05/25/2011 12:30 pm ET Updated Jul 25, 2011

Grandparents Vacationing with Grandchildren After Their Parents Divorce

Summer is often a time when grandparents are recruited to spend time with their grandkids. A beleaguered single-again parent deserves time off and, if money is tight, Camp Grandma and Grandpa is a logical choice. So why not offer to take the kids for a week or two, especially if you're a long-distance grandparent and/or a grandparent with the time and energy to cope with the youngsters?

Most seniors look forward to vacationing with their family. But quality time can easily morph into quarrelsome time if a grandchild's parents are recently separated or divorced. Unfortunately, the kid may be packing a wad of resentment into his beach bag when you get him. Nervous about leaving a custodial parent, missing a visitation, and the prospect of being dumped at some old folks' home can stir up all kinds of negative feelings.

So how do you get off on the right foot once you've agreed to stick out your neck? According to one market research company, Age Wave Communications, a California-based company that tracks the mature market, the five best things grandparents can do to make grandkids happy are: take them out to eat, have a sleepover, go shopping, play games, and watch TV together.

The first thing to keep in mind is you don't have to go to a five star resort or Disney Land to give kids in crisis what they really need -- consistency, security, safety, and freedom from stress. The best way to help grieving and confused grandchildren is make sure they are escaping the divorce battlefield.

Grandchildren need joy in their lives. Grandparents can provide joy by substituting for a parent who, for whatever reason, can't be there for the child. Their role is to provide love, comfort and a sense of belonging.

Especially during the first year of separation, grandparents can play an active role by enjoying the beauty and tranquility of nature like going on a camping trip. The Sierra Club, the Grand Travel agency and the Foundation for Grand Parenting offer special inter-generational vacation packages that have grown tremendously in popularity. Elderhostels and organizations for learning vacations for seniors offer more than 3000 vacations for kids and grandparents.

One tip: If you want to make sure your grandchild has a good time, and you're up to it, encourage the child to invite a friend.

In the end, your home may be the best place for entertaining your grandchild. Children going through divorce are experiencing lots of change. Often they are shuttling back and forth between parents. Many are uprooted. They may have said goodbye to friends and neighbors. They may have left prized possessions behind. Even those who stay in the same surroundings experience a change in their environments. Therefore, a familiar place may be the best vacation spot because of the sameness.

No matter where you vacation, observe the following to make sure you achieve your goal which is to enjoy your time together while binding wounds:

  • Don't ply grandkids with questions about their home life. Try to be positive about the time they spend with each parent. Don't disparage either one, even if it means digging deep.
  • Respect the grandchild's confidence unless he or she is in danger. It's natural for children to complain about parents who are focused on themselves. Complaining is a way of testing grandma's loyalty.
  • Often children who seem fine are as deeply wounded as those who exhibit sullen or depressive behavior. Therefore look beneath the surface and be sensitive to inexplicable changes in temperament.
  • Grandparents may unwittingly be perceived as the enemy if they were pulled into the divorce fray. Turn the other cheek if your grandchild lashes out and, in a fit of anger, accuses you of going to the other side. One day, when tempers cool, that angry grandkid will remember the fun time you shared. The respite you offered from the crossfire - the cookies you baked, the canoe trip you took, the outfit you bought at the mall.
    • Studies have shown that grandparents, like kids, are victims of divorce. A vacation is a chance to form close bonds with the younger generation. It's a time to give your grandchildren the attention they crave and demonstrate the faith you have in their future.
    • Bloggers, please share successful vacations you've taken with your grandchildren during or after their parents' split. I list a number of vacation ideas in my book Your Child's Divorce: What to Expect - What You Can Do.