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Divorce is a life event that is troubling to children, to put it mildly. One protective factor that helps mitigate the effects of divorce on children is to keep their lives as normal, predictable, and familiar as possible.
Sadly, sometimes grandparents take sides. They exit their grandchildren’s lives abruptly and angrily. One mother told me her ex-husband’s parents never see her children who don’t get even a birthday or Christmas card from these grandparents. “I try calling my husband’s mother and she hangs up on me. It breaks my heart that my children have lost a set of grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins.”
Divorce causes pain. When we’re in pain, we don’t always act or think rationally. These grandparents think their son’s ex-wife is responsible for their son’s pain and their own but they are hurting their son’s children and their own grandchildren.
Grandparents are exceedingly important to children. The bond between the child and grandparent is next in importance to the child’s bond with the parent. A cartoon I have on my bulletin board says, “My mom does great. She’s like a grandmother to me!”
Every child needs at least one person who is absolutely, positively crazy about that child just because the child exists. When there are two parents and two sets of grandparents the child has six persons who feel and demonstrate such unconditional love. What richness for the child when all of these people love the child unconditionally, don’t withhold love when the child does something wrong, and don’t abandon the child.
Abandonment, real or perceived, is the worst effect of divorce. Children feel abandoned and, further, they feel they caused the divorce and abandonment. “If I were good enough my Daddy would have loved me so much he wouldn’t have left.”
It’s bad enough to lose a father to divorce, but it is truly tragic when the grandparents and/or other relatives are lost at the same time. Losing the special love and affection of grandparents when you are already losing one parent to divorce (and maybe changing houses and schools as well) adds up to a tremendous loss for a child.
Grandparents can offer a wonderful sense of stability and love when the child needs it most because the two-parent home on which the child has always been able to rely is now “breaking”.
If you are a grandparent out there whose grandchildren are involved in a divorce please put your grandchildren’s well-being ahead of your anger. Even if your anger is profound and even if it justified
If you cannot get along with the child’s parent, arrange for the children to visit you without the parent you can’t stand. But there are rules: you will not speak ill about this parent. You will not pass nasty messages to this parent via the innocent kids, you will be civil when he or she picks up the children. This is referred to in the divorce literature as “situational peace”. You don’t have to like the person, you can even hate the person. But if you have to be together for a brief time, you will use the manners you learned as a child and be nice.
Even when we’re grown up and can count on ourselves, we still need connections to those we love. Children need these connections even more because they haven’t yet learned to rely on themselves.
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