Dear Dr. Debbie,
My children are adjusting to lots of changes since my ex and I split. Now he’s saying he doesn’t want them to visit my mom, who has been a big part of their lives. He probably thinks she might turn them against him, which, even though she might want to, she never would.
Is this an important topic I should negotiate through with him? There are so many other issues to be settled between us.
She’s Still Grams
Emotions often run high when a couple splits up. But yes, it is important for the children to maintain their ties with their grandmother. Being in a home with only one parent, when you are used to having two, can feel like living in a house with one of its walls lying on the lawn. It can be extremely comforting for children to know that other parts of their lives are still very much intact.
Here are three things that family members should try to keep foremost in their minds when a divorce involves children:
There are inevitable changes for children when their parents separate. Minimize them as much as possible. Unless there is no other way, help your children maintain stability with their home and pets, friendships, school, after school activities and hobbies, visits with extended family members, and the things the family used to do with both parents that can still be done with one (or without dramatics with both). Daily routines, including food, are especially important to younger children. Often there are tighter budgets for single parents, so trim expenses wisely to hold onto the less expensive “necessities” that one of your children might miss deeply. This goes for activities, too. So before dropping out of sports, scouts, music lessons, summer camp, etc. consider asking extended family members to “gift” a child’s continuation by covering the costs. There may be funds available through the activity provider for scholarships so a child can still participate. Or you may be able to volunteer in lieu of fees.
It takes time and emotional energy to divide parenting rights and responsibilities between two people who are terminating their own relationship. Keep your disputes and negotiations out of the children’s awareness. Air your grievances about each other and about the divorce process away from the children. And away from well-meaning friends and family members. Your supporters may accidentally divulge these private thoughts such that your children get wind of the animosity between their parents. Professional counseling, whether individually or jointly, is a safe place to express and address the emotions you are going through. While there may be legal matters such as dividing property that warrant the advice of an attorney, most issues are best taken up with a divorce mediator. One impartial mediator, rather than two battling lawyers, can help with drafting your parenting plan (regular time with each parent, who pays for what, procedures for exchanging the children between homes, alternating holidays, etc.) so that the children’s best interests are at the center of it.
Note that you may need an hour or so to recover from an emotionally draining session with a counselor, mediator, or lawyer. Arrange these appointments, and recovery time, within the children’s time at school or secure ample coverage with your childcare provider so you are ready to be fully attentive to the children upon your return.
Parenting is forever unless a parent has been deemed (through a legal process) to be a danger to his children. Your children need to see that their adults are working together to make important decisions about them for today and throughout their journeys to adulthood. This requires communication, compromise, and trust. Besides mother and father, the team includes teachers, health workers, hopefully some of the children’s friends’ parents, and yes, extended family members. Typically, in a shared custody arrangement both parents must agree on issues related to education, health, and religion. Obviously a decision about whether to switch a struggling student to an easier math class involves teamwork with his teacher. Similarly, a grandparent, or parent of a child’s friend, for that matter, can also be counted on as a vital member of the team; maybe not for critical decisions, but for some of the day-to-day responsibilities that children need adults to help take care of. While working on a school project at a classmate’s home might extend into an invitation by the friend’s parent to stay for dinner, a grandparent’s role could likewise be flexible enough to include an unplanned meal, outing, or sleepover.
This is the time to be strengthening the team rather than to be rejecting a contributing member.
In the event that discussion, counseling, and mediation are not enough to convince your ex that your mother is an asset to his children, Grams could pursue, and win, a lawsuit. Then her visits with the children would become part of the divorce agreement. According to Divorce Source, a website devoted to providing information and connections to help with the divorce and beyond, “The most important piece of evidence in any state would be to demonstrate that a consistent and caring relationship (with the grandparent) was well established prior to the divorce.”
Mediation Matters, a mediation practice in Rockville Maryland, concurs that adults must put the children’s needs above their emotional needs and grievances arising from the divorce process.
Just remind Grams of their number one rule regarding children and divorce: “Do not talk badly about my other parent.”
Click here for more parenting advice by Debbie Wood.
What do you think? Email your comments or questions to Dr. Debbie at editor[at]chesapeakefamily.com.