As a grandparent, it can feel like things are spinning out of control when your grandchild’s parents are separating or going through a divorce. Of course you want to help and support your child as much as you can, while also making sure that your grandchild is OK. Many grandparents fear that separation and divorce will mean they no longer get to participate in their grandchild’s life. This is especially so when the grandchildren live with the “other” parent.
Here are a few steps you can take to remain a part of your grandchild’s life.
Acknowledge the change and talk about the future
While each family’s separation and divorce will look and feel different, they mostly have one thing in common: massive change. Your grandchild will be going through all sorts of changes in their life. This could include moving house, changing school, or having a parent move out of the family home. On top of this, their relationship with you is changing.
Change can be stressful and upsetting for children in and of itself, never mind the added distress of their parents’ separation. You can help them to cope with these changes by acknowledging it, letting them talk about it, and talking about the future (not focussing on how things used to be). You might do this in person, on the phone, by Skype, email or even an old fashioned letter. When I first went to boarding school I found the change very hard to handle. My Nanna would write me letters in her beautiful copperplate handwriting, bake me big batches of biscuits and post them to me in a tin. Those letters and gifts reminded me how loved I was, and that no matter how much things changed, some things – like Nanna’s house – remained the same.
Chose activities your grandchild loves to do
Keep doing the things you have always done together. In my case, Nanna was always baking something yummy when we visited her or she visited us. She helped me maintain my sense of stability by sending me biscuits and packing me off with cakes and slices at the end of the school holidays.
What do you do with your grandchild they that love? What brings the biggest smile to their face and squeals of joy from their lungs? Whether it’s going to the park, playing board games, or baking cakes, find a way to keep doing that together. Perhaps that means sending books or DVDs on a favourite topic, talking about shared passions and planning future adventures. Reassure them that you will be there for them, and that you will keep doing those things together when you can, no matter what else is changing in their world.
If you are facing resistance from your grandchild’s parent, you may need to start small, with short visits, defined activities and meeting in public places. Accept that your grandchild’s parent is also coping with a lot of changes, stress and unease in their life, and do not add to their burdens (no matter what you may privately think of them). Instead of a whole day or weekend together, this might mean you start with trips to the park, meeting at a café (how grown up, afternoon tea with Grandma and Grandpa!) or going to see a movie. You might have to meet them at the cinema and let them go home straight after the film, but starting small leaves the door open for longer, less structured visits in the future.
Stick to the rules
Always discuss the rules and boundaries of the visit with your grandchild’s parent beforehand, and stick to whatever agreement you have made. If you said no ice cream, that means no ice cream. Trust is slowly earned and quickly lost. For reasons that may be well out of your control, your grandchild’s parent may have lost their trust in you. Take the time to rebuild that trust and the reward will be an ongoing relationship with your grandchild.
Following these steps will help you to build a strong relationship with your grandchild despite their parents’ separation and divorce. Let them – and their parents – see that you are a steading, calming presence in your grandchild’s life. Offer them stability, fun, love and laughter; start small and follow the rules and over time your bond will strengthen.
Oh, and if you happen to be baking and have too many biscuits, look me up, I’d love a care package from Nanna.