One of the things that can be easily overlooked when parents split up, is that the relationship the children have with their grandparents can be disrupted. It may be that one parent no longer wishes the children to have contact with their ex-spouses parents, or perhaps they move a long way away – this can be a very sad and painful situation if all ties are cut for both the children and the grandparents.
In a perfect world, I suppose parents would never split up in the first place, but these days couples separation does happen. Perhaps it can be said that women no longer need to stay with a man if they are unhappy, they can be self-sufficient and work to earn their own living. Equally, a man is not as bound to stay with a woman he no longer wishes to be with. Times have no doubt changed but what is important though is how everything to do with the separation is dealt with, particularly where children are concerned. This includes relationships with other members of the family which need to be kept strong for the sake of the children.
Role of Grandparents
In centuries gone by, families were very much more intertwined with extended family; people would rarely move from the town they grew up in, so grandparents, aunts and uncles would all be living very close by. Everyone would pitch in to help anyone else in the family with childcare or any other matter that needed attending to.
Today even if there is geographical distance between families and extended family, children in the UK often have very regular contact with their grandparents. Children have a very special and unique bond with grandparents whether it is their Mother or Father’s parents. Grandparents provide a balance in grandchildren’s lives that no one else can replicate, this is an unconditional love, and nurturing that is so beneficial to children. Studies have shown that multi-generational contact between children and their grandparents provides a quality of attachment that is very strong, and contributes to our grandchildren’s sense of self.
Common Reasons why grandparents and parents fall out
If you are a parent or grandparent in conflict, have a read of the following and see what applies to you:
- Over stepping the boundaries – this is usually when a well-meaning grandparent advises on the way to bring the kids up. Whether it is table manners or bed times. As a parent, you don’t want unsolicited advice about how to bring up your children, particularly if it comes from your own parents or in-laws!
- Respect – this comes from both sides. The grandparent must trust and respect the parent’s way of doing things. Remember times have changed since you were a parent. Equally, as a parent you must still respect your parents and their values, if you feel they have overstepped the mark then you can let them know privately and without anger, they will most likely be unaware they have said anything wrong.
- Avoid conflict with the in-laws – conflict can easily arise if one parent feels unsupported by their partner. For example, if a son always sides with his parents whenever they are around, the mother of the children will feel outnumbered and not respected. She may well react to the grandparents in a very harsh way if she is not supported by her husband.
Aside from these, there are all sorts of reasons why parents fall out with grandparents and it can be a very sudden and brutal cutting off of communication. With no pre-warning or any major event taking place. It can sometimes just be the ‘straw that broke the camel’s back’. Then all of a sudden grandparents are alienated, they feel distraught and extremely sad.
Grandparents Denied Access to Grandchildren
Just as in previous posts we have written about the negative effects of divorce on children if they are prevented from seeing or turned against a parent; parental alienation. The same can be said if children are no longer able to see their grandparents. The effect of removing someone who has loved and cared for the children just at a time of emotional disruption, with parents separating, can be very damaging and causes the children to feel even more insecure and confused.
What are Grandparents Legal Rights to see their Grandchildren?
The short answer is sadly that grandparents don’t have any legal right to see their grandchildren if their access to them has been denied. That being said, family courts can be sympathetic to these situations and grandparents can apply to the court for leave to apply to see their grandchildren.
They must first apply for permission to submit an application to the court. If permission is granted then many things will be weighed up in this application especially anything that might be deemed potentially harmful in any way to the child. The courts will always put the interests of the child first. Also, they will consider if other family relationships could potentially break down if the contact was granted.
It is important to bear in mind that if both the child’s parents oppose the contact then you could be in for a nasty battle which would probably be very stressful for the child and perhaps cause an even further rift between the grandparents and parent. This could then create further alienation of the grandparents, more bad feeling, and a confused child. Then if contact was finally agreed, uncomfortable contact sessions.
What can alienated grandparents do before considering a contact order?
The best way to tackle a situation like this is for the grandparent to try everything they can to reopen the lines of communication with the children’s parent. Whatever the reason for the contact to be stopped (unless it was abuse) could be turned around with some listening on both sides. As a grandparent, consider the following points:
- Are you unaware of how a comment you have made may have affected the parent and caused bad feeling?
- The parent may be feeling terribly low after separation and may not want to face the parents of their ex, particularly if the split was very angry and emotional.
- The parent may need some time to get themselves back to a place where they can face their ex-partners family – they may feel they are blamed by the grandparents for the split.
In many situations, the grandparents don’t even know what caused the break in contact and just feel cast aside as not useful or worth talking to. Here are some things a grandparent can do to try to keep communication going and also let the child know they are still thinking of them:
- Write regular notes to them, postcards are always good as it is just a short message very visible to all in the household. Keep these messages full of love and happy news.
- Always send Birthday and Christmas presents – even if they are intercepted and removed once it is discovered who they are from. The child will still know that grandma or grandad is thinking of them.
- Without being overly pushy you could attempt to call to speak with the grandchildren or perhaps swing by with a bright happy smile to say hello.
- Very passively contact the parent and say that all you want to do is make peace, you will listen to their point of view on the reason for the contact stopping and are prepared to apologise for any behaviour on your part that may have caused upset.
Are you are a parent refusing your children to see their grandparents?
As angry and righteous as you may feel about your reasons for ceasing contact, you must try, for your children’s sake, to allow contact to continue. This is particularly important if your children have had a very close relationship with their grandparents. A sudden cut off from communication is very upsetting for children. Don’t use them as pawns in adult disputes that they won’t understand.
Would mediation help?
Family mediation also extends to issues between parents and grandparents and can work very well as a safe and unbiased place for these conflicts to be sorted out. Here at Progressive Mediation we offer free MIAMs and have helped many people resolve issues without them having to go to court. Call us today for a chat and advice on: 0117 924 3880.