Up until grandparents get the news that their adult child’s marriage is over, their role is to entertain their grandchildren, to babysit them, or to simply spoil them rotten.
Typically grandparents are a safe haven for children, and in the instance of divorce, they offer security and stability in a world that is crumbling around the grandchildren. Chances are you may be feeling emotions similar to theirs: anger, guilt, sadness, anxiety. That is normal since both – your grandchildren and you – are involved in a difficult situation that was not your choice, and you had no say into.
Divorce affects everyone on both sides of the family – grandparents are the ones who are greatly affected because they are caught between the rock and the hard place – on one hand they want to support their adult child, on the other hand they don’t want to interfere and cause more harm than good, on a already fragile situation.
If you are a grandparent in that situation – as tempting as it may be to try to fix things, it is best to stay neutral through the divorce process. Instead of taking sides and offering unwanted advice, step back and offer to help each of the divorced parents whenever possible.
It would be ideal if you could develop cordial relationships with the ex-daughter-in-law or ex-son-in-law, but don’t be upset if you encounter negativity from an unhappy and hurting parent. Resist the temptation to pass on that negativity to your grandchildren. Ignore the comments and find something positive to say instead.
When you choose to be pleasant and upbeat around your grandchildren, they will feel loved and secure. No matter what your personal opinions are, always remember that children love both parents equally despite any occasional display of anger, and no matter what the parents do to each other, children don’t want to hear anyone say bad things about either parent.
Don’t be surprised if the stability of your home encourages your grandchildren to share feelings they are unable to express to their parents. They may fear that they will be taking sides if they talk to their parents.
If you need to bring something to the attention of the other parent, be sure not to use an accusatory tone.
When your adult child is going through a divorce, it’s the main topic of any conversation – you talk about it with everyone. You should address it with the grandchildren, only when they mention the divorce. If they mention it, be an attentive listener and offer your love and empathy. It is crucial to listen with an open mind and not pass on any negative feelings you may have about the parent in question.
Allow them the freedom to express their emotions. It’s imperative that you become a part of teaching your grandchildren to be street smart – to differentiate right from wrong – so if you feel there is a legitimate concern, or if you believe that there is something to impair their safety, advise them why it’s not a good idea to stay silent. Tell them to talk to a parent, or take the initiative and talk to the parent yourself. Children usually tell you the truth, if they feel that they can trust you, and they will trust you when they know that what they tell you, is absolutely confidential.
No matter how tempting it may be, don’t play spy by trying to get information that could be used in divorce proceedings. Children don’t like to be placed in the middle, or what they say to become food for the parents’ arguments.
Make casual, positive comments about their other parent; that will show your grandchildren that even though their parents are divorced, you still think that their other parent is a good person
Celebrations and holidays that are child-centered, are also an issue. Children like when parents and other family members set aside their differences and celebrate together – especially the children’s birthdays. That can be awkward for the adults, but family members are adults, and should be able to control any lingering emotional turmoil, and make it a good day for the children. But then, every family is different, and some divorces are more acrimonious than others.
If a grandchild’s parents’ marriage ended bitterly, and emotions are still raw, or perhaps the new partner feels uncomfortable, joint celebrations don’t have to be insisted upon. It would be less difficult for the child to not see both parents at the celebration, than it would be to see them there together, arguing the whole time, or sitting on opposite sides of the room, distance away from each other.
Your heartbreak may be hard to mask at times, but if you keep your focus on your grandchildren, your patience and peacekeeping agenda should pay off – one day your grandchildren will acknowledge everything you’ve done to help them through a difficult situation.