We all know couples who have broken up, but it is when our own children tell us that their family is in trouble that the pain really hits. Now that the level of divorces is so high there is wider acknowledgement of the distress this causes not only to the couple, but to the children as well. What is often not spoken about is the grief that this causes us – the older generation.
When my daughter told me that her husband was leaving her and the children my first thoughts were, of course, about the emotional cost both to her and to her young son and daughter. Later I had time to think about what it meant to me as a grandmother.When I was researching for my books on family issues, I spoke with hundreds of grandmothers and grandfathers who have been through the trauma of a divorce in the family. Each had a story to tell. What made a lasting impression on me was how deeply affected they all were. Grandmothers wept as they told me how devastated they had been by the breakup of a family in which they thought their own child and grandchildren were happy and secure.
Molly: “All three of my children are divorced. Is it a sign of the times, or did I do something terribly wrong when I was bringing them up?” This question, couched in different terms was one which faced me daily. Is there really a satisfactory answer to this?
A very upsetting element was to hear how grandparents became involved in the wrangle between the divorcing couple. In many sad cases grandparents found themselves cut out of their grandchildren’s lives. This was often because the parent who has custody of the children either moved away, or because little attempt was made to keep in touch with the ex-partner’s parents. It seemed that punishing the “other” parent’s parents became part of the scenario, with little thought of what this might mean to the grandparents or, indeed, the children. It is very sad when children not only have to cope with the breakup of their family, but lose half of their extended family as well.
Another issue can be the question of loyalty. What if it is your own child who has brought about the breakup of the family? A really dreadful situation can arise if there has to be choice between supporting your own “child” and perhaps a new partner, or supporting a very unhappy ex son-or daughter-in-law. Choices do have to be made, and the heartache for the grandparents may last forever. A rift in the family can also spread to include other members of the extended family too.
Parents of the divorcing couple, on the whole, find little support. It is seldom realized that when there is a divorce this may bring about the loss of a much loved son or daughter-in-law. It can be like a death, but there is no outward expression of mourning allowed.
Other grandparents find themselves with a fresh “hands on” link with their grandchildren providing childcare to enable a parent to work outside the home. This in itself can be a mixed blessing, as I heard from many grandmothers (and grandfathers). All took on the task with love, but often found themselves struggling with the physical demands of looking after small children again.
So remember if you have a friend who tells you of a family divorce, make sure you provide some support and even a shoulder to cry on. If you are in the middle of a family breakup make sure you have someone to talk to about it. Our children always need us, as parents, to be strong and often the weeping must be done away from them. Remember, too, that any divorce becomes a family divorce and if this has happened in your family I know that seeing your child and grandchildren in turmoil and pain becomes an unimaginable ache. I am a grandmother, and I have been there.