What to Do When Your Children Divorce
Tips for parents whose son or daughter is getting divorced.
Home In on Your Grandchildren's Needs continued...
"This is your time to really be the stabilizer," Temlock says. "You need to remove the grandchild from stressful situations, and one of the things you can do is provide some stability in your own home."
For example, routine becomes important to give grandchildren a sense of comfort and consistency when their lives are in great flux. Keeping their toys in the same spot, keeping overnight sleeping arrangements the same, doing familiar cooking projects, adhering to a weekly ritual of going out for pizza -- all of these things help calm children during the turbulence of divorce.
In contrast, some grandparents, like the Wallers, lose contact with grandchildren and worry about being portrayed as part of the "enemy camp." Tracee Crawford, 49, of Boise, Idaho, enjoyed a close relationship with her grandson, Adam, until he was 6. But when Adam's mother, who was Crawford's oldest daughter, died of cancer a few years after her divorce, the boy moved away to live with his father and stepmother.
Crawford's relationship with the couple deteriorated. Despite taking legal action for visitation, she has not been able to see Adam, now age 13, since 2001. "What makes me so sad is that our daughter wanted him to know how much she loved him and cared for him, and she wished she could have been there for him," Crawford says. "She wanted to make sure that her son stayed in our lives."
When grandparents are denied visitation, experts advise mediation as a first step. If that fails, grandparents who decide to go to court for visitation rights should know that states do not give them a legal right to see the child, but rather, the right to petition the court for visitation, says Brigitte Castellano, executive director of the National Committee of Grandparents for Children's Rights. But court action should be a last resort, she says. "It creates a lot of hard feelings."
Offer Divorcing Children Financial and Practical Help -- Carefully
It's common for divorcing adults to "run home to Mama," especially if grandchildren are involved, Temlock says. "You're going to see a certain amount of regression. Your child may feel very, very needy."
Divorce can shake up grandparents' finances and daily schedules, too, especially if a child needs to borrow money or move back into their home. "They are looking forward to retirement and they're still supporting their child," Temlock says. Some grandparents will postpone retirement or give up travel and leisure activities to provide childcare -- and many end up exhausted.
When their two sons divorced, the Wallers helped with rent payments, bought home appliances, and spent roughly $10,000 on attorney's fees on behalf of one son, who also moved in with them temporarily.
Gestures of love and support are appropriate, but parents must take care not to engender long-term, unhealthy dependency, Temlock says. Negotiating flexible repayment schedules or a target date for a child to move into his or her own place again can encourage renewed independence after divorce.