I spent most of this week at court with my son finalizing his divorce and custody case. Unfortunately, it was a tumultuous divorce, but it is done and now is the time for everyone to move forward.
Divorce was foreign territory to me. My husband and I have been fortunate to be married for 38 years. My parents were married for almost 60 years before my Mom died last summer. This, in fact, is the first divorce in our family.
So, questions danced around my head while going through this process.
Should I ask my grandchildren if they want to discuss their feelings about the divorce? If they don’t bring it up, should I? How could I provide a low stress environment for my grandchildren to help them escape the drama? What could I do to help them feel secure and optimistic about the future?
In other words, how could I best help my grandchildren whom I love and adore through this tumultuous time? Here are a few things I researched along with some things I learned along the way:
Surprisingly, my grandchildren rarely mentioned the divorce. If this is the case with your grandchildren, does this mean you should bring it up?
Experts say no. A grandparent’s responsibility is to provide a loving, safe, and secure haven, not spend time investigating and delving into the children’s thoughts and feelings about the divorce.
“Don’t try to be your grandchild’s therapist,” advises Lillian Carson, Ph.D., a psychotherapist and grandmother of 10 who wrote The Essential Grandparents’ Guide to Divorce: Making a Difference in the Family. “That’s not your job.”
What if the children bring up the subject of divorce?
Experts advice to listen attentively, reassure them that the divorce wasn’t their fault, offer lots of love and hugs, and express your sympathy.
But be careful what you say.
“Try not to stir things up,” says Dr. Carson. “A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself, ‘What would be the value of passing on this information? Would it be helpful to my grandchild?'”
You may be experiencing some of the same feelings as your grandchildren including stress, disappointment, anger, and disillusionment, so it’s easy to be empathetic. However, resist the temptation to express your own feelings which can make the children feel like they must comfort and support you.
Avoid Being Critical
Do not badmouth the children’s parents. This includes sarcastic remarks that you think are going above the children’s heads. Kids are smarter than you think.
Remember, children are all ears, so avoid discussing the divorce when they are nearby. No matter what your personal opinions are, remember that your grandchildren love both of their parents.
Even if the divorce is not friendly, try to find a few casual positive comments you can make about the other parent. For example, when we moved into our new home, I packed the children’s plastic dishes in lower cabinets like their mother and said, “I’m going to copy her, that’s a good idea your Mom had so you can reach all your dishes.”
Provide a Safe Haven
Strive to make the children’s time with you low-key and relaxing. Instead of focusing on the children’s parents disintegrating relationship, keep the focus on your loving relationship with your grandchildren.
Do activities that you know from experience your grandchildren find calming. Listen to music or read books with them. Find a funny movie and munch on popcorn. Play silly games. Keep things as close to normal as possible.
Exercise is great for stress. My husband and I often swim, play sports, ride bikes, and jump on the trampoline with our grandkids – knowing it’s good for all of us.
Last summer, we went on a relaxing camping vacation with our son and the kids and did a lot of hiking enjoying the peace and tranquility nature offers.
Try not to be overly sympathetic or even worse, pessimistic. Avoid the attitude, “My grandchildren will never be the same.” Or think, “They will never get over this.” This kind of negative thinking will come through in your interactions.
Rather, think positively: “My grandchildren are resilient. Children have a wonderful ability to adjust. My grandchildren will survive this divorce and develop strength and endurance that will help them later in life.” Let your grandchildren know that things are going to be all right.
Tell your grandchildren about challenges you’ve faced and overcome in your lifetime. I recently lost my mother, but I want my grandchildren to see me as someone who is finding my way through grief, moving forward, and discovering joy and happiness again. I want to help them see they can do the same. Positive attitudes are contagious.
So there’s my top five tips to help you and your grandchildren focus on the positive during a divorce. Try to be a real asset to them during a difficult time. They will thank you later.
Images courtesy of David Castillo Dominici and photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.