Don’t worry grandparents, when your children get divorced there are many ways to show up for your family during this distressing and disruptive time.
I have met many grandparents through my family law practice. They come to me for retirement preparation. I help them prepare their wills and set up a continuing power of attorney. And with a 30% divorce rate in Israel, sometimes I’m helping them through their own divorces. But very often it’s their kids who are ending their marriages. They worry about the separating couple and struggle with maintaining a relationship with their grandchildren.
The nature of a family law practice means that I have seen and heard things that would raise the hair on the back of your neck. But conversely, I have also heard wisdom from grandparents who have learned to navigate all the sharp turns and potholes on the road to a healthy relationship with their grandchildren. They haven’t taken sides. They’ve stayed flexible about the new family dynamic. And they have provided a calm and stable environment for their grandchildren.
Even when both parents manage to agree that divorce is for the best and have come to a mutually beneficial agreement, it is still incredibly hard on the children. That’s why it is so important for them to have their grandparents in their lives.
Unfortunately, all too often when there are hostilities in divorce, the grandparents are cut off from their grandkids. I have had many cases where grandparents have been shut out during and after a divorce; when there is almost never any mention of grandpa and grandma during the custody negotiations between the parents.
There is no comprehensive provision in the law for the rights of the grandparents. But when they have sought a legal solution very often rulings have gone in their favor. Judges focus on “the best interests of the child” when they decide custody, child support and anything else that has to do with the children. And they’ve acknowledged that giving grandparents visitation rights plays a huge role in the stability of the children’s lives.
Managing Your Own Feelings When Your Children Get Divorced
It’s tough when your child’s marriage ends. You have to deal with a whole range of emotions – both theirs and your own. But grandparents, when your children get divorced it’s very important to manage your own feelings.
When a family breaks apart everyone has to go through a period of adjustment and mourning. Your son or daughter has a huge challenge in front of them especially when dealing with your grandchildren’s hurt and sadness. Just as it is widely accepted that divorcing parents should not burden their children with their own emotions, remember that you are also a parent. You are probably sad and disappointed. You may even be anxious and angry as well.
But sharing your feelings with your divorcing child or your grandchildren will increase the tension for everyone. Your role as a parent and grandparent is to be a source of support. Besides talking to your spouse or a friend, there are a number of other options as well. A support group or a professional counsellor can help you manage your own feelings.
Supporting Your Grandchildren
Your grandchildren need your support even more than ever during and after the divorce. So, grandparents, when your children get divorced provide love and a sympathetic ear to your grandchildren. But remember; you are not their therapist. If they want to share their feelings about the divorce with you, let them. Just listen and comfort them without taking sides. And do your very best to keep them out of whatever conflicts you may be having with either of their parents. I have seen far too many parents using their children as pawns when fighting for custody and involving the grandparents directly in the conflict. It never turns out well, especially for the children.
If at all possible try to keep the channels of communication open with both of the parents. At the very least, never say anything negative to your grandchildren about either parent. This will help to contribute to a healthy environment particularly if there is no character assassination. You might want to consider leaving out pictures of the “other” parent so that the grandchildren don’t feel they have to “hide” their feelings about what’s going on.
Make your home their safe and secure space without raised voices and conflict. A place where they know what to expect. Keep to the same routines, like after school visits or Shabbat meals together, as much as you can. Your grandchildren will appreciate the stability of knowing what to expect from you, while everything else in their lives is changing. All kids benefit from their grandparents being in their lives – especially those with divorced parents.
Supporting the Divorcing Parents
Grandparents, when your children get divorced you can step up and assist both divorcing parents. Sympathize and give support to your son/daughter but do not allow yourself to be involved in the conflict when they are fighting or arguing with their ex-spouse. If you have a good relationship with your in-law child try to maintain it if you can. This parent will be in your lives going forward: family simchas, holidays etc. The better your communication is, the more relaxed these events will be. Keeping a good relationship with your child’s ex will make it easier for them to leave the kids with you when it’s ‘their time’ with your grandchildren. But if you do experience conflict with the divorcing parents, just remember not to involve your grandchildren.
Help your own child with meals, babysitting, school drop offs and just be there to listen. Try to stay positive, supportive and non-judgmental. Offer to help both parents with school pick ups or drop offs and watching the kids after school hours or babysitting. If you’re able to assist in this way you’ll have more opportunities to spend time with your grandkids.
Nurturing Your Relationship with Your Grandkids
Your grandchildren are one of the biggest joys in your life. And that doesn’t have to change for grandparents when your children get divorced. You may have to work a little harder to arrange time with them especially if there is joint custody and they are living out of two households. But the rewards are in no way diminished by the new family status. In some ways they may even be enhanced. When the time they spend with you is enjoyable and free of conflict your grandchildren may choose to be with you more often. The unconditional love you shower on each other is a balm for many hardships.
Look for ways to open a line of communication with your grandchildren through technology. After all, their lives are completely wrapped up in it! Who couldn’t use a little help with their commuter, phone or Whatsapp. Ask for assistance with Google photo editing and you can enjoy looking at pictures together. If it’s part of your family’s culture, make a regular movie night at home or take them to a theater.
Don’t wait for your grandkids to call you. Remember how uninterested you were in your grandparents’ lives? Call them a few times a week just to say hello. Or on Fridays to say Shabbat Shalom. Be proactive in reaching out on whatsapp on a regular basis. Even if it’s just silly emojis in a text. Younger kids can join you for a zoom call once a week to update you on their lives, show you art projects or sing songs they’ve learned. You could even read them a favorite story. And make sure they have your phone number, too. Just in case they need to reach you.
Grandparents are for fun time! So stay away from parenting them when they are with you, as difficult as it may be. Keep ‘stuff’ for them in your house; books, games, crafts. They will look forward to spending ‘special’ time with you when they know your home is a calm and nurturing safe zone.
A Final Thought for Grandparents When Your Children Get Divorced
While divorce may change the structure of a family, it’s members have just as much potential for joy, smiles, hugs, bonding and support as they always did. Even though it is a difficult and heartbreaking situation, grandparents can play a unique role. You can help guide the process towards a more positive outcome and enjoy many happy, healthy years with your children and grandchildren.
As always, if you have any questions about your children’s divorce, grandparent’s rights, child custody or challenges related to planning for retirement, please feel free to contact my office and we will do our very best to help you.