The effect of divorce on grandchildren

If you’re going through a separation or divorce in later life, you may be questioning how this decision will affect your adult children. But what if you also have grandchildren? How will they cope? And what’s the healthiest approach to handling everyday family situations, as well as special events like birthdays and holidays?

“Children of any age are impacted when people they love separate,” says collaborative lawyer, Jane Libbis.

“Older role models separating can be destabilising, making people question their beliefs about relationships,” she adds.

While adult children may be better equipped to cope with the changes, young grandchildren are more likely to require structure.

“When they (grandchildren) are told about the separation, they will want to know what it means for them,” says Libbis. She suggests keeping this in mind when speaking to grandchildren. For example, let grandchildren know they now get to have dinner with Grandma on Saturdays, and dinner with Grandpa on Sundays. Be specific and try to keep a positive tone. 

Naomi Holtring, an accredited mediator who has assisted grandparents through divorce, agrees.

“Kids are likely to ask simple questions like, ‘Where are you going to live?’ and, ‘Can I still visit?’ ” says Holtring. “These can usually be answered with simple truths, which will greatly help kids through their own grief of having their grandparents separate.”

Another consideration is the psychological impact. Research indicates that children will generally cope after a divorce provided they are not exposed to conflict.

“You want your grandchildren to be able to think ‘great, I get to see Grandma and Grandpa both together’, rather than ‘oh no, they’re both here, what are we in for now?’ “ says Libbis. 

“Overall, the best thing to do is to ensure that the couple receive appropriate support,” she says. “This will maximise the chances of being able to be in the same space at family functions.”

According to the experts, effective communication, and opting for mediation rather than going to court, are some of the best ways for avoiding or minimising conflict during a divorce.

Mediators can also help with the following:

  • Recognising conflict styles and cycles
  • Learning how to communicate assertively and compassionately
  • Understanding how to change the dynamics of a conflict, and
  • Resolving conflicts at an early stage.

“These are helpful strategies that will assist people to have some valuable insights into their own contribution to the conflict, and how to handle future conflicts,” says Holtring.

For more advice, see Relationships Australia.