September 9th was National Grandparents day, a day to honor the important contributions seniors have made throughout history. As a divorce lawyer in Northern Kentucky, I support this day and appreciate the immense contribution grandparents make to their children and grandchildren’s lives.
I also understand the challenges grandparents face when their children divorce. Coping with divorce can be a difficult time for everyone in the family, including grandparents. However, with the right approach, grandparents can be an important source of support, inspiration and security for their children and grandchildren.
In some circumstances, however, the opposite may occur as grandparents unknowingly create family tension and even sever important relationships. David Norgrove, the chairman of an official review on family justice, states, “Grandparents can be used by parents as a way of getting at their ex-partner. Grandparents are not always straightforward in the way they behave and the result can be damaging to children.”
The following are tips for helping grandparents to maintain a healthy relationship with their grandchildren throughout the divorce process:
1) Show support for your divorcing son or daughter.
Grandparents have the ability to provide support for their children who are often in a vulnerable place after divorce. Grandparents can support their children without creating further drama by keeping their emotions under control. Instead of passing judgments about the divorce, important relationships will benefit if grandparents focus on acknowledging the efforts their son or daughter has previously made to make their marriage work. By providing unbiased encouragement for their divorcing children, grandparents can help to create an environment of forgiveness, optimism, and acceptance that is necessary for healing and recovery.
2) Behave with civility towards the former spouse.
While it may be tempting for grandparents to alienate the ex-spouse of their children, this behavior is often not in the best interest of their grandchildren. It is important for grandparents to remain neutral and avoid taking sides with either spouse. By maintaining a civil relationship with the former spouse, grandparents can help soothe tension and provide their grandchildren with a safe and neutral territory.
3) Care for your grandchildren by providing security and love.
Grandparents can minimize the stress of divorce for grandchildren who may be confused or unsure about their family life after a divorce. According to Lillian Carson, Ph.D., a psychotherapist and grandmother of 10,“Time with grandparents can be a relief for grandchildren who may be caught in the middle of two parents.” She notes that it is helpful for grandparents to talk to their grandchildren about the divorce when the grandchildren are emotionally ready to talk about their family situation. Carson also recommends that grandparents should be cautious not to say anything negative about their son or daughter’s ex-spouse when they are with their grandchildren because children require and want the love of both parents.
4) Avoid creating an over-dependent relationship with your divorced son or daughter.
Although it is recommended that parents show support for their divorced children, parents should avoid providing their children with too much. One suggestion is for parents to set a timeline for when their children need to begin moving on with their life. This can help to avoid an over-dependent relationship.
Divorce can create many challenges for grandparents. However; through proper awareness on managing emotions and demonstrating compassion and respect for your child and their ex-spouse, you can minimize unnecessary stress and provide your grandchildren with a sense of security, love and support during and after their parent’s divorce.