Grandma arrested for sneaking into school to see her grandson

Dec 17, 2015 at 2:05 p.m. ET
Image: Fergregory/Getty Images

In most families, grandparents are treasured members of the family, loved by their grandchildren and trusted by their own kids. In some families, troubled dynamics mean grandparents are cut off from their grandchildren, usually with good reason.

That was the case with Gloria Laniece Bryan, an Iowa grandmother. The 66-year-old woman was estranged from her grandson's parents, who did not want her to have any contact with their son. Unfortunately she went to extreme lengths to violate that request, a decision that ultimately got her arrested.

She first sneaked into the high school that her grandson attended in September, where she was escorted off the premises and asked to not return. She ignored that warning, showing up just one month later, disguised as an elderly janitor with a beard and walker before being discovered, running away and then being placed under arrest for trespassing and harassment.

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Your first reaction to this story might be to chuckle. It almost seems cute: a little old lady so enamored by her grandson that she would wear an absurd disguise, sneak into a high school and then lead the police on a chase worthy of being set to "Yakety Sax."

But let's put it this way: Parents have a right to decide who does and does not get to be involved in their children's lives. Oftentimes they'll even bite the bullet and open up a relationship with a difficult parent or overbearing in-law just to keep the familial peace. Suffice to say, in most situations, deciding that your child will have no contact with his or her grandparents is not a decision that comes easily or is considered lightly. It typically means the person you are excluding from your child's life — even your own parent — is so toxic that a relationship with them will ultimately harm your child.

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We don't know why Bryan fell out with her grandson's parents, and we don't need to. If she was willing to disregard her grandchild's parents' wishes so flamboyantly, even when she knew it could get her arrested, it says volumes about how seriously she takes a parent's role in their own children's lives. It says a lot about what their relationship has been like in the past as well.

Estrangement is difficult for people to understand. All families have problems. All grandparents can have boundary issues. Every extended family is dysfunctional to some degree, right? Just suck it up and laugh it off and let it go because "family is family." But that's misguided: Parents can be abusive, malicious and toxic. We see it every day. A shared genetic code is not carte blanche to do whatever you want, whenever you want, with the promise that unconditional familial love and acceptance is guaranteed to you.

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If this were a stranger or an obsessed neighbor or an abusive noncustodial parent, we would certainly not find it cute or funny if they showed up in disguise to see a child because they were "desperate" to. We would see it for what it is: a scary violation. And this kid's parents are scared. His mother told police that she was afraid Bryan would abduct her son, and that's not hard to conceive of, given her past behavior. If she has no respect for her child's wishes and none for the law, what's going to stop her?

The school did exactly the right thing here by taking action immediately and calling the police. This kind of interference is not to be taken lightly. When parents say, "I don't want this person to have access to my child," then it doesn't matter if that person is a stranger, a former friend or even a blood relative. No one is owed access to your kids unless you share custody with them.

Full stop.