What happens to the relationship between you and your grandchildren when their parents are involved in a bitter divorce?  How can you stay in the lives of your grandchildren when your negative opinion of their mom is well-known?  And can you do this without going to court?

I will answer my last question first.  Grandparents can absolutely initiate visitation with their grandchildren without a court order.  However it will require a novel concept:  communication with the custodial parent.  I recently concluded a mediation with a couple who had two kids ages 7 and 10.  They agreed that the wife would have primary physical custody of the kids and that the husband would spend a significant amount of time with them as well.  Enter the husband’s parents.  Does visitation with the husband mean that he dumps the kids off at the grandparents’ house?  Do the ex-spouses use their kids as pawns when it comes to the grandparents? And what if the grandparents choose to badmouth their son or daughter’s ex in front of the kids? You can see how this might get ugly.  But it doesn’t have to …

Your grandchildren are dealing with a tremendous change in their lives.  You can provide an element of consistency by continuing to stay involved.  This may be easier said than done, however, if your relationship with their mom (or dad) is strained or awkward.  If your goal is to help your grandchildren, my goal is to help you navigate the route.  Here are a few ideas;

  1.  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, for the sake of the kids, that she will do the same.
  2.  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.  Instead, you have an opportunity to create new family traditions between you and your grandchildren.
  3. Be respectful.  As with family traditions, 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 of a performance, cheering the at same athletic event, etc.  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 adult behavior in front of your grandchildren.
  4. Ask to stay involved.  Ask your ex daughter-in-law to provide you with the kids’ soccer schedules.  Same goes for their dance recitals, and their school events.  If you continue to show up for your grandchildren, you will be offering some consistency in their otherwise changing world.

These strategies may seem to be about the grandparents.  In reality, it’s all about the children.