08/02/2013 05:31 pm ET Updated Oct 02, 2013

I'm Still Your Grandma


While I was Executive Director of Kids' Turn, San Francisco ( and a grandmother myself, I became very aware of the important role grandparents play when their grandchildren experience parental separation. Obviously, this also means an adult child of the grandparents is going through separation or divorce -- one of the most stressful adult life events.

It became clear to us at Kids' Turn that grandparents were relying on their intuition (and generally, their checkbook) to help their grandchildren ease through the family upheaval and conflict created when parents separate. It was also clear the grandparents had very few tools or support networks to help them handle family changes.

In order to fill this void, The Kids' Turn Way, Grandparents was developed and piloted in the San Francisco Bay Area. We learned a lot from that first effort, but it is clear to me now that I am semi-retired, there is more work to do.

Like other family traditions and habits, parental separation tends to run in families. We also know that my baby boomer generation didn't have tools, programs or inexpensive online resources to help guide us through the experience. We did the best we could and muddled our way through the momentous event and assumed "the kids will be just fine." This wasn't our fault -- we just copied what our Greatest Generation parents did and hoped for the best.

When we were developing The Kids' Turn Way, Grandparents, we conducted a focus group of grandparents who were supportive to their separated adult children and the grandchildren. For the most part, these were upper-middle class, educated seniors who had retired from white collar careers. I make that distinction because one assumes they would have all the tools and resources available to them to make these family difficulties less challenging.

That was not the case. It was clear the separation of their adult children triggered memories of unresolved pain and difficulties often from divorces the seniors experienced when they were much younger. Trying to navigate those painful memories from the past while experiencing family problems in the present was beyond difficult. And remember, ours is a generation not inclined to seek out resources to help get through complex life episodes.

I am putting time and energy during my retirement into soliciting input from grandparents all over the world offering a platform for them to express how they are managing the intergenerational difficulties imposed upon their grandchildren by parental separation. I want to learn from their life experience to see if there are commonalities and lessons for all of us.

I have crafted a simple survey which I began distributing via social networks this week. And the initial trends are astonishing to me.

First, a high percentage of initial respondents indicate they do not resent their role supporting their grandchildren during family changes. They consider it their responsibility and are glad to do it.

Second, the survey comments can be quite poignant. When asked what wisdom (s)he would impart to their children and grandchildren, one respondent said; Please remember that grandparents were first parents, and we are people making our own journey through life. We are not just Mom and Dad or Grandpa and Grandma. We have our own lives, our own dreams and disappointments that may have nothing to do with you. We're entitled to our lives, too. So look beyond the obvious sometimes and see us as people.

And finally, one professional colleague who received the survey asked if I would consider including a question for 'near-kin' grandparents -- those grandparents who find themselves raising their grandchildren because the adult children are unable to do so.

This category of grandparents did not occur to me, but I have adjusted my survey to include them.

The process has just begun. To learn more about the survey, please click here: . Let's memorialize our experience so we can pass it along to our children... and our grandchildren.

Portions of this blog were first posted on .