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Sunday, May 21, 2017

Grandparents and Divorce


A movie I really enjoy is the movie “Parenthood” with Steve Martin and Jason Robards.  In case you didn’t see it, there are lots of twists and turns as the movie depicts multigenerational family life, with plenty of family disputes, dysfunctions and difficulties.  The different family members have different issues, and the story centers around Martin’s character as he struggles to be a good dad, and wrestles with the decisions that involves.  Robards portrays Martin’s dad, who is also struggling with issues that center around his grown children, one son in particular.  In one scene, as Robards expresses the struggle, the comment he makes to Steve Martin as he reflects on the difficulties he is having with his youngest son, is that the most difficult thing about being a parent is (in -paraphrase) “that is never ends.  Never.   It just keeps on going.”  I suspect those individuals wrestling with their child’s divorce can relate to such a statement.

Last blog I discussed the impact a child’s divorce has on parents, and the various roles the parent might play as they seek to help their child through a difficult time.  I want to go one step further tonight, and make some suggestions in relation to the grandchildren whose lives are also caught up in the turmoil.

The relationship between grandparents and grandchildren is a very special and unique one.  Grandchildren may often feel able to discuss their struggles in the divorce that they do not feel comfortable with parents -  with a grandparent.  While this can become a valuable ministry opportunity for the grandparent - it is also a very heart-wrenching one.   The child may describe things in one or both home that leaves their grandparents speechless, and heartbroken.  While often unable to change the child’s situation, providing the child an outlet to vent can be invaluable in helping the child cope…if you are willing to provide a listening ear and comforting hug.  

These conversations can be very tricky.  If the child shares things about your child’s ex that trouble you….such as details about a new lover that has moved in, or how the values in that home no longer match the values they had been taught previously in their intact home.  Their lives may have become more hectic, more deprived, more uncertain.  The grandchildren may also bring up struggles they are having with your child during this transition time, struggles that may be very difficult to hear.  On occasion, there may be a struggle mentioned that you could address effectively with your child, but more often than not, you can only listen to the grandchildren’s struggles.  And cry with them.  And encourage them.  And hug them.  And serve as an important source of stability in the midst of their discombobulated lives.   

You will find there are times when you have to bite your tongue.  You will find there are other times you can offer a bit of perspective, or some wise advice.  You can not only pray for your grandchildren, you can pray with them.  And, when appropriate, you may be able to help your child understand the struggles of their children just a little better, and sometimes even make suggestions that can help guide your child toward effective parenting.  

“It never ends,” is the line from Parenthood, but that can be a good thing, because not only do you carry the heartache and the hardship, but you also have the opportunity to be the positive, supportive influence for your children and grandchildren when they most need someone.  It is a privilege that only grandparents have in that unique relationship you have with your grandchildren.  

Use that privilege wisely, in a godly and exemplary fashion.  Not only your children, but also your grandchildren need you, perhaps now more than ever.  Let me also remind you that God notices, God listens to your heart cry, and God will honor you for your commitment and ministry to children in need.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

When Your Adult Children Divorce..What Now?

Many years ago, I had a couple of parishioners who had been married for many years ask if they could visit with me.  As we did, they shared with me their heartache over the divorce of their daughter from her husband.  The dad said to me, “I think it would be easier to be getting divorced myself than to have to watch her go through a divorce.”  I don’t know whether that statement is actually true or not, but it is pretty profound, wouldn’t you say?

I visited again today with another friend who is part of a couple with whom I have shared support as their child has been divorced in recent years, and they deal with the fallout.  As we talked, I was reminded again of how many ripples extend out in so many ways when a couple chooses to end their marriage, especially when there are children involved.  

Grandparents are especially vulnerable.  

Suddenly, the opportunities for grandparents to be able to freely spend time with their grandchildren are now curtailed, as the opportunities are now restricted according to the various schedules in which the children now live.  And that is assuming that both of the divorced parties are abiding by the court agreement.  However, very often that only happens in an ideal world.  

Not all of the difficulties for a parent of the divorcing center around the grandchildren, however.  As I visited with my friend, I heard words of struggle, uncertainty, powerlessness and concern.  Parents of those divorcing wonder what things they can say and help that would be helpful, and what things would be detrimental, all the time worried over watching their child on an emotional rollercoaster which sometimes spirals into depression and fear. 

When your child is lonely, do you call, do you not call?  

Do you encourage him or her to get out and start seeing someone, or do you encourage him or her to wait?  

At what point does it go from healthy parenting to intrusiveness?  

How much help for the child is actually helpful, and how much do you withhold to allow your child to wrestle with the difficult issues for themselves?

The grandparent I was visiting with also expressed the impact the divorce had on family dynamics in general.  Relationships at family gatherings had taken on a degree of awkwardness, planning for vacations or holidays was now tied to the whims of the ex-spouse, and the need for my friends to find way to help undergird the parenting their child attempts to do in difficult circumstances.

I was not the bearer of good news to my friend, when I expressed that the complications can be almost never ending.  We didn’t even touch on what things may one day be like when grandchildren graduate and anyone tries to plan graduation parties, or when a wedding rolls around and one of the divorced individuals chooses to make things difficult.  Step-parents, or even new boyfriend/girlfriends that enter the picture add another dynamic, especially if they have children of their own already.  The ripples just go on and on.  And so often others do not understand.  Sometimes a divorced person’s family members do not understand, and think the two ex’s should be able to just be friends, get along, and not be bothered when the other is around.  Sometimes that is the case, but in my experience, it is a pretty rare couple that manages that kind of relationship.  For the rest of the people I know, each intrusion of the ex into one’s life stirs up old emotions and struggles, and unnecessarily complicates the already difficult aftermath of divorce.

What I did share with my friend is that as a parent of a divorcing/divorced child, my friend has now entered the subculture of parents who have experienced the same thing.  I shared that I have known a number of people in the same situation, who have expressed the same frustrations, the same hurts, the same uncertainties about how to proceed.  I also suggested that if they keep their eyes open, around them they will find others who are struggling in the same kind of hardship, and my friend might find a whole new ministry by offering support and encouragement that only can come from someone who has “been there.”  

Those people who think they will file for divorce and that will solve all their problems are sadly deluded.  As someone said to me many years ago, “divorce creates more problems than it solves.”  And I suspect very few people entering divorce stop to think about the effects that will ripple out to those they love, whether it be friends, grandparents or other family members, or even their own children.  

All of which, I suspect, is just one more reason that God says in Malachi that he hates divorce.  I do, too.  Necessary though it sometimes is, it is certainly not a wonderful fix-all remedy for a troubled marriage!

Hey, maybe YOU know someone whose child is in the midst of a divorce.  Don’t assume it is an easy thing for that parent…reach out to them, and let them know you care.  You might be surprised how much it will mean to them.