One of the hardest things a child can go through is the divorce of their parents. Not only does it make them feel torn between two people they love equally, but it also pulls the security rug out from under them as well. Kids going through parental divorce often feel like their world is suddenly in chaos – they may even start having nightmares about battling tsunami-like storms by themselves or being lost somewhere and not able to contact their parents. This is where you, as their grandparent, can help restore much needed security and stability to your grandchild’s changing life. You can help them feel that they are standing on solid ground again. Here are some tips:
1. Invite them to spend the night/weekend: In the early days of a parental divorce, parents need to regroup their own emotional stability without having to also bolster their child’s. Grandparents can give their grown kids a break while at the same time offering a happier diversion for their grandchild. It’s important to remind your grandchild that there is still some sameness in their life. Spending time overnight, for a weekend or longer, can help them feel grounded again. Figure out some special activities to do with them – movie, whirlyball, JumpZone, travel, whatever activities you enjoy doing with them.
2. Allow them to confide without prying. Grandkids may be feeling especially vulnerable now to the idea that their feelings, thoughts, are not being heard or addressed by their parents. They may open up to you more now and you should allow them to do so only if they bring it up. Kids’ specialists say that you don’t want to become their therapist in delving into how the divorce makes them feel, etc. You may also be feeling the same emotions, as your grandchild about the divorce – anger, guilt, sadness, and anxiety – but you should only express them if your grandchild asks your opinion. Even then, express your feelings honestly without blaming either parent. Similarly, reassure your grandchild that nothing they did caused the divorce.
3. Mediating between grandchild and your son/daughter. If your grandchild confides something to you that you think is important for your son/daughter to know, tell them without your grandchild knowing. You don’t want your grandchild to stop confiding in you – as they likely consider you their “rock” now, but you also want their parents to address a potential problem. On the other hand, you don’t want to “stir the pot” that your already emotionally upset son/daughter will reprimand the child about. Choose your words carefully.
4. Don’t take sides. Even though you may, in your heart, feel that one parent was more to blame for the marital problems/divorce, don’t let your grandkids know this. Take the high road and say only the most positive things about either parent to your grandchild. The last thing you want your grandchild to feel is a sense that they have a bad mother or father. This only serves to make your grandchild feel bad about him/herself.