Grandparents, like children, are innocent victims when parents divorce. Unwillingly pulled into the fray, the older generation is forced to take sides while grieving the loss of family. So many grandparents worry about losing access to their grandchildren.
Depending on how successfully grandparents manage their relationship with the couple, they find their role shifting, expanding or shrinking during these tumultuous times.
In my book, Your Child’s Divorce: What to Expect… What You Can Do, I take seniors through the five stages of their adult child’s divorce, offering practical advice how grandparents can help the family heal while respecting all-important boundaries. Here are suggestions for getting off on the right foot:
- Early on, express your interest in maintaining a relationship with your grandchildren. However, to avoid being cited with treason, wait for your child to give you the green light before pulling out the welcome mat or offering support to the future ex.
- Listen. Listen. Listen. Do not play judge, mediator or critic. Avoid negative comments about the other parent that may come back to haunt you. Accept the fact that, in order to keep the peace, you may have to overlook things grandchildren and the couple say and do while tempers flare.
- Focus on your role as a grandparent, which is providing your grandchildren with stability, relief from stress, security and a sense of belonging. Make the youngsters a part of the larger circle of family when the nuclear family dissembles.
- Use your role as a grandparent to your advantage. Single-again parents will welcome an extra hand while they are re-establishing their lives. One way to bind wounds with your ex-law is to offer to be a backup for babysitting. But only offer what you can do with a willing heart.
- Make visitations with the grandkids stress-free. Express your appreciation for having the kids to yourself even if it’s for a few hours. Once the family is stabilized, you can request more time.
- Call in the troops and limit self-sacrifice. Today, great-grandparents are much younger and can play an active part in childcare.
- If you ex-law persists in seeing you as public enemy #1 and refuses you access to your grandkids, use the other set of grandparents as bridges. Often seniors can act in consort to help bind family wounds.
- Finally, keep the doors of communication open. Send friendly emails, cards for special occasions, and make brief telephone calls to show your openness to maintaining a relationship with grandchildren who may, mistakenly, see you as part of the problem. Be patient. Time is a great healer.
Many ex-daughters and sons-in-law manage a respectful, even loving, relationship with both sets of grandparents post-divorce and involve them in their children’s lives. You can be one of those grandparents. Impossible to navigate the slippery slope of your child’s divorce, you say? Not if you act in good faith, stay positive, be patient and, most of all, respect the boundaries knowing what to expect and what you can do when your child gets divorced.
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