Divorce is a devastating time for children. When parents argue bitterly, move out of the home, relocate children to another community or start dating new boyfriends or girlfriends, kids’ lives are turned upside down.
Grandparents play a vital role in helping children navigate and survive the breakup. Here’s how:
1) Be neutral. Never take sides in the divorce . You don’t know what happened in the marriage. There are always two sides to every issue. Rise above the drama. Express only positive feelings for both parents.
2) Maintain contact with the grandchildren. Your calm, stable presence is an oasis for your grandchildren. Avoid making changes to your visitation schedule. You might even increase your time together so parents can attend to personal business. If one parent denies you access to the grandkids, stay in contact however possible. Regular phone calls, Skype, email and letters let grandkids know you care.
3) Don’t offer advice to parents. The solution may seem obvious to you. Still, adult children are unlikely to accept input from Mom or Dad. The only exception would be informing a parent about something you notice in the children. For example, “Joey seems happier after he’s talked to you. Perhaps you can call him at night before he goes to sleep.”
4) Develop a workable relationship with adult children’s exes. Regardless of their actions, they will always be your grandchildren’s parents. They also have complete control of your access to the kids. Be respectful to them at all times. Empathize with the difficulty of going through a divorce. Find topics you can safely discuss . Remind them often how much you adore their children and want to do what is best for them.
5) Be a good listener. When kids go through a divorce, they have difficult feelings to process and questions they want to have answered. Convey to grandchildren they can tell you anything. But don’t attempt to analyze their feelings. You’re a grandparent, not a therapist. Allow ample opportunities for important discussions to take place. Ask open-ended questions, such as “How are you doing?” Then listen as answers unfold. Avoid overreacting to what they tell you. Never betray their trust by telling the parents. (The only exception is if you determine that they being physically, emotionally or sexually abused. Speak with an expert immediately about how best to proceed.)
6) Be pleasant during family gatherings. Get togethers can be awkward in divorced households, but their success plays a key role in kids’ ultimate adjustment. When adults are pleasant and cordial around each other, children feel at ease. If adults are contentious and bitter, children are tense, confused and reluctant to participate. Put on your best game face for any joint events. Steer clear of loaded topics. The ultimate goal is a stress-free outing. Do your best to make it happen.
7) Model coping strategies. It’s OK to be sympathetic to grandkids’ plight. It’s equally important to help them accept the new situation and move on. These were the cards they were dealt. It’s up to them to make new friends, adjust to a new school, have a good relationship with both parents and be happy about their lives.
8) Be patient. Divorce is always disruptive. It takes time for a new normal to emerge. Be flexible. You may experience a number of fits and starts. Keep trying. Your grandchildren’s well-being depends on it.