Ten Ways to Help Your Grandchild through Divorce
by Dr. Lois Nightingale | Reprinted from Jacob's Well, CDM's quarterly membership newsletter.
- Don't disparage your ex-son or daughter-in law in front of your grandchildren. Make sure they are not in ear-shot when talking about their parents on the phone as well.
- Remember holidays. An important role of a grandparent is to celebrate and help create memories. These celebrations may look different than you had once imagined for your fancily, but if you keep the grandchildren's interests first, you will be creating memorable and wonderful family traditions. (Even a home-baked box of cookies mailed at certain times of the year can became a cherished childhood memory that lets a child know they are always loved.)
- Be a good listener. Your grandchild may be surrounded by chaos and angry adults; you may provide the only place where they can really feel heard. You are someone who has the time to listen without trying to "fix" it. A loving ear can get a child through a lot!
- Set up your expectations for their behavior before they arrive. You will probably have different rules than their parents do; children can adapt so long as these rules are specifically stated (writing them down is a great idea). A household where there are five compliments to every directive (i.e. "get your feet off the coffee table") is an environment where children will thrive. A reward based "star chart" can help make this easier.
- Become the unbiased, non-judgmental confidant children need in a loving authority. Their parents may be too wounded emotionally and unable to be unconditionally present for them. A special relationship with a grandparent can make all the difference to a child facing change.
- Don't sabotage agreements set up by either parent. If one parent has made arrangements for the child to attend a special class (dance, soccer, etc.) make your plans accordingly. If the child knows they must finish their homework before they can go out to play, don't let them off easy just because you feel sorry for them in their situation.
- Let your grandchildren know however they are feeling is OK. Many children are told that they "shouldn't" feel this or that, or adults feel guilty that a child is in pain so they try to talk them out of it. This only adds to the child feeling unheard. Even wanting their parents back together is a normal desire for children in this circumstance.
- Tell your grandchildren stories about challenges you have faced and overcome in your life. Help them see you as someone who believes things will be all right and that they are safe. Focus on the positive.
- Share your spiritual beliefs with them in a fun non-judgmental way. If you find rejuvenation in nature take them for a walk or to the beach. If you find tranquility in music share that love with them. Help your grandchildren connect to the quiet place inside themselves.
- Read together during a quiet time before they go to bed or in between activities during the day. Reading children's books about feelings or how other children have coped with the upheaval of divorce will help them find words to ask you the questions they need to have answered.
Dr. Lois Nightingale is the author of My Parents Still Love Me Even Though They're Getting Divorced, a story/workbook that helps children better understand divorce and what they can do to feel better.
Article reprinted from the Summer, 2000, issue of Jacob's Well, CDM's quarterly membership newsletter.