Parents going through an acrimonious divorce often cannot see the wood for the trees. They may be involved with other partners so the energy that should be going into raising and supporting their children, is diverted into new love affairs. The children know this and will often suffer a great deal, terrified, like the grandparents, to put a foot wrong in case it causes more rows and upset between their parents. Children as young as three years old can feel a sort of inner chaos if they have to live through this sort of trauma, and the effects on their fragile developing minds may not manifest until much later, usually when they hit their teens.
Childhood is the most precious time of a person’s life. The things you experience as a child, stay with you forever. Good or bad, memories are made in childhood. Children who experience chaotic home lives, with constant rows and bad atmospheres, spiteful and abusive behaviour between parents and other family members, will not forget. They will be damaged. Their perception of the way people behave will be that adults are always in conflict, that to be calm and happy is something unusual, that anger and distrust, insult and abuse are the norm. They will learn that this is the way to live your life and it will stay with them throughout their own lives.
Grandparents caught up in situations like this can do very little. Children’s Services will only intervene if there is obvious and very serious abuse. The subtle, on-going mayhem that many kids experience while parents are in the early stages of separation and divorce is of no interest to them. They have far more horrendous cases to deal with. But the damage is no less serious.
Grandparents, aunts and uncles and friends can give children in such circumstances, enormous support. Children understand this and respond to love and kindness, care and empathy in a positive way. They will remember the grandparents who did not take sides, or verbally abuse the parents, but simply loved and cared for them and took time to be with them, listen to them and do things with them, impartially. They will know that these loving people will never let them down and will always provide respite and sanctuary from a difficult and unhappy home life or from selfish, immature warring parents. Never underestimate the value of hands-on, loving and caring grandparents. They are invaluable.
But what happens when one or other of the parents decides that they do not want grandparents to see the children any more? Grandparents have few legal rights. To go to court to get access to your grandchildren is a huge step and there is no guarantee that you will win. Often grandparents bite their tongues and say nothing, hoping that things will settle down and the parents will see their value. But this doesn’t always happen. And it causes enormous suffering and hurt for both the grandparents and the children, who have often had a loving and close relationship with Gran and Granddad since babyhood. I have friends who after the divorce, were told that they could never see their grandson again. The years went by and their health deteriorated. One night there was ring on the doorbell. They opened the door to find their fifteen year old grandson on the doorstep, begging to come and live with them until he reached the age of eighteen and could leave home for good. He had been living with the mother who had refused to let him see his grandparents. He’d also had no contact with father, who had gone abroad to live with a new partner. They took him in at once, but the stress of the whole thing had taken its toll and six months later, the grandfather died of a heart attack. The boy was heartbroken. All those years he could have had a relationship with his beloved grandfather, all that time waiting and when he had finally found him, to lose him again. The boy lived on with his grandmother, refusing to go back home. In the end the courts became guardians and he was allowed to stay with his grandmother. He never spoke to his mother again.
So much unhappiness is caused to innocent children by the callousness and uncaring attitudes of some divorcing parents, whose main concern is to free themselves from the other partner. They often have little insight into the feelings and sensitivities of their children. They think they love them, but do they? Do they really see what is happening to them? I don’t think so. Why do we have so many kids failing in school, committing petty crimes and more recently, rioting on the streets. Why are so many kids caught up with alcohol and drugs? Is it really the fault of our diminished economy or lack of jobs? Or is it the lack of respect adults have for each other and their marriages or partnerships? Is it the way family life deteriorates when parents split? How influenced are young parents by what they read in magazines or see on TV? The ‘have it all’ society we have lived through, where we amassed huge debts in order to feel we were ‘living’! Now, left in debt, with houses repossessed and families struggling to cope financially, is it any wonder that the kids are caught in the middle and are suffering so much? Grandparents have to stay strong, even though they may be old and infirm, or struggling on pensions. They can give kids so much; life experience, history, patience, affection, an understanding of heritage, time, listening, sanctuary, and most of all, unconditional love.