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Ask Jackie: Parents breaking up

Created by Jackie Highe in Ask Jackie

jackie higheQ: My daughter is going through a bad break up. Children aged 5 and 7. I am very worried about them, and they are being told horrible lies. I feel so helpless. Can you help?

 

A: It’s a very worrying time. Any break-up is a fertile breeding ground for the darker emotions. Couples struggle with resentment, price anger, allergist bitterness and insecurity. They’re in pain, and this can overwhelm them to the point where they put their own desire for revenge before their children’s needs. They use their children to punish each other – sometimes without even being aware that they’re doing it.

 

Children themselves, caught in the middle, feel as though their whole world is crumbling around them. The people they love most in the world – their parents – seem to have altered dramatically. Everything they know is changing, everything they’ve taken for granted seems to be vanishing – and often they think it’s all their fault. They’re feeling terrified (and guilty).

 

This is where you come in. Please don’t feel helpless – you have a vital role to fulfil. As a loved grandparent, you’re a major part of their lives and you can show them you haven’t changed; that you love them just as much as ever; that you’re not going anywhere, you’re there for them whatever happens; that they can depend on you.

 

There’s research to show that children going through divorce cope better when they have loving grandparents around to help them. You’re their rock. See them as often as possible, give them lots of love, as much laughter, lightheartedness and normality, as you can. And listen to them – be the place where they can safely let off steam, grumble – even about their parents, knowing for sure you’re not going to run straight to mum and dad and tell tales (you mustn’t). Reassure them that what’s happening is not their fault. Explain: ‘Your parents might not love each other, but they still love you.’

 

And be careful. For all your sakes, try not to take sides. As a parent this break-up is hard for you to go through, too. You love your daughter and want to be there for her, but your role is to listen without judging, giving advice only if asked.

 

This will put you in a position to do another, very important thing – you can tell her that you’re worried about your grandchildren and what they’re hearing/being told. Don’t wade in and accuse her of lying, or imply her children are running to you – think of how you’d feel if you were her – she’s losing enough as it is, and will be extremely vulnerable to criticism. Just say that you understand how hard it is for her, but being told so much seems to be upsetting the children a bit. This hint might do the trick.

 

If it doesn’t, talk to your grandchildren when they bring something up. Try to tone down what they’re being told, and say how upset their mum is. However you’re feeling don’t, ever, criticise either parent to the children. Take a calm, reassuring line. Your grandchildren trust you – they’ll listen.

 

 

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