No Gratitude

May 12 2017 | by

DEAR DR. POCAK: My widowed mother is suffering from Alzheimer and, seeing my husband and I are both working and have two young children to look after, we have had to place her in a residential care facility. This was not an easy choice to make, not least for the considerable costs involved. There was, however, no other solution.

I try to see her at least once a week, but my children (10 and 13) simply don’t want to go. The sad thing is that she was the granny who looked after them with such loving care when my husband and I were off at work. This ingratitude of theirs grieves me.

What should I do? Should I insist and force them to go?


You appear to be attributing your children’s reluctance to visit their grandmother as ingratitude, but I wonder if there isn’t a simpler, less insidious explanation; namely, that it’s hard – especially for children – to watch someone they love suffer. It’s no picnic for you, I know. But you have all the resources that come with being a grown-up who has faced and overcome many challenges in your life. Imagine how difficult it must be for your children who simply don’t have your life experience, wisdom, or emotional maturity. 

None of this is to say that it is okay for your children to opt out of visiting their grandmother, just that it’s better to treat it as a teaching opportunity instead of a power struggle. Trying to shame your children into wanting to visit their mentally infirm grandmother is just going to make them want to avoid the whole thing all the more. Here are four things you can do instead.

  1. Draw them out: Rather than assuming the worst about their hesitancy, draw them out. Take them out for a special breakfast, for instance, and say, “I love grandma so much, but, to be honest, sometimes it can be hard for me to visit her. It’s really hard to see her suffering the way she is. I notice that it seems like it’s hard for you to want to visit her sometimes too. Can you tell me what it’s like for you to go?” They might begin by saying, “It’s boring” or “I don’t know.” These are just ways to test whether you’re going to get angry with them for being honest. Encourage them through this. “Can you help me understand what’s boring about it?” “Do you feel sad? Angry? Confused about what to say?” Show them that you are interested in understanding their experience of the situation so that they will see you as the person who really wants to help them respond to this situation with grace and maturity.
  2. Affirm: At first, when they tell you how they feel, you might be tempted to talk them out of it, by saying things like, “Don’t say that! Don’t you remember how much grandma loves you! Shame on you for thinking that way.” Resist this temptation to shame them. Instead, say something like, “You know. I can really relate to that. Sometimes I feel bored/angry/sad/frustrated/etc to see grandma like that too. It’s hard to see someone we love going through that, isn’t it?” Show them that you are on the same side.
  3. Cultivate Empathy: Having drawn them out and collected them to you, now is the time to help them cultivate a more empathic response. Ask them to think about times they have been unwell. What do you do that makes them feel better? Do they like it when you – and the other people they love – spend time with them even if they aren’t well enough to play games, or can’t talk because their throats hurt, or even if they smell bad because they can’t keep their food down? Why do they like you to spend time with them even when they feel poorly? Does it help them feel better? How?
  4. Encourage discipleship: Ask them if they think visiting grandma helps her feel better. They might be confused about this, especially if she can’t remember them. In simple, practical terms, explain the difference you think the visits make. Talk with them about practical ways they can help grandma feel more comfortable. Help them know what to say when the conversation lags or becomes uncomfortable. Give them permission to ask you how to handle the situations that make them awkward. Coach them into showing the care you know they can be capable of with just a little help.

For more ideas on raising virtuous, caring kids, check out my book, Discovering God Together: The Catholic Guide to Raising Faithful Kids.



Updated on May 12 2017