A couple of months ago, I wrote a blog called “Co-Existing with your Former In-Laws.” I soon realized that that’s only half of the picture, and have been thinking ever since about the other perspective. Several of my friends are now having to tiptoe around their ex daughters-in-law in order to maintain a wholesome relationship with their grandchildren.
What can grandparents do if their son and his ex positively loathe each other?
First, and foremost, the kids need their grandparents. Three of my four grandparents passed away before I was born, and the fourth died when I was six years old, so I really don’t have much in the way of personal experience. Yet I do know that the relationship between grandparents and grandkids is unique, special, and wholesome. It has nothing whatsoever to do with the relationship between the sperm and the egg donors. Denying kids this unconditional love and opportunity to feel singularly important is unconscionable.
That being said, now it’s time to figure out some logistics and some ground rules. While it’s probably easier to see the grandchildren when your son has them, this might not always be feasible. What if it’s not his turn to have them for Christmas and you have presents for them? Ditto on their birthdays. Or what if you live a distance away from them, and your visits don’t coincide with your son’s divorce agreement? And what if your son doesn’t want you to contact his ex?
Ground Rule #1: Make sure your son knows that you intend to keep an open line of communication with his ex, regardless of your son’s animosity towards her (and vice versa). Remind him that this isn’t about misplaced loyalty. In fact, it’s not about him at all. It’s solely about you and your absolute right to have a relationship with your grandchildren. This should be non-negotiable.
Ground Rule #2: Make sure your daughter-in-law understands that you know the importance of being a mom. Share with her your compassion about being a single parent, even if you never were one yourself.
Ground Rule #3: Initiate all contact with your ex daughter-in-law. Offer some practical help (‘may I pick the kids up from day care on Tuesday?’) and then be patient if she refuses your help. Keep on making specific offers.
Ground Rule #4: Get some support. There are websites, such as grandparents.com, which have a wealth of information. And there is legal precedent in obtaining a court order for grandparent visitation under certain circumstances.
Most importantly, never give up. In my mediation practice, I always ask about grandparent visitation, and often include a written schedule separate and apart from parental visitation. I hope this information helps you to have a joyful relationship with your own grandchildren.