How Divorce Affects the Whole Family

an exclusive feature*

Sadly, we live in a world where the latest statistic shows that 40-50 percent of marriages end in divorce. The good news is the numbers are declining. That being said, it is important to consider how we handle ourselves if/when divorce punctures our family, children, and grandchildren. The effect on the family is not to be minimized and how a family handles the situation is key to a “healthy” divorce. I’ve worked with many children whose parents divorced and they ask, “Why haven’t our kids gotten over our divorce (?) …it happened 10 years ago!” I remind parents that they themselves have not gotten over it, because they’re still berating each other. The other important factor to remember is that their children are now at different developmental stages than when they divorced. So if a child was five at the time of the divorce, at age fifteen he/she is beginning to think about dating. Or when they’re older, they may be thinking about marriage. Their parents have been their role models for how to be in a healthy relationship.

Parents going through divorce are focused on their own emotional needs. Their world has been rocked and it’s difficult to focus on others. A healthy divorce is one in which children are supported and are allowed to feel and express what they’re feeling. Most parents I know are certainly aware of their children’s feelings and try their best to support them. However, it’s not easy.

What is often not taken into consideration is how the divorce affects the extended family, especially grandparents and grandchildren. Grandparents are the parents of the couple getting divorced. They too may be dealing with emotions around their adult child’s marriage and divorce. As a result of the divorce, there may be distancing between grandparents and grandchildren, both emotionally and perhaps physically. This distancing has a detrimental effect on children and their grandparents.

A “healthy” divorce is one in which all parties support open communication. As a grandparent, it’s important to remember to give the family going through the divorce enough space to navigate their own way. Respect that although you may not support their decision, it is their decision. Your best role is to be the supportive parent and grandparent. That may mean dropping your own expectations of how things “should” be.

Whether you’re a parent or a grandparent, here are a few tips to help you navigate a divorce in your family:

  • Allow yourself to grieve the loss associated with divorce. Give yourself permission to feel your own emotions and find those that will support you during this process. Sometimes hiring a professional can be invaluable and help you maintain a healthy perspective.
  • Don’t take sides. Allow others to process their own feelings without trying to help them “fix” the situation. It is the couple’s own individual journey. The most effective way to support them is to listen.
  • Be clear about your own wishes, in terms of family visits and time spent with grandchildren. Don’t assume that parents going through the divorce will be able to read your mind. An honest conversation might look like this…

“I know you’ve been going through a lot…I can only imagine how hard this has been for you.  If there is anyway that I can support you, please know that I’m here and ready to listen. I also miss seeing my grandchildren, and was wondering if there is a way that I could schedule some time to be with them?”

  • Be respectful of the ex-family. If you want to maintain a relationship with your grandchildren, it’s important that you have an ongoing relationship with their dad or mom.
  • Family gatherings, especially during the holidays, will be different…think of them as a “new normal”. The more open and accepting you are about gathering family together, the more pleasant it will be for everyone. Set your intention ahead of time: that you will bring only love and positive energy into the home. Children and teens are like sponges…they soak up the energy of those around them.

As a grandparent, you are in a perfect position to support your grandchildren through the divorce. Although you might not see them as often as you’d like, your love and support will mean the world to them. If you’re able to take them out on a date, you’ll be sending the message that you care and are there for them. If you’re not able to see them in person, a letter or package will remind them of your love and support. A text or Facetime chat can easily help brighten their day. You are a precious gift to your grandchildren, both near and far.


*How Divorce Affects the Whole Family is an exclusive feature for by BONNIE COMPTON, APRN, BC, CPNP. Bonnie has worked with families for more than thirty years as a child and adolescent therapist, parent coach, and pediatric nurse practitioner and is passionate about making a difference in the lives of children and families. She is a writer, speaker, workshop and retreat facilitator, and hosts her own podcast radio program, Wholehearted Parenting Radio, which is available on iTunes, Web Talk Radio, Radioactive Broadcasting Network, and Stitcher Radio. Bonnie lives in Charleston, SC, with her husband, and is a mom of four adult children and believes that being a mother has been her most important job. She loves being Gramma to her three beautiful granddaughters.

Bonnie is also the author of a new book, Mothering with Courage.

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