Are you struggling with what to do?
Divorce is a terrible thing in most cases because it usually means that the couple just did not care anymore and or were unable to work things out either alone or with a counselor. On the other hand, it can be welcomed if a spouse was harming the other or one of the children. You might be one of the grandparents whose child has recently been through a divorce. If so, you feel left out to a great extent because you don’t know what your future role is or if you can plan on having a future with your grandchildren. Chances are you have lots of questions regarding your future relationship with your grandchildren and the parent taking care of them. Life after divorce for grandparents can be difficult just as it is for the rest of the family.
What do your grandchildren need from you?
They need reassurance of their own value and they need love. It’s tempting to think about spoiling them, but that would only cause future problems. It would also cause problems with their parents and possible alienation.
If they think they might have caused the divorce, they need to understand that they did not. If they bring up an incident they were involved in, they need to understand that their parents were experiencing problems prior to that incident.
What should you disclose to your grandchildren about their parents’ divorce?
Absolutely nothing. That is their parents’ responsibility. You have no idea of what they have been told and saying anything could confuse them. What you can do is to be the peacemaker at all times, remembering that the adult children and the grandchildren have most likely been through a series of events that were not enjoyable and that had lasting consequences. A peacemaker remains positive and “calm, cool, and collected” as they used to say.
Never express any anger toward the parents and their roles in the divorce. First of all, you can’t know the whole story, and second, you can definitely believe that there are two sides to the story. Hopefully, parents will review their actions,7 learn what they did wrong and take full responsibility for them. Last, each parent has his or her own interpretation of the other parent’s actions which may or may not be correct.
If you do tread that road, you make your grandchildren very uncomfortable which adds to their anxiety. If you are able to convince them that they have a bad parent, they may experience low self-esteem. Doing this could alienate you from your grandchildren or cause them to think less of you as a person. Remember:
- The child is not at fault and does not need to hear blame statements.
- Generally, children love their parents and are not old enough to understand what went wrong.
- You do not want to be responsible for causing further problems in a family that has been experiencing problems.
How can I make things easier?
Do what you can to maintain relationships with your grandchildren. There are several online groups on Facebook for grandparents that you might find helpful. You just type grandparents in the search box and join a group. This gives you the opportunity to observe how others are handling the same problems you face. If yours does not come up, ask your own question and engage in a conversation with those that respond.
Continue your peacemaker role with the parent who initiated the divorce. Contact that parent and ask if he or she would meet with you to discuss your concerns about family events, holidays, and visitation. If you are not successful, ask if they would be willing to have a mediator work with both of you. Dr. Edward Kruk has also proposed mediators and family therapists to work with families denying access to grandparents, but notes that they have been resistant to recognizing the impact of alienated grandparents.
Avoid being antagonistic. Yes, I know it is hard. You hurt. You are angry and disappointed about your child’s aspirations and concerned about his or her future. And you have every right to feel like this. But you will have to discuss these feelings with someone outside of the family.
What are the grandparents’ rights?
Generally this question applies to visiting with grandchildren. Grandparents have no legal status to visit with their grandchildren and must rely on the goodness and cooperativeness of the parents. If that fails, it is possible in all 50 states for grandparents to acquire the legal right to visit their grandchildren. You will find your state listed in an article written by the American Grandparents Association. No one likes to seek a legal resolution, so hopefully your child has at least partial custody and is cooperative in that regard.
If you decide to go the legal route, some things in your favor include:
- You were raising your grandchildren due to a court order.
- One or both parents have been jailed or imprisoned and you have been helping to take care of their children. Unfortunately, a court will sometimes award a guardian who does not properly take care of the children and passes them along to any and all who are willing to have them.
- You have observed that the parent primarily responsible for them is not taking care of them properly, thus causing harm, or you have knowledge that the parent is a drug addict.
- If you have a grandchild that does not wish to see you and you believe that you can prove the grandchild has been improperly brainwashed about an alienated parent, your child, and you are experiencing a grandparent alienation syndrome.
- You have experienced some good times with your grandchildren.
Hopefully, you will be able to resolve your issues with your family peacefully. For additional help there is a closed organization on Facebook called Mothers-in-Law Unplugged. You apply for membership. Another organization, Grandparents Unplugged can be found on the Internet. It provides an avenue for asking questions and getting answers from anyone who believes they can help you. A third, but probably most important, is Alienated Grandparents Anonymous.
What is Grandparent Alienation Syndrome?
This is a term coined from “parental alienation” which was proposed by Dr. Richard Gardner in a 1985 article to define a situation where one parent manipulates a child, often the oldest, into believing that the other parent should be rejected for various reasons. Wanting to stay in favor with the manipulating parent, the child will not only reject that alienated parent but will also make up things about the alienated parent. In rejecting the targeted parent, the child is likely to reject the grandparents and other family members of the parent.
Divorce both solves and creates problems. Some last forever. Grandparents have to be persistent to a point when they are having problems gaining access to their grandchildren. If you have tried it all, you may have to settle for the obvious–no contact with your grandchildren. I know, it is heart breaking. It is possible that when they get older and understand some of the things that have happened, they may want to initiate contact. I know you will be grateful and will welcome them with open arms.
I’d like to know what you learned from this article and what you would like to contribute. I welcome your comments. Please see the comments section below.