent who lives nearby and comes to see you instead of asking you to come over is a real gift. Sometimes, keeping an active relationship with a grandparent just adds more work to a parent's workload, and only you can decide whether you want to do that or not. If you do, it will be a lot like the other work you do as a parent - hard emotional and physical work, going the extra mile (perhaps quite literally as you undertake that two hour trip) as a gift to your children and your father. You may reap rewards from it and glow with pride years from now when you see the relationship between your children and your father, and know that you put in the time and effort to make it happen. Or you may not - life can be unpredictable. It's not wrong to choose to see less of your father than he wants. All I would suggest in that case is going for tremendous transparency about why you are saying no to what he asks.

As for what happened when your youngest was born, set it all aside. It was a time of turmoil and fear. He feels he was left out of an important family time and deprived of a chance to contribute. You feel he was selfishly thinking of himself instead of helping you the way you needed to be helped. Let it go. Don't make what happens from now on be about what happened then. You choose whether you want to see him every few months, every few weeks, or many times a week (online in that case I would presume) and then you put a plan into motion that's right for your family. That might mean some uncomfortable traveling and making a sacrifice for your children. Or it might mean some uncomfortable phone calls while you explain your reasoning to the person who's not getting visited. Either way, it's your decision because this is your family.

  • I think the "We will come on the following dates in 2017-2018 and only those. You are welcome at any time with us" approach is good. – Thorbjørn Ravn Andersen Aug 2 '17 at 8:55
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If I were you I would return the favor. I would often invite him to visit and complain when he refuses, in the exact words he complains when you have to refuse. Some people learn only by examples.

  • Welcome to Parenting.SE. I've edited your question so it is more of an answer than conversation/discussion -- take a look at our tour if you have questions about how our site works (we're a bit different than a forum you might be used to!). Thanks! – Acire Oct 2 '15 at 11:27
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    This will just escalate the conflict. – Thorbjørn Ravn Andersen Aug 2 '17 at 8:56

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