Divorce is hard and it’s hard on the whole family – including the grandparents. Divorce means change. For the children of parents going through a divorce it is especially hard. So, how can grandparents help? Here are 4 things – and some may be difficult – grandparents can try to do to help their grandchildren during this difficult time.
1. Be a Safe Haven. Declare your home a neutral zone. No matter how much you want to side with your own child – their mother or father – or how much you want to sound off, don’t. Make it clear to both the divorcing parents that you want to support your grandchildren and that you will not take sides when you are with them. Establish a neutral zone from day one – and stick to it even when it takes biting your tongue.
2. Keep the Same Routines. Try to keep your routine with your grandchildren the same as it has always been. That means if you pick your grandkids up after soccer practice and your soon-to-be-ex son-in-law or daughter-in-law always picks them up from you, those arrangements stay in place if possible. It also means that if you have had a more distant relationship with your grandchildren, you don’t overload them with daily phone calls now that you know about the impending divorce. Be there for your grandchildren – a little extra attention might make sense no matter what your previous relationship with them, but don’t go overboard.
3. If they Confide in You, Then What? You are probably feeling many of the emotions your grandchildren are feeling – the uncertainty, the fear, and, maybe, the anger. However, when a grandchild opens up to you, it’s your job to remain positive. Reinforce that the divorce is not their fault, that both parents still love them and that you understand it is hard for everyone. Don’t bring up the divorce, but if your grandchildren do, listen to them and be positive. Don’t play therapist; be a sympathetic listener. And, don’t be a go a go-between. It’s not up to you to repeat what the child says. If you see an issue, bring it up as a topic – not as something the grandchild has said. For example, “I noticed Tommy has a hard time getting ready for school. I think he misses his two-parent morning routine. Maybe you could create a new routine with his input.”
4. Say Something Nice – even if it’s Hard. Your grandchildren need to still love both of their parents. Let them know that you still see value in the spouse that your son or daughter is divorcing. It can be simple things like “Your Mom makes the best chocolate cake.” Or, “Your Dad can fix almost anything.” The children still value both their parents so give them some reinforcement.
If you are a grandparent in a difficult divorce, you may feel that your rights to see your grandchildren are not being honored. Grandparents have rights in every state, but those rights are changing in some states so they don’t interfere with parental rights. If you are being denied contact with your grandchildren, talk to an experienced family law attorney. You may need legal help to make sure you can continue to have contact with your grandchildren. A family lawyer will know the laws in your state and can help you protect your legal rights.