Being a grandparent during separation or divorce
When there’s a separation or divorce, it can take time for the whole family to adjust. For your grandchild, there’ll probably be new living and parenting arrangements. It can be a confusing time for them, both emotionally and practically.
Many grandparents support their grandchildren’s families during separation or divorce.
Worried about your grandchild during separation or divorce
You might be worried about how your grandchild will cope with new family arrangements. It might help to know that children are usually OK if they have a secure emotional base, encouragement, routine, protection and the support of a loving parent.
There are also things you can do as a grandparent to support your grandchild during separation and divorce:
- Make your home a secure, safe place. You can do this by sticking with familiar routines for things like meals and bedtimes. It’s also important for your home to be a place where people communicate calmly and respectfully.
- Keep doing things that you and your grandchild like to do together – for example, visiting the park, playing board games, going out for afternoon tea on Fridays and so on.
- Actively listen when your grandchild wants to talk about their thoughts, feelings and fears. This can help you work out how best to comfort them.
- Always speak respectfully about both of your grandchild’s parents, and avoid taking sides. This can help your grandchild feel OK about their parents and maintain good relationships with them.
- Try to maintain good relationships with your child’s ex-partner if possible. For example, you could let the ex-partner know that even though they and your child are now separated, you’re still there for your grandchild.
- If you experience any conflict with your grandchild’s parents, make sure that your grandchild isn’t involved. This can mean discussing difficult issues when your grandchild isn’t around, not asking your grandchild to carry messages to parents for you, and so on.
- Try to be positive with your grandchild about their family’s future. You can talk about how change can be hard, but things will usually get better. You can also remind your grandchild of good things that haven’t been affected by the divorce – for example, ‘We’re all looking forward to seeing your concert next month’.
If your grandchild needs to talk to someone other than you, they could contact a confidential counselling service for young people, like Kids Helpline – call 1800 551 800.
Supporting your grandchild’s parents through separation or divorce
Support for your grandchild’s parents can take many forms – encouraging words, a listening ear, or practical help with cooking meals and caring for your grandchild.
For example, your grandchild’s parents will need to make co-parenting plans. You can encourage them to keep open minds, see things from their child’s point of view, and be ready to compromise. If there’s a lot of conflict or negative feelings, you could suggest or organise counselling to help them work through these feelings separately from the co-parenting negotiations.
If you’ve got a good relationship with your grandchild’s parents, you might even be able to talk over some of the problems together. It can help to practise what you want to say so that you’re positive, supportive and non-judgmental.
Your grandchild’s parents can also look for other types of help and support for single parents. If you’re not available, they can still manage.
Managing your own feelings about the separation or divorce
When your grandchild’s parents separate, you’ll have feelings too – sadness, disappointment, anxiety or maybe even relief.
If you have negative feelings towards either or both of the divorcing parents, it’s best to keep the feelings under control if you want to be supportive. Expressing these feelings can increase tension between your grandchild and their parents.
But it’s still important to get support for yourself. It might help you to talk with a friend or counsellor – someone who’s less involved in the situation.
There are government-funded relationship counsellors at organisations like Relationships Australia and Family Relationships Online. Your GP should also be able to refer you to a psychologist or relationship counsellor. If you need to talk to someone urgently, phone Lifeline on 131 114.
Managing family get-togethers
Just like before the separation, family get-togethers for holidays and birthdays will depend on what plans your grandchild’s parents have made.
If you’re organising a family event, you might need to plan ahead and be flexible with timing – for example, by celebrating your birthday the week before so that your grandchild can attend. Or you could celebrate your birthday at a few separate events – for example, afternoon tea and dinner. If it’s OK, you can let your grandchild’s parents know that they’re both welcome.
For special events like family weddings, talk with your grandchild’s parents when you hear about the event. This will help them to make arrangements for your grandchild to be there.
Losing contact with your grandchild
You might be worried that your child’s separation or divorce could result in less contact with your grandchild, or even loss of contact altogether.
You can make contact happen more easily by suggesting a specific time or activity. For example, you could offer to help with homework or do a school pick-up on a particular day each week.
If you’ve lost contact with your grandchild and you’re concerned, talk with your grandchild’s parents. If you can’t talk to them, you might want to seek further support – for example, from an Australian Government Family Relationship Centre for advice on mediation or legal issues.
It was grandparents day at his camp. He didn’t know I was coming. When he saw me, the look of utter joy and love that radiated from his eyes and smile was ... priceless!
– Jean, grandmother of 2