On The Early Show's "Young at Heart" series, Dr. Arthur Kornaber, the author of "The Grandparents Guide," says grandparents have to make sure they maintain their own relationships with the grandchildren after divorces. Sometimes it involves being part of the divorce settlement to make sure their visitation is included.
Grandparents might find that their children's divorce is placing them in a situation out of their control. But the grandparents have to realize that they are the next emotional line of support for the kids. Dr. Kornaber says the most important thing for grandparents to remember is that divorce is an opportunity for them to provide compassion and stability to their grandchildren.
Although they might feel hurt and angry at the divorce, they will have to keep quiet about their feelings. It is important to avoid sharing feelings with a divorced couple or grandchildren. They are burdened enough with their own feelings. The grandparents should be there for the children to express their feelings of anger as well as guilt. The elders should be available tell the kids that what they are feeling is normal.
If the grandparents feel a need to share their own feelings they should do so with a counselor or minister — not the family. Dr. Kornaber says they should not criticize the parents to the children and they should avoid taking sides.
The grandparents do not have to automatically take their own child's side. There is no reason to terminate the relationship with the former in-laws, especially if you've had a good relationship with them. Certainly if the children are in custody of the mom, it behooves the grandparent to be kind to that person because otherwise they will lose contact with their grandchild.
Dr. Kornaber calls the grandparents the "National Guard" of the family. They have to be available at a moments notice. Sometimes after or during the divorce, the living situation will require grandparents to baby-sit often, perhaps invite the kids over more or even move in for a period of time.
The person who has custody of the grandchild holds the grandparents' relationship with the grandchildren in his or her hands. Dr. Kornaber recommends divorcing parties to have lawyers put grandparent's visitation rights in as part of the divorce agreement — especially if your child doesn't have custody.
This way, the grandparents' rights are assured if the relationship sours with the custodial parent. This can be especially important if the custodial parent remarries or moves away. There are laws in most states where grandparents can sue for visitation if they have a good prior relationship with the grandchild. Obviously, a lawsuit is the last step.
While most states will uphold a grandparent's rights, there are some groups fighting it now, because they feel it can be intrusive of parental right.
Dr. Kornaber Tips For Grandparents
- Offer support to the grandchildren
- Do not share your feelings with the parents and grandchildren
- Never criticize the parents in front of the grandchildren
- Try to maintain a relationship with the ex in-law
- Offer help as needed to newly single parents
- Secure your own visitation as part of the divorce agreement