What happens when your grandchild's parents split up?

With one in three marriages ending in Australia, divorce affects a huge part of the population. And while it is undoubtedly a tough and sometimes terrible time for the parents and children, grandparents suffer too.

In addition to supporting your own child through the process, you may be worried about how the divorce will affect your relationship with your grandkids. What if they move away? What if the settlement turns nasty and you are shut out of your grandchildren’s lives?

According to the Raising Children Network, one study found that 80 per cent of children had contact with one set of grandparents either weekly or monthly several years after their parents divorced or separated.

Less than 5 per cent of the children in the study rarely or never had contact with their grandparents.

For those who do lose contact with their grandchild, it can be a source of extreme distress and grief. If you’ve lost contact with your grandchild and you’re concerned, speak to your grandchild’s parents. If you can’t talk to them, you can contact an Australian Government family relationship centre for advice on mediation or legal issues.

In most cases, grandparents have an important role to play in supporting both their own child and their grandchildren. This could be practical support such as babysitting or cooking meals while the family adjusts to new arrangements, or providing emotional support for the grandkids as they struggle to understand what’s happening.

You may find yourself spending more time than ever with the grandkids. Try not to take sides or focus on how you feel about the divorce, and listen to what they need. Maybe they want to talk about their parent’s split; maybe they don’t.

As always, your role is to lavish them with unconditional love and provide them with a safe place where they can be themselves.

You may be worried about how your grandchildren will cope with two separate households. The experts at RCN say, “What really matters is how children are parented, not the type of household they live in. If your grandchild still has a secure emotional base, encouragement, routine, protection and the support of a loving parent, his needs are probably being met.”

The Grandparents Association has these tips to offer:

  • Grandparents can help by maintaining routines – whether it be regular homework, meals at set times, going out with a toddler, or always being there at the school gate for a school age child.
  • Grandparents can also use their special relationship to help their grandchildren to open up and talk about their sadness. Younger children in particular, will have difficulty expressing their emotions.
  • The adult children benefit too, knowing that their children have someone to turn to and should encourage this.

You might need to remind yourself that your feelings about the divorce are valid too. You may be sad, disappointed, anxious or even relieved. Remember to look after yourself emotionally so you can support your loved ones through this tough time.

When it comes to big family occasions like anniversaries or birthdays, you too will need to juggle things. For example, you might need to be more flexible about seeing your grandchildren on their birthdays.

Have you ever been in this situation? Do you have a story to share or a tip that could help others who are going through it?

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