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The role of grandparents (during separation)

Being a grandparent is a precious role, with all the joys of spending time with and caring for a child, and less of the stress. Most grandparents idolise their grandchildren, and grandchildren can thrive on that special relationship.

After a parental divorce or separation, the grandparents’ role can shift dramatically and what was once taken for granted becomes fraught with complications.

Grandparents – especially those who have been very closely involved – invariably get caught in the middle. You may worry about seeing less of your grandchildren or losing contact altogether. Your loyalties can be torn between wanting to support your child through the painful periods and wanting to stay on good terms with their ex-partner.

After a separation, grandparents are faced with many dilemmas:

  • Grandparents are often called on for advice and support. They need to be good listeners while staying neutral.

  • Grandparents are expected to be there to pick up the pieces but withdraw whenever they are regarded as being too interfering.

  • Grandparents should respect boundaries but also be available for support when needed.

  • Grandparents often have to to provide comfort, reassurance and answers for angry and confused children, not always knowing exactly what is going on themselves.

During a separation, parents are often overwhelmed with their own issues and with making sure their children are OK. In this state, it’s easy overlook the valuable role that grandparents play.

It is worth taking the time to sit down and talk with grandparents about what they are might be thinking and feeling, making sure they don’t feel taken for granted.

It is OK to say you need them. The support of grandparents can be a crucial factor in how children cope with their parents' separation. Try to be clear about what you would like from them, and encourage them to do the same for you.

Be open and honest. Keep in mind that when a couple’s relationship breaks down it doesn't just affect the immediate family members – it touches other family members in a number of ways too.

You may also like to visit How mediation can assist grandparents on the National Family Mediation website.

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