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Marsha Temlock Headshot

Whose Side Are You On, Anyway?

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Parents walk a slippery slope when their child gets divorced. Even if they couldn't find a single good thing to say about the marriage, even if they were long distance parents, they are expected to wave the family banner and support their child.

There are, of course,those parents who play possum and others who straddle the fence to avoid taking sides. The reality is:

Parents cannot be in two camps at the same time.
In divorce, neutrality is treason.

Whether it is said directly or not, your child is counting on your loyalty. Never mind he or she might be responsible for the breakup. The assumption is blood is thicker than water. Or to put it more bluntly, your child is your child forever and the ex will move on. Needless to say, the last thing any self respecting parent wants is to alienate his or her child by, horrors, going to the other side.

But what if you've had a close relationship with that "other" child during the marriage? What if you find yourself mourning the loss? What if you are afraid you will lose contact with your grandchildren if you lose contact with the ex?

Child psychologist Dr. Arthur Kornhaber in his Grandparenting Guide (2002) emphasizes the importance of grandparents maintaining emotional ties with both parents when the marriage dissolves for the sake of the grandkids. (This assumes the relationships were healthy to begin with.)

Granted it is a balancing act. Sounds good in theory, but can it be done? In response to my earlier blog "A Grandmother Struggles with Divorce," one poster commented she was one of the lucky ones. There is no reason to surrender meaningful relationships as long as the parents-in-law are well-behaved.

How do we describe a well-behaved parent-in-law? He or she:

1. Accepts the decision and communicate sympathy in the early stages of the separation.

2. Recognizes the separated partner is hurting. Represses negative feelings. Overlooks things he or she says or does in the heat of the moment. Explains the parent does not want to take part in the battle.

3. Doesn't overstep boundaries, however. Takes cues from his or her own child. Discusses the amount of help to provide and respects those boundaries.

4. Shows concern for the grandchildren. Understands that visitation is a privilege not a right (unless court ordered). Greets the parent with a smile; expresses appreciation for having this time together even if it's for a few hours.

5. Never uses the grandkids as pawns. Respects confidences. Does not disparage either parent. Provides safety, security, a sense of belonging and relief from stress.

6. Does not assume he or she is not wanted. A separated spouse will welcome an extra set of hands if the offer is genuine.

7. Keeps the lines of communication open without trying to mediate.

The most difficult role is to show support for your own child while modifying the relationship you had with his or her partner. While it is true that many former spouses manage to maintain a respectful, even loving, relationship with the ex-laws, there are all those parents who, unfortunately, are shut out. Often it's a question of letting the dust settle.