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Preventing Grandparent Alienation During Divorce

Jan 11, 2021

Your adult child has told you he is separating from his wife. She has been part of your family for more than 20 years. They have two children. You love her dearly. Yet you feel torn and heartbroken. This is the first divorce in your family. You feel as if your world is ending. Your heart hurts for your son. You want to support him during this difficult time. This is only natural, right? Blood is thicker than water.

You support your son. Yet you wonder if you should be doing something differently.

You have friends who lost all contact with their grandchildren after their parents divorced. After divorce, instead of spending every holiday with them, your friends hardly see them anymore. Talking on Zoom simply is not the same. You do not want that to happen to you. You asked your friends what happened. All they can tell you is that it is the result of the divorce.

These grandparents are wrong. It isn’t just caused by the divorce, or whether the adult-children fought in court. The grandparents who are alienated played a part.

If you don’t want to be alienated from your grandchildren, stop thinking you have to take a side. There no longer needs to be fault to get divorced. You can choose to accept that your son’s is one of the many marriages that ends in divorce. It just is. If you can think like this, you don’t need to take a side. Act as if there are no sides. Be impartial.

Tell your son you love him. Commend him on his courage for ending his marriage. He is not broken; the relationship is. Tell him you don’t blame him or his wife. Sometimes, people are better apart.

Remind him that his wife is part of your family and you are going to treat her accordingly.

If he complains, tell him, ever so kindly, to grow up. Divorce is a fact of life, and you do not want the children to be harmed through conflict. You also want to continue to have a good relationship with them and with her. If he expects you to choose between him and his wife, tell him he is making this worse than he needs to. You want to set a good example. You are going to be like Switzerland.

If he tries to shame you, you will need to be strong. You will need to tell him, ever so lovingly, that you are an adult who makes her own decisions. Tell him you love him and are proud of him for acting to improve his children’s lives, to show them what it means to be true to oneself and feel compassion for  others. This is a gift. Ask him if he has it in his heart to take this a little further, to act a little kinder. Let him know that if he can, and if you can, divorce can be a gift for his children.

Have a similar conversation with his wife. Like your son, she is feeling very raw and vulnerable. Reassure her that you will always be available if she needs you. Tell her you are sorry the marriage is ending and that she will always be your daughter.

Send her flowers and let her know you are sorry the marriage has ended. Ask if there is anything you can do to support her. Be the gracious and loving parent she has known during her relationship with your son. Let her know she will always be family.

Call and ask her how she is doing. At least as often as you call and ask your son the same question.

Call your grandchildren when they are with their mother, and when they are with their father. Treat the new living situation as if it is normal. If you do, soon it will be.

If you always bought her a gift at Mother’s Day and at Christmas, continue to do so.

In other words, continue to treat her like the family member she is. Her marital status does not change her status as the mother of your grandchildren. There is no need to shun her, or to act as if she is an acquaintance.

If she rejects your overtures or acts angry, keep making them. Be like Christ, turning the other cheek. Eventually she will understand and see you are genuine.

If you can find it in your act to show her this grace and empathy, it will be much harder for her to remain angry at your son. She will be less likely to strike out and want to hurt him. Without feeling rejected, the need to protect oneself is much less. There is space to be fair. She will want her children to have a relationship with you, a relative who can model love for them.

Such behaviour on your part also has a positive impact on your grandchildren. They won’t have to feel their mom’s sadness when she doesn’t receive a Christmas card from you. They won’t hear the angry catch in her voice when she speaks of you. They will feel free to have a loving relationship with her, and with you, without feeling caught in the middle.

In conclusion, it is okay to feel sad but not to act with rudeness. Everyone in your family is hurting. Everyone. Now is the time to act with love and with grace. To build relationships where you could put up fences. To do so, keep treating your son’s wife as if she is your daughter. This will make all the difference in the world to your relationship with your grandchildren.

If you want to learn more about the steps you can take to prevent grandparent alienation or to create a strategy specific for your family, please connect with me at https://www.thegentlewaydivorce.com/site/contact. I am here to help.

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