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A Grandmother Struggles With Divorce

12/22/2010 03:31am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
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When an adult child's marriage ends, it's not just the divorcing couple and their children who are hurt. What many people do not realize is that the grandparents are struggling with a ton of emotions and questions. The following is a pretty typical story about the issues seniors face.

It was midnight and the phone rang. My husband and I often got calls at odd hours since our son lived in another time zone. This time the sound reverberated throughout the house. My husband picked up the phone. I waited my turn while the two engaged in the usual guy talk.

"How's the job, did you get the roof fixed?"

Don't ask why but all the while they were talking my mother radar was picking up static.

"How are the kids?" I asked.

"They're fine," my son replied. There was a pause -- a long pause.

"And Barbara?"

"Okay." Another long pause.

And then I heard those dreadful words I don't think any parent is ever prepared for. "Mom, Barbara and I are getting divorced."

I felt as if my family had just fallen off a cliff.

All night long, these parents asked themselves why? What went wrong in the marriage? They needed some reason, some explanation to buffer the shock. They asked: Why didn't we see this coming? Who's to blame? What does the future hold for our child? the soon to be ex-law? the grandchildren? How will this divorce affect us?

Of course, not all parents are taken by surprise when the couple finally goes public. Some predict the marriage is doomed before the ink is dry on the marriage license. Even so, the issues are the same. Parents are not sure of their role. Do they stay on the sidelines or enter the fray?

Some seniors find it difficult to accept the decision. They try to fix what's broken. One reaction is to suggest the couple go for marriage counseling. This grandmother was told it was too late. The message was clear: "Mom, butt out."

A real concern is access to the grandkids. Generally speaking, the paternal grandparents lose out to the maternal grandparents even in the case of shared custody since the mother typically controls the amount of time children spend with the father and makes daily decisions about their schedule. Ex-daughters-in-law can create roadblocks, favor their own parents, and reduce the time the father's parents spend with their grandchildren. (http://www.grandparentstoday.com)

This grandmother was lucky. Her grandkids came to visit while Mom and Dad were hammering out the settlement. Grandma agonized over what to say, what to do to make the children comfortable. She removed the parents' wedding picture from the display of family photos and was careful to avoid any subject having to do with the divorce. She hoped the kids would volunteer information - they didn't. The older one, protective of her mother and angry at her father, decided grandma was allied with the enemy.

Fortunately, time passes. The dust settles. Everyone moves on. Many grandparents maintain a warm, working relationship with the former son or daughter-in-law. When their child remarries, there are those who put an extra leaf in the table and invite the whole mishpocha (family) to Chanukah. The faces of grandchildren and step-grandchildren deck the halls with good cheer.

When a child gets married, parents assume their parenting role is over. But because divorce does not exist in a vacuum, their role may be helping their adult child, ex-law and grandchildren get back on track.

This grandmother may not necessarily agree with her son's decision, but she got off on the right foot by saying, "I love you. What can I do to help?"

For more guidance for grandparents and parents of divorced children see: Temlock, Marsha. Your Child's Divorce: What to Expect ... What You Can Do. 2006. Impact Publishers