In recent Supreme Court decisions regarding grandparent's rights, the justices indicated that parents are the decision makers about access to their children. However, that does not diminish the significant role of grandparents in the lives of their children and grandchildren, particularly during times of transition.
Recently our staff had a surprise grandparent shower for one of our staff members. I asked each guest to bring a story about their grandparents to share with others about the role their grandparents played in their lives or if they were a grandparent, what that meant to them. We went through three boxes of tissues as we recalled our grandparents baking, playing, taking us on trips, being there when we were sick. The roots of these loving relationships brought us to tears, along with the love that those of us who are grandparents have for our grandchildren.
What happens with divorce? There are multiple scenarios such as grandparents not being allowed access to their grandchildren, grandparents taking sides with their child and not the co parent, grandparents being badmouthed by one parent.
I worked with a teen whose grandparent used to pick her up from school to take her to counseling, week after week. He was her loving anchor who was always there for her. I worked with a family whose grandparent made the children take off clothes purchased by the co parent's parents. What does this do to children? When children are allowed to have a loving relationship with grandparents they feel special, have fun, learn how to do new things, "hear" their grandparents' wisdom. Grandparents become even more special as grandchildren get older and can reflect back on how their grandparents were always there for them.
- Be there for grandchildren: know their favorite games, books, other activities and engage with them.
- Share feelings with them that are age appropriate but not about either parent. Children don't want to be responsible for how you feel about their parents and if you are negative, they will say that part of them is being torn apart because they are part of each parent. Even if you do not live close to your grandchildren, you can keep in contact with them by sending letters, cards, emails, phone calls or facetime.
- Be a role model for your adult child. It is so hard not to take sides but if you think of your long term relationship with your grandchild and your child, remaining loving and neutral will be your ticket to a forever relationship.
- Be there to dry your grandchild's tears and listen to their feelings. " I know that you feel very sad"/ " It sounds like you feel really angry and hurt" are statements that acknowledge their feelings instead of saying things like, "Of course you are angry because your parent really messed up."
- You can ask your grandchild if there is anything you can do to help.
- Offer to help your child and your grandchild's co parent. There are many extra tasks to do and parents often run from one thing to another, especially as loving parents. Offer to drive your grandchild to an activity, pick up an inexpensive dinner, help with homework and help with chores at your adult child's home.
- Know your grandchild. This takes time, doing things with and for that child, knowing your grandchild's temperament and personality.
What would you do if
- Your grandchildren told you he or she was told negative things about you by a parent?
- You make plans for a family reunion and find out that your grandchild is not allowed to attend?
- You want to maintain the long term relationship you have had with your child's former partner but you are told by your child you can't.
- You try really hard to communicate with your grandchild and don't hear back.
Try to remember
- You are the adult and need to understand that you cannot put the child in the middle between you and your child or your child's former partner.
- Model not taking sides for the rest of the family. You can set a tone of supporting each parent and keeping your grandchild out of the middle.
- Try to depersonalize negative comments about you that are told to you: "Thank you for telling me. I want to focus on having fun with you, spending time with you and loving you." Please don't feel like you have to be in the middle."
- Assert yourself with your child. Try to help your adult child understand the importance of your relationship with your child's former partner and your child.
- Part of the tears shed at the baby show I referred to previously in this blog was the unconditional love each of us felt for our grandparents, the special rituals we shared and how we as grandparents were now passing that down to our own grandchildren.
Your grandchildren need your love, now and forever!