Divorce is one of the realities of modern family life, but that doesn't mean that it's easy to handle. Other than a death or serious illness, news of the impending divorce of a child is probably the most devastating blow that a parent can receive, especially if there are grandchildren involved. If you’ve been on the receiving end of such news, you’ve probably experienced a wide range of emotions. These 5 emotional reactions are fairly standard for those in the situation of being a parent of a divorcing child.
Grief for Failed Dreams and Relationships
When a child divorces, a relationship dies, and their parents will typically grieve for that relationship. Your child will probably still have a relationship with the ex-spouse, but it will not be the loving and satisfying relationship that everyone hoped for when the couple married. Even if you had early doubts about the relationship, you undoubtedly hoped that your doubts would be proved false. That hope dies with the news of a divorce.
On the other hand, if you have a close and loving relationship with your daughter- or son-in-law, you are facing the potential loss of that relationship. Grief is a natural reaction to these circumstances, and you must allow yourself to go through the grieving process.
Guilt About Your Own Role
Most parents of a divorcing child have experienced trying to steer children out of a relationship that they think will not turn out well, and most have found it an exercise in futility. Even though adult children are responsible for their own decisions, parents will almost certainly question themselves about whether they could have done something to avert this family disaster. If the parents of the divorcing child have been divorced or have had troubled relationships in their own pasts, perhaps they will feel that somehow they negatively affected their child's ability to sustain a marital relationship.
You should not allow yourself to fall into the trap of feeling guilty about the failure of your child's relationships. It’s impossible to go back and test what might have happened if things had been done differently, so feelings of guilt are non-productive and should be avoided whenever possible.
It is very common to feel torn between your feelings for the divorcing parties, even though one is your own child. Parents know very well that their children have faults, and clear-eyed parents will recognize that their own child must bear some responsibility for the failure of the relationship. If you had developed a close relationship with your daughter- or son-in-law, you may even feel that your own child is largely at fault. On the other hand, some parents turn all of their sorrow and anger against the daughter- or son-in-law.
However you may feel that the blame should be portioned out, it is important to recognize two things. First, it is impossible to determine what really goes on between two people in a marriage. Second, it is not your role to determine blame. Try to steer your energies in more positive directions, such as spending quality time with your child and grandchildren during this difficult period.
Worries About What the Future May Hold
Uncertainty about the future almost always engenders worry. Suddenly, nothing in the future of your child and grandchildren seems secure. A divorce can impact employment, emotional stability, geographic location, and a host of other factors. You need to focus on what is constant: your love for your child and grandchildren. The classic advice to focus on the things one cannot change and accept the things one cannot change is certainly good advice in this situation. Those who believe in a higher power may find some solace in thinking of the future as being in the hands of that higher power.
Fear of Losing Touch With Grandchildren
Closely akin to worry, fear is also a natural reaction to a divorce in the family. One of the major fears of those in this situation is a loss of access to their grandchildren, especially if custody seems likely to go to the parent who is not their child. This is not an unreasonable fear, as statistics show that many grandparents lose contact with grandchildren after a divorce. This is one area, however, in which you can take some meaningful action. Although you certainly cannot ensure a continuing relationship with your grandchildren, you can take steps to make it more likely, such as avoiding blame and staying as neutral as possible.
Other Grandparent Stresses
Stress in the grandparenting role is not uncommon in this situation. Grandparenting is not always easy or fun and many grandparents face major challenges in their grandparent roles. Long-distance grandparents experience significant emotional effects, as do the grandparents of grandchildren with special needs.
Grandparents who are dealing with the divorce of a child should seek assistance if their sadness becomes overwhelming, especially if it is preventing a normal life. Seeking counseling or joining a support group may be helpful. It's crucial that you take care of yourself so that you can help your children and grandchildren through this difficult time.