Over the past few months, several of my friends have become grandparents. I’ve witnessed first-hand the joy and unconditional love showered upon these babies, and I’m thrilled.
Over the past few years, I’ve also witnessed first-hand the anxiety of grandparents who, through no fault of their own, have become estranged from their grandchildren as a result of divorce. I feel sad for them. Grandparents shouldn’t become the fallout of an ending relationship, and neither should the grandchildren.
What happens to the relationship between you and your grandchildren when their parents are involved in a bitter divorce?
Obviously, your grandchildren are dealing with a major change in their lives. Your continued presence can provide them with an element of consistency and security. Yet, sometimes this is easier said than done, especially if your relationship with their mom or dad is strained, awkward, or downright uncivil. No matter how careful you may be, kids know when you aren’t exactly crazy about one of their parents.
However, if your goal is to help your grandchildren (and preserve your relationship with them), then my goal is to help you along the journey. Here are a few tips:
!. Stay neutral. Even if you have always taken your son’s side, it’s time for you to assure your ex-daughter-in-law that you are letting bygones be bygones, and you hope she will understand that your intentions are to put the grandchildren first.
2. Be respectful. Now is the time to change your tone with regard to your ex son-in-law. There are going to be occasions when you’ll be in the same room with him, seated in the same row for a school function, or sitting directly in front of him on the bleachers at a soccer game. If you create an attitude of respect towards him, as well as towards his extended family, you are accomplishing two things of significance. First, you are diminishing the potential for stress; and second, you are demonstrating respectful behavior in front of your grandchildren.
3. Be flexible. Remove the word “always” from your vocabulary when it comes to family traditions. It’s time to let go of the old ones if they no longer fit the current situation. This means you might have to morph your annual Christmas Eve family pajama party into an annual Boxing Day brunch. Do your best to look at this as an opportunity to create new family traditions.
4. Stay Involved. Ask your ex-daughter-in-law to provide you with the kids’ little league and soccer schedules, or their dance recitals and school events. If you continue to show up for your grandchildren, you will be offering some consistency in their otherwise changing world. Bonus: you get to see them more often!
There’s no question that divorce affects the entire family, not just the parents and the kids. Keeping these suggestions in mind might just turn the focus to where it belongs, on the children. I suspect they need you now more than ever.