The grandparent’s role post-divorce can be tricky – a balancing act between supporting their own offspring and not showing frustration towards the other parent. Having contact with their former daughter/son-in-law can be viewed as an act of treason by their own adult child. Yet continuing a relationship with this former family member is a logical way to ensure contact with grandkids. Keeping feelings, advice, and opinions to themselves is difficult, however it is a wise way to maintain the equilibrium when grandchildren are in the picture.
Grandparents’ most important function is providing a haven where youngsters receive unconditional love. When kids are caught in the middle of warring parents, spending time with grandparents helps to offset this stress. They feel safe and can share their unsettling feelings. The Grandparents’ role is to listen and validate this frustration without appearing to take parental sides. My former mother-in-law badmouthed me within hearing distance of my sons and her passive husband refused to come to their aid. This behavior backfired and my sons limited their time being in their company.
Grandparents are many times the ones who hand down family traditions, whether it is baking holiday cookies or the secret recipe for a signature meal. They teach skills such as gardening or nurture family talents as in woodworking or playing the piano. They tell family stories and talk about emigrating from a distant land.
When there are blended families, it is often grandparents who welcome the new additions. My step-grandparents treated me as one of the gang and asked about my mother. My paternal grandparents on a farm enjoyed getting two new step-grandkids. They taught them skills, such as milking a cow and harvesting potatoes. My step-siblings and I were welcomed with open arms by both of our families.
Grandparents are cheerleaders and go to games, dance recitals and school performances. They let the youngsters know how proud they are of them and their achievements. Some grandparents are able to take the kids adventures to see the world and learn about different cultures. Two days ago I met a grandmother/daughter duo flying to Sydney for a “girly trip.” On river boat trips in France and Germany I met grandmothers taking teenage granddaughters on their first trips abroad. My mother shared her life stories and lessons with my sons while on cruise ships in a relaxed setting. Outings don’t need to be exotic: closer to home, an amusement park is a fun way to bond with the grandkids.
Recently, more and more grandparents are fulfilling the role as guardians when parents are incapacitated or are in prison. In other cases, parents are working long hours or are juggling jobs, so grandparents step in to fill the childcare gap.
Grandparents, however, do need to be careful to limit their role to the side lines and not meddle with divorce actions, such as visitation. I know of one grandmother who tried to talk her 18 year old grandson out of terminating his relationship with his father and stopping visitation when there had been some previous abuse. She argued that his younger brother needed him, even though supervised visitation was in the works. It was upsetting when this women kept trying to dictate how the boys ought to be interacting with her former son-in law. The boys later revealed that they had been molested and this turned into a police matter. The grandmother finally understood how traumatizing her interfering had been for these boys, and she had a massive heart attack. The moral of this unpleasant story is for grandparents to be neutral and not push grandkids in a certain direction.
Grandparents are invaluable to kids in the majority of cases, and preservation of the relationship, with appropriate boundaries, can play a huge role in kids’ stability and well-being, especially after divorce.
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