If your child is getting divorced, your job as a grandparent is just about to get a lot more complicated. This grandparents guide to divorce will hopefully provide some useful tips. Suddenly it’s no longer just about building sandcastles and playing in the park with your grandchild. It is upsetting for you, knowing your child is having a tough time through a divorce, as well as knowing your grandchildren are also having a tough time. There are now the feelings of four different groups of people to consider:
- the other grandparents
- your child
- your child’s ex-spouse
- and your grandchild
A safe haven for your grandchild
As a grandparent, it is a chance to provide the stable safe haven for your grandchildren. They are going through a lot of mixed feelings and confusion. Children going through a divorce, are having a tough time, even if the divorce is the most amicable. It is good for children to have a place where everything is the same as it once was. Here they can feel safe, and the talk of “the divorce” is kept to a minimum, at least in front of them. Given this safe space, it may encourage the grandchildren to open up and talk about how they feel about the divorce of their parents. Being impartial will help with them opening up too.
After your child’s divorce is announced, you should try to keep your home and the time you spend with your grandchildren as similar to pre-divorce visits as you can manage. Time with grandparents can be a relief for grandchildren who may be caught in the middle of two parents. Your home should be a neutral zone. Keep the focus on your growing relationship with your grandchildren, not their parents’ disintegrating one.
When grandchildren can confide in you
It is best not to be one-sided in front of the children, even within earshot of them. If they feel you are taking one side, then they may feel obliged to either do the same or oppose you.
Don’t be surprised if the stability of your home encourages your grandchildren to share their feelings. They may be unable to express to their parents for fear that they will be taking sides. When your adult child is going through a divorce, it’s the main topic of conversation. You talk about it with your spouse, your best friend and with your child. But, be careful not to spend all of the time you have with your grandchildren delving into their feelings about the divorce. Don’t try to be your grandchild’s therapist.
Only when your grandchildren mention the divorce, should you address it with them. If they mention it, be an attentive listener and offer your love and empathy. Chances are you may be feeling emotions similar to theirs: anger, guilt, sadness, anxiety. Both your grandchildren and you are involved in a difficult situation that was not your choice to enter into.
When your grandchild opens up to you, frame your response positively and reassure him or her that the divorce is not his or her fault. If you feel your grandchild is bringing up an issue that should be addressed by the parents; don’t involve your grandchild when you approach them or broach the topic, but instead, when you are alone with your adult child, guide the subject with a non-accusatory musing rather than an accusation.
Also, be prepared for an angry reaction. Try to be sympathetic, but point out that everyone’s main goal is to help the child adapt to the new situation, without blaming ex-spouses.
Kids are all ears
- What would be the value of passing on this information?
- Would it be helpful to my grandchild?
No matter what your personal opinions are, always remember that your grandchild loves both of his or her parents, despite any occasional display of anger.
And no matter how tempting it may be, don’t attempt to get information that could be used in divorce proceedings. If, when your grandchild talks to you, what they say becomes fodder for the parents’ arguments, your grandchild will realize this and feel unable to trust you. Then, who will he or she have to turn to?
Ex-spouse: friend, enemy, neither?
After a divorce, many fathers are only able to see their children every other weekend. They will then try to squeeze in as much one-on-one time as possible. Often, when a father becomes a non-custodial parent, the child’s relationship with his or her paternal grandparents suffers. That’s why it is a good idea for grandparents to maintain a relationship with their child’s ex-spouse.
Sometimes an adult child may see this as a betrayal. It’s not being disloyal even if it feels like it. Communicate to your child that even though it may seem that you are helping his or her ex-spouse, you are just trying to maintain a relationship with your grandchild. You should be able to support your child during the divorce and have a healthy relationship with your grandchild, without having to choose one or the other.
Double birthday parties?
Many celebrations are child-centred. You may be wondering if, after the divorce, there will be two birthday parties, two Easter egg hunts? If you can’t include everyone in one event, then perhaps alternate the celebration year on year for the grandchildren.
“It can be awkward for the adults, but family members have been able to control any lingering emotional turmoil and make it a happy time. Of course, every family is different, and some divorces are more acrimonious than others. If a grandchild’s parents’ marriage ended bitterly, and emotions are still raw, joint celebrations don’t have to be insisted upon. Ask yourself, if it would be more difficult for the child not to see both parents together at the celebration, or to see them there together, arguing the whole time.
Grandparenting through a divorce can be a challenge. The role you play in your grandchild’s life may also become more crucial. Grandparents can offer not only their love but a place of sameness when everything else in your grandchild’s family life is changing.