In the weeks after his parents filed for divorce, one 3-year-old boy bombarded his paternal grandparents with invitations to visit his house. It was a tricky situation. They wondered if their son would view an appearance at his ex-wife’s house as disloyal. They questioned if their daughter-in-law would even feel comfortable seeing them so soon after the breakup.
On the other hand, their grandson was reaching out to them. Would he feel abandoned and unloved if they didn’t make a point to honor his request? The couple hemmed and hawed before ultimately deciding to go to their grandson. Rather than enter into his home, though, they picked him up and took him to a nearby playground.
If your adult child is getting divorced, grandparenting is about to get a lot more complicated. Suddenly it’s no longer just about building sandcastles with your grandchild, scarfing down ice cream, and letting him stay up past bedtime to catch the tail-end of his favorite Disney movie. Now, there are the feelings of four different groups to consider: the other grandparents, your child, your child’s ex-spouse, and your grandchild.
Your place, your grandchild’s safe haven
After your child’s divorce is announced, your home and the time you spend with your grandchildren should remain as similar to pre-divorce visits as you can manage, says Lillian Carson, Ph.D., a psychotherapist and grandmother of 10 who wrote “The Essential Grandparents” Guide to Divorce: Making a Difference in the Family” (Health Communications). “Time with grandparents can be a relief for grandchildren who may be caught in the middle of two parents. Your home should be a neutral zone.” Keep the focus on your growing relationship with your grandchildren, not their parents’ disintegrating one.
When they confide in you
Don’t be surprised if the stability of your home encourages your grandchildren to share feelings they are unable to express to their parents for fear that they will be taking sides. Sure, when your adult child is going through a divorce, it’s the main topic of conversation. You talk about it with your spouse. You talk about it with your best friend. You talk about it with your child. But, be careful not to spend all of the time you have with your grandchildren delving into their feelings about the divorce. “Don’t try to be your grandchild’s therapist,” advises Carson. “That’s not your job.”
Only when your grandchildren mention the divorce, should you address it with them, she says. If they mention it, be an attentive listener and offer your love and empathy. Chances are you may be feeling emotions similar to theirs: anger, guilt, sadness, anxiety. Both your grandchildren and you are involved in a difficult situation that was not your choice to enter into.