As a grandparent during a divorce, it’s hard to know your place in the crumbling relationship.
Before the divorce, you were likely welcomed by the parents into a loving, solid unit, but after the divorce, the place you have is unsteady. You’ll have to carve a new place in the midst of the relationship.
While some grandparents feel like they’re about to be cut out of their grandchild’s life, you’re actually more valuable than you might realize. It’s all about how you relate to the parents as well as the child in this new dynamic.
1. Don’t Take Sides
Children sometimes struggle with the feeling that they’re betraying one of their parents by seemingly taking sides in their divorce. As the grandparent, you absolutely should not take sides either. This means in action as well as in words.
Have your grandchild over to your house without stepping on any custody agreements set up between the couple. You might have to work on the correct time and date that won’t feel like you’re encroaching on the arrangement. Contact both parents, if possible, to offer your support and your intention to remain unbiased. You want to be a safe spot for your grandchild in the midst of the emotional chaos.
Focus on your relationship without harping on the one disintegrating at home. Keep to the same schedule and activities if you can with adjustments to make the child and parents feel comfortable. Take them to the park, or help with homework without mentioning that the parents are unable to do these things right now.
2. Avoid Bad Mouthing the Parents
Children hear much of what their parents are saying to each other. They often become ammunition to be used by one parent against the other. While you may be consumed by the need to talk about the divorce with others, you should avoid that when the child is around. Avoid assigning blame and make it clear to the child that you are not going to talk badly about either parent. Instead of pointing out where the parents failed, you can be the one who points out the good in them.
Never play spy to get information either. The child should look at the grandparents’ home as a safe place for them to relax and trust you with their feelings as well as what’s going on at home only if they feel like sharing. You should never pry or talk badly about what the arguments or divorce is doing for the child.
3. Become the Child’s Confidant
As tempting as it might be, don’t try to become your grandchild’s therapist. The fact that your home has remained the same stable environment may prompt the child to share their feelings about the divorce. Don’t try to dig into their feelings unless they want to open up about the process. Instead, leave yourself open to discussion, be a good listener and embrace them with love and understanding.
Children cherish moments spent with their grandparents, learning and doing new things. Take your grandchild to the park, go fishing or try some meditation – it helps you both focus and calm down. Or engage in some arts and crafts – having an outlet for your pain is crucial and may reveal some important information on their mental health. Beside cooking and baking, try decoupage, jewelry making, glass painting or candle making – but, make sure you obey the basic safety rules. Remember the grandparents’ home must be safe in emotional, mental and physical sense of the word. Everything should be as normal as possible for the child to relax. They’ll need a quiet place where they can forget what’s going on at home. Your home can be that place.
If the child brings up a concern that should be addressed with the parents, make sure to frame your question or reaction without bringing the child’s conversation into it. Instead of telling the divorcing parent that the child told you something, mention that it’s a problem you’ve noticed. Be prepared for anger, but know that the parent cares about the child through all the pain too.
4. Maintain a Relationship with the Other Parent
If you’re the paternal grandparent where the parent doesn’t have custody, staying connected can become a problem. To stay in the child’s life, you have to remain friendly with the custodial parent without your own adult child becoming resentful of the relationship with the ex-spouse. It’s a delicate line for grandparents to walk.
It helps if you’re able to talk plainly with both parents about the hope you have to continue a relationship with the grandchild. If you frame it in a way that confirms the neutrality you will maintain, you’re more likely to get the time you want with the child.
The role of the grandparent can become more vital and crucial to keeping the family together for the child through a very disturbing, emotional and tumultuous time in everyone’s lives.
The child in the relationship can become confused, angry and unable to trust in the parents that they once trusted. This can leave them with the feeling of abandonment. That is where the grandparent can step in and become the solid rock that the child needs during this chaotic time in their life.