Laura and Paul Smith suffered two terrible losses in quick succession. For years, the Smith’s had lived down the street from their daughter, her husband and their children. They were devoted grandparents, doting on their 3 grandchildren. Then tragically, their daughter died. While the Smith’s were recovering from this shock, their son-in-law moved across town and remarried. Soon after, he decided that he would no longer allow Laura and Paul to visit his new home.
The Smith’s were devastated by his decision. However, until recently, there was no law in their state of Nebraska protecting their visitation rights. As a result, the Smith’s feel as if their entire family has been taken from them.
This type of wrenching family story is becoming a common occurrence in the United States. With our national divorce rate at 50%, and remarriage and mixed “step-families” on the increase, relationships between grandparents and parents are becoming increasingly complex. The death of a parent can increase the pain and confusion grandparents suffer.
A problem that is on the rise.
Whatever the circumstances of family upheaval, the fact is that such disruption is on the rise. Many of today’s grandparents are going to find themselves dealing with the divorce of their children, and, as a result, many grandparents will risk isolation from their grandchildren. This is not only sad for the grandparents who are deprived of their beloved grandchildren, it is also tragic for the grandchildren who are denied a relationship with their grandparents.
Research done by the Foundation for Grandparenting has shown that the grandparent-grandchild bond is second in importance only to the parent-child bond. Society ignores this fact, paying little heed to the painful effect of the dissolution of family ties.
We cannot afford to continue neglecting the importance of a strong, united family as the foundation for a strong and healthy society.
The most important thing any grandparent should do is to be close and loving with their grandchildren. While this is a natural inclination for most grandparents, we sometimes forget how precious every moment can be. Here are some suggestions to keep in mind about your normal day-to-day relationship with your children and grandchildren:
Tips for Grandparents
1) Be supportive of the parents. Examine how a successful family operates and compare it to your own. One thing to remember is not to be in competition with your children or in-laws for the attention of your grandchildren.
2) Remember that no family is perfect. If problems arise, don’t be afraid to talk them over and air your grievances. If that doesn’t work, seek professional help. Contact your local health agency for assistance.
3) Make the most of grandparent-grandchild visits. When spending time with your grandchildren, here are a few things to keep in mind:
– Listen to your grandchildren. Treat your time together as very precious, because it is. Treat the children as if valued and special and entrusted to you for only a short time.
– Try to attend all family celebrations and holiday get-togethers. These events are very important to little ones and they remember them throughout their lifetime. Your presence makes everything more memorable and significant. If distance is an issue, send pictures and letters or a recorded message.
– Frequent contact is essential. Even if it is only by mail or phone. Keep them up to date on family goings-on. Tell them what their cousins are doing, etc. You could even start a family newsletter. Remember that grandparents who take the time and energy to maintain contact with their grandchildren are heroic figures. By demonstrating love and dedication, they give their grandchildren the special knowledge and experience of belonging to a family – a critical factor in the development of children’s emotional health and social growth.
4) If divorce occurs, make sure that provisions for grandparent visitation are written into the divorce agreement. Remember that the fate of your relationship with your grandchild may be in the hands of your ex-son- or daughter-in-law. Grandparents can take advantage of their legal rights. Today nearly every state has a law which requires the court to consider the rights of grandparents who want visitation with their grandchildren.
Separation of grandparents and grandchildren due to divorce is an all too common side effect of divorce. A strong relationship with your grandchildren, sensitivity to the parents’ ordeal, and, if necessary, knowledge of your legal rights are your best protection against this tragedy.