There is a huge difference between helping out with grandchildren, and taking sole care of them Yet, when your children divorce, your grandchildren need you more than ever.
When Your Children Divorce: Part Two
There is a huge difference between helping out with grandchildren, and taking sole care of them. Yet, when your children divorce, your grandchildren need you more than ever, generation gaps and all.
"We’re getting a divorce’ are words all parents dread to hear from their married son or daughter.
There is a huge difference between helping out with grandchildren, and taking sole care of them. From the number of grandparents who contacted me when I was researching for my books on the family I became aware of the army of grandparents who have had to step in to care full- time for their grandchildren. Divorce is not the only reason for this.
Emily: ‘My daughter was divorced and a year later she died of cancer. By then we had lost all contact with my ex son-in-law, so what were we to do? We have cared for Jackie since he was two years old.’
What indeed? I heard from grandparent after grandparent who for different reasons had taken on the task of parenting their grandchildren. For this to come about there must have been a tragedy or crisis in the family. It was a task always done with love, but often with a heavy heart too as strength and finances often ran out.
One all too familiar scenario was where visitation rights for grandparents were cut out from grandchildren’s lives because a parent – consciously or unconsciously – had found a way of ‘punishing’ their ex-partner.
A very unhappy situation which grandparents can find themselves in is if the rift between the couple includes the extended family. In my research I heard of the way divorce had wrecked the lives of many senior family members. I heard from one grandmother:
Glenda: ‘One Christmas a happy family time, and by the next my son was divorced and my ex daughter-in-law had gone to Australia with my two loved grandsons. I don’t even have their address.’
One all too familiar scenario was where grandparents were cut out from grandchildren’s lives because a parent – consciously or unconsciously – had found a way of ‘punishing’ their ex-partner. The fact that the children suffer too was sometimes overlooked in the heat and pain of the situation. For a child to cope with a broken family is one thing, and hard enough, but to lose one set of grandparents as well is to deny a child part of their history.
One little acknowledged impact on the grandparents from their children’s divorce may be rage towards an ex partner who has hurt their child. Even if both partners have contributed to the breakup, blood is still thicker than water, and the old protective instinct will kick in. At the same time there is often unacknowledged grief at the loss of a son or daughter-in-law because of a divorce.
Margaret: ‘ My son-in-law hurt my daughter and the children, and his behavior made my husband ill with worry, but I did love him and couldn’t just stop. He was like a son to me. I couldn’t talk about that, of course.’
So to the grandparents who have been affected by a family crisis, whether a step-grandparent, someone parenting for the second time, or a person grieving for a ‘lost’ grandchild, they are all victims of circumstances. Whilst some braced themselves to take on parental duties, others mourned the loss of the status as grandparents.
Ellie: ‘When things were very bleak indeed, I remind myself that grandchildren are our hope for the future. So I found it in myself to give hope for the future to my grandchildren.’
All my research has pointed to the importance of grandparents for children, but especially for children of divorced or separated parents. If the awful words ‘we’re getting a divorce’ are heard from one of your children, you can be sure your help is going to be needed in many ways and that your days of being just a ‘ fun’ grandparent are probably over. The trick is to keep a balance, support for your children and their children, but also to remember that a grandparent has a special relationship with their children’s children – so if circumstances allow it, find time to enjoy just being a grandparent.