Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D
Grandparents who fight for visitation rights may end up as losers even if they win in the court of law. Parents who try to punish or coerce grandparents by withholding visitation defeat their own child. Whenever there is a conflict between parents and grandparents, the child in middle is likely to lose.
Some parents and grandparents get it wrong. It is not the parents' or grandparents' right over a child, it is a child's right (and a need) to have the love and access to both sets of grandparents without fear, guilt or conflict of loyalty.
A child must not be put in the position of taking sides. A major conflict between parents and grandparents teaches a child wrong lessons about parent-child relationship of grownups. Such a situation might have future repercussions for the quality of relationships the child might have with his parents or his or her own children in future.
In this article, we won't discuss such ominous issues as neglect, abuse, abandonment or the parents' absence or inability to care for their children. Let's also set aside such cases as both parents being incarcerated or so severely addicted that they can't care of their own needs, let alone those of their children. In such cases, grandparents have no choice but to go to the court. They need to get legal custody over such matters as financial assistance, housing, daycare assistance or a child's medical care.
In 1970, three percent of children under 18 were living with their grandparents. At this point, six percent of children are living with their grandparents. Had grandparents not come forward, asserted their rights over those of parents or of the state, and assumed responsibility for their grandchildren, some children would've met the worst of the outcomes. Those issues aside, parents and grandparents must work in harmony to provide the child a positive and conflict free experience of love from both generations. Many grandparents don't ever accept the spouse of their child and don't hide their feelings about it. Grandparents may not face any negative consequences for their behavior. However, if parents were to divorce, visitation or access to grandchildren could become an issue. Say their daughter-in-law gets custody of the grandchild. She may not be that eager to have grandparents visit the child.
Many grandparents openly criticize or singly blame their son- or daughter-in-law for the breakup of the marriage. This is very unfortunate. Some grandparents who had a reasonable relationship with the spouse of their child develop a lot of bitterness towards him or her during separation and divorce.
Some grandparents believe they can continue to reject their son- or daughter-in-law and still have undiminished "right" to see their grandchild. This may become an untenable position as the conflict escalates. If that were to happen, a child has to absorb the tension of this conflict and find ways to please both sets of generation.
Some grandparents don't agree with parent's ideas about disciplining the grandchild. They may openly criticize parents' disciplinary methods or lack thereof, because they find them to be "too strict" or "too lenient." In some cases, grandparents may surreptitiously try to make up to the grandchild. For example, parents say to the child, "No ice cream today because you didn't stay by me in the store." Grandparents, considering it too harsh a treatment, bring the child to their own home and feed him or her ice cream. This may backfire. If this were to become a pattern, there might be consequences for grandparents, especially if parents strongly believe in their method of discipline.
Grandparents should maintain a good, or at least a working, relationship with both parents. They should respect parents' rules and regulations. If they don't agree with a particular house rule, they should discuss it with both parents together, in the absence of the child.
Never try to circumvent parents. Don't sabotage their rules. Don't exhibit disrespect or anger or undermine the authority of parents in front of grandchildren. Excepting a situation involving neglect or abuse, cooperate with and win the trust of both parents. Hope and help to create harmony between both parents. It will help you to have more fun with your grandchildren.
When there is harmony between grandparents and parents, the former can play an invaluable role in the lives of their grandchildren. They can offer grandchildren mellowness, emotional stability and the carefree attitude that come with maturity. They can offer pure nurture and love without the burden of parenting. For older grandchildren, they can be role models and mentors. There is another role that only grandparents can fulfill and that is of being the historians of the family. For example, who else can tell the little ones about their great grandparents or great great grandparents? Small children never think that their parents had been anything else but parents. They might not know that their parents were once as "cute" or as "naughty" as they themselves are. Grandparents, as authentic historians of the family, can offer them a whole new dimension of their parents and help the grandchildren see another side of their parents.
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