The end of a marriage is, of course, hardest on the divorcing couple and their children. But there’s pain on the periphery, too.
When your adult child goes through a separation, it’s natural to feel like you’re riding the emotional roller coaster right along with them; you may have sorrow, anger, frustration, disappointment, worry—or, in some cases, a sense of relief.
You’re concerned about your child and your grandchildren. It’s hard to be the parent of an adult suffering; it hurts to see your grandchildren hurting. You may feel helpless and bewildered about how to help during this challenging transition.
During a divorce, children feel sad, confused, insecure, frightened, angry, and also, at times, lost and invisible while their parents go through the grueling dissolution process.
Grandparents can be a tremendous source of support—providing comfort, stability, a listening ear, and unconditional love, able to focus on the child when the parents are overwhelmed.
Keep calm and grandparent on. There’s a lot of upheaval and uncertainty in your grandchild’s life right now. It’s hard, knowing you can’t fix it for them. But you can be a haven of peace and stability. Make your time together upbeat, light, and low-stress. Plan fun things to do—they don’t have to be a big deal or cost much money. It’s just about the comfort, familiarity, and specialness of being together. Reassure your grandchild that you love them and always will—divorce can never change that. Say it out loud; say it all the time.
Help keep life as normal as possible. Children, especially young ones, thrive on routine. Respecting and adhering to the established schedule and rules and any agreements between the parents will help your grandchild feel stable and secure in a turbulent time and offer a sense of normalcy. To the extent possible, carry on your regular interactions; for example, if you usually take them to the park once a week, keep that up.
Stay neutral. You undoubtedly have opinions and feelings about the breakup of your adult child’s marriage—and maybe some not-too-pleasant thoughts toward their ex. You likely feel loyalty and alliance with your child. That’s understandable. But it’s crucial to keep your opinions to yourself around the grandkids. Always speak of both the child’s parents in a kind, respectful, and positive manner. Don’t interfere with your grandchild’s relationship with their other parent. Never make the child feel that they should take sides.
Create a safe space. When kids are experiencing divorce, they often need a grown-up confidante, other than their parents, to talk to and lean on. Let your grandchild know you’re there to listen. Staying calm and impartial will help them feel safe coming to you and opening up. Allow them to speak freely and honestly. Listen without judgment. Ensure they know it’s okay to feel and express emotion. Make sure they feel heard; acknowledge what they’re going through. Empathize—Without speaking negatively of anyone. It’s okay to say this is hard for you, too, and you understand. Let them know they’re not alone. Remind them again of your constant and unconditional love.
Take the high road with the other parent. In all but rare cases, it is considered in the child’s best interests to maintain a meaningful relationship with both parents and spend quality time with each other regularly, which means that as an involved grandparent, you will continue a relationship with your ex-son- or daughter-in-law; they will remain a part of your life whether you like it or not, even if you don’t see them as often as you used to. Depending on the details of the parenting plan, you may meet frequently at drop-offs and pick-ups or just at school events and special occasions. Right from the start, even when things are intense and painful, be proactive about keeping your interactions cordial and respectful; extend goodwill. If there is any conflict, keep it out of sight of the grandchild. Remember that you’re also a role model—kids must witness adults getting along and behaving well, even under challenging circumstances.
Maintain traditions but stay flexible. Co-parenting involves juggling complex logistics. Schedules shift; vacations and holidays are typically split and often alternate. Keep your special occasions special, unique, and memorable—but remember that celebrating together is important, not the exact day you do it. Let go of what you can’t control, be willing to adjust, and take this opportunity to build some new treasured traditions.
Focus on what won’t change. So much is in flux right now. Reassure your grandchild about what will stay the same:
- You’ll still be at their sports games and band concerts.
- You’ll still make popcorn and play Dominoes when they come for a sleepover.
- You’ll always celebrate their birthday, even the day before or after.
You’ll always love them, no matter what.
Communicate with your adult child about the best ways to help. Maybe they need a listener, a shoulder to lean on. Perhaps they’re overwhelmed and need help with cooking, cleaning, errands, and running the kids around. Encourage them to stay focused on what’s best for the children. Let them know you’re there to support them however you can.
The veteran family attorneys at SFLG understand how hard divorce is on the whole family. We help you navigate the complexities of your dissolution so you can focus on healing, moving forward, and thriving as a family in a new form.
By Debra Schoenberg