Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Question: My dad wants to have my son, 6, visit him out of state for a week over the summer. The impetus for this request is that my in-laws hosted him for a week last summer, so he feels he should have a turn.
However, there are so many reasons my husband and I will not allow him to spend time with my dad unaccompanied by us. First, the main reason he wants to have my son visit is a "keeping up with the Joneses" thing with my in-laws. Second, when he visits us, he doesn't make it a point to interact with my boys or notice when they need something.
Third, he is becoming very forgetful (he's 70), and it is very worrisome when thinking about him caring for himself, let alone my son. One example: He said he forgot his iPad at TSA coming to visit, so we called TSA there and worked through the system, only to have him find his iPad charged at home.
Fourth, my mom died five years ago, so my dad is on his own. He does have a "girlfriend," but I don't know her, and based on the stories he has told me of her family, I do not trust my son's well-being to her.
Finally, my dad focuses only on himself - without regard for whoever or whatever is going on around him. When he visits, he keeps his same schedule (showering, playing Sudoku online, watching TV) no matter what is going on in our house and is oblivious to obvious times when that is not what should be happening.
How do you tell your dad this visit is not going to happen, without hurting him and our relationship? He sees things in black-and-white and likely will fly off the handle. (When I asked him to check dates before buying a plane ticket to visit us, he said, "I just won't visit then if I am an inconvenience.")
Answer: "But how do you tell your dad . . . without hurting him and our relationship?" You don't. Instead, you accept you can't have both. Taking a stand isn't about making everyone happy. It's about doing what you feel you have to do, even knowing your life will be more difficult for it.
So, say no to your dad. A 6-year-old needs to feel safe and bonded with the people caring for him, and there's apparently little to none of that here.
Since the alternative is handing over your son, tell your dad the truth, and let him fly off the handle. You can assure him that you'll reassess as he makes an effort to contribute to the boy's care during his visits. No small part of that is bluff, because of his stubbornness, but you can promise to visit soon, and mean it, to meet the girlfriend and start acclimating your son to Grandpa's house.
As for the forgetfulness, keep an eye on it; for what it's worth, I'm 20 years younger and could see myself starring in that iPad story.
There are ways to take incremental steps that don't obligate you to anything - and might just earn your kids a grandpa who tries to show them he cares.
Chat with Carolyn Hax online at noon Fridays at www.washingtonpost.com.