Info & Advice

How to maintain a good relationship with grandchildren following divorce

Far too often, grandparents end up becoming optional extras in 21st Century family life. Occasional visits may be pleasant and cosy– but they do not otherwise play a central role, and should the family divorce or separate, Grandma and Grandad may quickly become an inconvenience relegated to the sidelines, struggling to spend any time at all with their beloved grandchildren. Heartbreaking for them and confusing and upsetting for the youngsters themselves, who may have had warm relationships with Granny and Grandpa before the breakdown.

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The ease with which grandparents can be detached from family life reflects the atomised nature of family life in the 21st Century. In past centuries different generations of a family were more likely to live close to each other, with grandparents on hand to help raise children, alongside aunts and uncles. Even if they did not live in the same house, they most likely lived just a few streets away in the same village or town. Everyone looked after each other and few family members experienced the isolation so common today. The elderly were respected for their wisdom and served as useful role models in the day-to-day lives of the family.

Heritage and connection

These days, by contrast, travel is far easier than it used to be, and few people think twice about moving freely around the country – or even abroad – in pursuit of jobs, relationships and ambitions. Grandparents are usually left behind in such circumstances – perhaps hundreds of miles from those new homes and jobs, making visits and time with grandchildren that bit harder to arrange. Later childbirth has also become more common, further limiting the involvement of grandparents in family life.

Grandparents offer children a sense of heritage and connection to the past. They are a living link to older family members who have passed away, and to the family’s unique history. A relationship with their grandparents, although inevitably time-limited, can provide children with an important component of their developing identities and sense of self. They will also grow up with a more positive vision of ageing and the passing of the years: a fate that befalls us all.

A positive relationship with grandparents can also help teach kids to be sensitive to the needs and perspectives of others, while those older people, who might otherwise be socially isolated and lonely, enjoy a greater sense of purpose in their twilight years. The positive energy flows both ways.

The relationship between children and their grandparents is unique. While parents guide their children through the complex and multifaceted business of growing up, time with grandparents is about the simple joys of connecting across time and different generations, with each side learning new things about the family to which they both belong.

Legal remedies

There are legal remedies open to grandparents struggling to see their grandchildren following a divorce or separation. If they are given permission by a family court, they can apply for a legally binding ‘child arrangements order’ setting out a timetable of contact between grandparents and grandchildren. The family courts do see time with grandparents as something that is in the best interests of children. But few people enjoying being on the receiving end of legal orders and the parent who is hindering contact is unlikely be impressed or become more well-disposed towards you if you do go down this route. In some circumstances, there may genuinely be no alternative, but it is best to keep court in reserve as the option of last resort

It is far more constructive, and effective, to focus on building the best possible relationship with your grandchildren and your son or daughter’s spouse from day one. That way, if the worst happens and the marriage breaks down or the couple separate, you will have a strong foundation on which to forge a post-divorce relationship.

Ways to build stronger bonds

First and foremost, keep the lines of communication open. Proactively contact your son or daughter’s family on a regular basis.

You can try:

  • Regular phone calls
  • Email
  • Old-fashioned letters
  • Christmas and birthday cards

If things go well, you’ll be able to visit the grandchildren a few times per year. Make an effort while there to be a source of fun and joy: bring presents, play games, take the grandchildren on day trips and outings. Really make an effort to get down on your hands and knees and play wholeheartedly with your grandchildren. Learn new games and bring new toys. Your grandchildren will love you for it.

 Be a supportive and useful visitor for the adults too: do favours for your son- or daughter-in-law: help them with cooking or household chores, be helpful in other ways – even professional ones. Discuss your hobbies and interests and draw your family into these: enthusiasm is always an attractive quality.

Make your visits and phone calls something your family positively looks forward to – even your son- or daughter-in-law. That way, if the parents’ relationship does later break down, it will be much harder for your erstwhile son- or daughter-in-law to casually dismiss and disregard you.

Of course, none of this, unfortunately, a guarantee. A determined parent could still try and write you out of the picture. But such efforts will, at the very least, dramatically increase your chances of remaining a meaningful part of your grandchildren’s lives.


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