While Mother’s Day is a time of celebration for most people it can be a painful time of year for families that have broken apart due to divorce or death. When relationships break down it aﬀects not just the couple themselves and their children, but their close family and friends. If you enjoyed a close relationship with your ex-person-in-law (ex-PIL, we are using this as a catch all for all relationships, not just marriage) it can be as hard as if you didn’t. They want to move on with their life and possibly start another relationship, but you are still grandparent to their children. Of course you may have loathed the ex-PIL and be glad that they are gone from your child’s life but again they are a parent to your grandchildren.
When a relationship breaks down the courts make arrangements regarding children but grandparents have no standing in law or any right to maintain a relationship with the children. Few parents want to separate their children from their grandparents and there are ways to try to ensure things are as frictionless as they can be. If you have already established a good relationship with your ex-PIL that’s a good start but you may encounter resentment from your own child accusing you of ‘taking sides’ and being unsupportive. You need to establish boundaries early on. While you can oﬀer love and unconditional support to your adult child they need to understand that your relationships with their ex and with your grandchildren are separate and distinct from them. If the grandchildren are still young it can be diﬃcult to have a separate relationship with them but it can be done. Keep in mind the following:
Stay Oﬀ Social Media
You have opinions about your ex-PIL, of course you do. They may be perfectly valid or you may be hurt on your own child’s behalf. Either way do NOT write them down and post them on the internet for anyone to read. This escalates very quickly and never ends well.
Don’t Shoot the Messenger
Do not allow yourself to be dragged in to negotiations or arrangements regarding the divorce/separation. If former partners have things to say to each other they have plenty of ways to do so without involving you. It is not your job to relay messages between them.
Focus on the Grandchildren
Whatever diﬀerences you may have with your ex-PIL you both agree that their kids are the best thing that ever happened to the world, right? Keep communications focused on the children. Ask about them. Oﬀer to help either physically or financially if you can. Don’t take over and do things without being asked, oﬀer and listen carefully to the response.
Obey the rules
This applies to all grandparents regardless of the relationship status of their adult children. Your ex-PIL has some wacky notions about child-rearing and you never heard such nonsense in your life. Sorry but you have to suck it up buttercup. Like it or not they are the parent, they decide what is best for their child. Yes, kids get a bit of extra leeway with grandparents and a bit spoiled, but don’t explicitly and deliberately flout the ground rules like feeding them meat because you think vegetarianism is stupid. And never, ever, take your grandchild for a haircut without permission.
Despite everything, sometimes grandparents sadly lose contact with their beloved grandchildren. There is no automatic legal right to contact, but you do have the right to approach the court for a child arrangement order. The National Family Mediation service (nfm.org.uk) will approach the estranged parent on your behalf, but they cannot compel them to attend mediation. Grandparentsplus.org.uk and Citizens Advice (citizensadvice.org.uk) are also good sources of information for estranged grandparents.