Q: My daughter has had her daughter removed from her care because of some bad choices she made in the past, but the truth was she was an unfit parent. Child Protective Services placed the child with me and suggested I apply for guardianship. I did take the child, but I never officially applied. My daughter has been combative and angry since the beginning and is trying to get her daughter back, saying that I am the unfit one. Although she has made great strides, I still do not feel my daughter is ready to be a parent and I do not want to give her back her child at this time. How do we ever solve this problem? What's good ex-etiquette?
A: Your e-mail implies that you have been working with Child Protective Services, but have not involved the courts. Technically, you have left yourself wide open in regards to making formal decisions for your granddaughter, but from an emotional standpoint, I understand your choice. Truth is, as soon as you involved the courts it becomes an either/or proposition because you are asking for an either/or decision — where is this child most safe — who is the "better parent"? Those questions are fightin' words for family members in your position. It asks for a value judgment, often about people who have worked on their dependence on alcohol or drugs, possibly mental illness, at least some trial that was difficult to overcome since someone had to intervene, and this brings up all sorts of emotions, both rational and irrational, making decisions like this difficult.
The goal of most court-ordered or CPS decisions of this sort is to eventually reunite the child with the biological parent. You must have known this from the beginning. Be careful. You may now be so attached to the child that you do not want to facilitate reunification, and that may be clouding your judgment. That's when the players start pointing fingers, start the negative allegations and dig in their heels, forgetting the best interest of the child.
If you do get the courts involved, they will make that either/or decision, however, you will be asking someone to make a decision who does not know this child, nor the struggles both your daughter and you have faced. It may dredge up all sorts of nastiness that you have both overcome and they may have to involve the child in interviews that could be emotionally detrimental.
I am not saying you shouldn't reach out to the courts, because the courts can be extremely helpful. I am suggesting, before you fight it out, consider reaching out to a third party like a private mediator or therapist who may be able to help you both broker a schedule that works for everyone, particularly this child who is in need of continuing her bond with you, but also safely re-bonding with her mother.
Kudos to you for stepping in, but a severed relationship with a parent can do immense damage to a child. It's something that affects them for the rest of their life. If you can help heal that relationship while maintaining your own with this child, it will truly serve the child you both love so much. That is the essence of good ex-etiquette.