Grandparents’ Role During Divorce

Helping Grandkids Cope When Their Parents Split

Your son or daughter is getting divorced. Your first or second thought has to do with those precious grandchildren. How to support them and maintain your relationship?

Up until grandparents get the news their adult child’s marriage is breaking up, their role was to make the grandchildren happy, to entertain them, to babysit, in short, to spoil them rotten. Post divorce, it’s a different story. Now suddenly, the grandparent role shifts.

The Grandparent’s Dilemma

There’s no question, grandparents walk a tightrope when and if they find themselves pulled into their child’s marital fray. Afraid to offend the soon-to-be ex-law or child and chance losing access to their grandchildren, they need to respect boundaries while comforting confused and potentially angry grandchildren. The best way to accomplish this end is to understand their role. And what is that role? The answer is to limit their involvement by providing stability, a sense of belonging, sensitivity and relief from stress during these difficult times.

Here are each of these tasks and ways you can support the grandchildren:

Providing Stability

Younger children in particular, will have difficulty expressing their emotions and may behave in ways you may not understand if they are experiencing a lot of change. They may act out if they are being shuttled back and forth or are uprooted. Grandparents can help by maintaining routines. Show your grandkids that when they go to grandma and grandpa’s there is a sameness to life: meals are served on time; go for pizza at your usual restaurant; help them with their homework; show up for soccer games, etc.

Giving Grandchildren a Sense of Belonging

No matter how hard you try, you cannot fill the shoes of the absent parent, but you can be the family historian and pass down your clan’s traditions, rituals and lore. Grandparents can be the foundation for rebuilding by making grandchildren feel they are part of the family system. Include them in family gatherings. Ask relatives to reach out to the children.

Showing Sensitivity

Understand that angry and confused grandchildren may see grandparents as the enemy, especially if their parent is bitter and turns on you. The best strategy is to wait it out. In time the flames may die and children will be more open to seeing you. Keep the doors of communication open. Send friendly emails, birthday cards, etc.

Offering Relief from Stress

Hopefully, you will have access to your grandchildren. They will reach out to you if you make your home neutral territory. When they visit, do not dwell on the topic of divorce or ask the kids to bear tales. Grandchildren of all ages need joy in their lives during this difficult time. Take the kids away for a weekend or on vacation. They will benefit from the tranquility of nature. Buy an extra pair of gardening gloves, arrange a camping trip or take walks in the park.

Many grandparents facing their child’s divorce dilemma will make mistakes by becoming overly involved or accuse themselves of not doing enough to help their grandchildren during this difficult time. Keep in mind that grandparents should be a lifeline not a life support. There are limits what they can achieve. But by providing stability, a sense of belonging, sensitivity and relief from stress, they are doing all they can do to help the family weather the storm.

Resources: “Your Child’s Divorce: What to Expect … What You Can Do” Marsha A. Temlock (Impact Publishers, Inc. 2007)

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