BY PAT HANSON, PH.D.
An Invisible Grandparent is anyone unable to participate fully in the lives of their children’s children. For 9 years, I have been kept from seeing my granddaughter, now 13, by circumstances out of my control. There’s an empty spot on my counter every year for cards I’ll never get, or thank-you notes for presents I can’t send.
Sadly, I am not alone. Each September some 70 million American grandparents celebrate National Grandparents’ Day, but countless numbers of us will not. Ironically, for us, the official flower of this holiday is the forget-me-not. None of us want to be forgotten, yet millions of grandchildren are being kept from a relationship that studies have shown could be of utmost important to them. A Brigham Young University study of over 400 5th graders found that “grandparents matter above and beyond parents . . . and can significantly affect the children’s academic, psychological, and social development.”
Just as having a child opens the door to a deeper level of love, grandparenting takes that even further. For those of us who don’t get to share our love with our grandchildren: yes, it hurts and yes, we can get help to heal the hole in our hearts.
Transcending estrangement and healing separation
The decade of my healing journey, chronicled in my memoir, Invisible Grandparenting: Leave A Legacy Of Love Whether You Can Be There Or Not, hasn’t been easy. My way to stay strong and not succumb to depression was to write letters. I wrote and saved hundreds for the hypothetical day my granddaughter Annie might look me up. Some were about places we would go, others had Life Lessons in them like: My Broken Listener and Thank you’s are Important. I even wrote one in answer to a hypothetical question: “You were Married Three Times Grandma, Why?”
But those weren’t the only letters I wrote. Some I spouted out specifically to be “Said and Never Sent,” (SNS) to dump and diffuse the negative energy I was feeling. Those I literally burned while dancing in the moonlight to Janis Joplin’s Piece of My Heart. The SNS letters helped me transform negative energy to forgiveness.
Sharing and releasing pain
I also prayed and envisioned Annie growing up healthy or having a reunion with her on Dr. Phil or Oprah. I spent hundreds of hours and dollars in therapy learning to accept “what is” and to stop blaming myself for missteps I might’ve made in my own parenting that were coming back to haunt me, though. I did my best at the time. More importantly, I developed a website for other Invisible Grandparents (IGs) to share their stories, interviewed dozens, and included their stories in my memoir/self-help book.
Embracing advocacy for Invisible Grands
A burgeoning movement is bringing attention and sources of help to grandparents suffering intergenerational invisibility. Several outstanding grandparents became activists out of their own pain and developed national organizations. For example, Alienated Grandparents Anonymous Inc. (AGA) offers support groups in 48 states and 12 countries. Their website averages 3,500 calls a month, that spikes to 10,000 around the holidays. In 3 years, they have assisted in over 80 family reconciliations.
Awareness of the phenomena of invisibility, and estranged/alienated grandparents has just begun, but there is great reason for hope both for healing individuals & families alike, as well for legal changes that could make preserving that grandparent-grandchild connection a reality. A critical mass in consciousness is mushrooming, along with policy changes that can protect children, parents, and grandparents alike. Click on “Join Us” to discover what you can do to join the fight—and leave a legacy of love!
Dr. Pat Hanson is a seasoned health educator, public speaker, and workshop facilitator.
She is the author of Invisible Grandparenting: Leave A Legacy Of Love Whether You Can Be There or Not. She lectures nationally on Aging Positively and is a columnist for the magazine: Crone: Women Coming of Age.
Join us in creating a legacy of love
A legacy goes far beyond the legal documents that bequeath savings, belongings, hand-knit sweaters, and embroidered white christening gowns passed generation to generation. It includes a DNA chain of inherited traits. Hopefully it will be a vibration of love and service, but unfortunately, for some, it involves a cycle of mental health issues, addictions, and violence. That cycle can be broken, however, if we, with the leadership of GRAND Magazine, build a community of support for entire families to work together to transcend invisibility, heal, and start leaving a legacy of love now.
We want to offer invisible grandparents a voice and offer balms, education, resources, and actionable steps you can take. Please join me at Leave a Legacy of Love, a confidential website where you can share your journey, with me, and other IGs. I will discuss common threads and my insights in future columns Even if locked out, we can choose what we leave behind.
What will your legacy be?
Find a support group in your area: Alienated Grandparents Anonymous, Inc.
Find an advocate: Advocates for Grandparent-Grandchild Connection
Join the cause: Grandparent Rights Advocate National Delegates – USA initiated June 14th as the first annual “Alienated Grandparents Awareness Day.”
Find your tribe: Grandparents Rights Association of the United States of America, made all of September “Grandparent Appreciation Month.”
Get questions answered: Dr. Joshua Coleman (psychologist and author of When Parents Hurt), offer free Q & A sessions on Mondays and Advanced Webinars on Tuesdays. www.drjoshuacoleman.com