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Dr David Christian Marriage Advice

Children Lost in the Shuffle of Divorce

  • Dr. David Hawkins The Relationship Doctor
  • 2008 1 Oct
Children Lost in the Shuffle of Divorce

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With the divorce rate hovering between fifty and sixty percent of marriages, blended families have become a norm in our society. While we have learned much about blended families, and how they can overcome natural obstacles to develop healthy, stable family life, greater numbers of children are caught in the throes of their parent’s difficulties.

Not only do children from blended families face challenges unknown to children from bio-families, greater numbers of grandparents find themselves trying to pick up the pieces from their children’s challenges. These grandparents are not only ill-prepared to manage these young children, but face unique pressures from their children, ex-children-in-law as well as the grandchildren themselves.

A recent email elucidates the problem.

Dear Dr. David: My husband and I are in our mid-fifties, and never in a million years expected to be parents again. But, that’s what we are to our two grandchildren. The problem is this --

Our daughter married a man and they had two children. He ended up being abusive and an alcoholic, and they ultimately divorced. Now our daughter has custody of their two children, and because of her financial problems, she ends up leaning on us—a lot.

But, that’s not the only problem. In addition to our lives being turned upside down by our grandchildren that we love, we must watch our grandchildren have regular visits with their father, watching how hard this is on them. So, we watch the kids more than we dreamed we ever would, watch our daughter struggle with her choice of men, and have to watch our grandchildren be hurt by their controlling father.

We know that the common advice is to love our grandchildren and let go of the rest, but this is far easier said than done when we see how they are caught in the shuffle. Any advice? ~ Exasperated Grandparents

Dear Exasperated:

Your troubling situation is one repeated many times over because of the factors I addressed earlier. I have counseled dozens of grandparents who are unexpectedly raising their grandchildren. There are several issues to consider in your challenging situation.

First, acknowledge your challenge. While this is obviously a simple statement, sometimes simply acknowledging that “life isn’t perfect” can be helpful. You are facing unique, unexpected challenges. Face them. Talk about them. Acknowledge that this isn’t what you signed up for, but it is what you’re facing—you and thousands of other grandparents.

Second, get support. More and more groups are forming to offer support for grandparents raising their grandchildren. You’ll be amazed at how good it feels to be with others who are facing your same challenges.

Third, maintain healthy boundaries. Just because your daughter and ex-son-in-law struggle with boundaries doesn’t mean you have to. The fact that their lives are chaotic means your must be especially stable. You must find ways to be of help to your grandchildren but not get caught up in the family difficulties. Even if tempted, or manipulated, hold firm to your boundaries.

Fourth, create stability for yourself and the children. As I said above, part and parcel of healthy boundaries means creating stability for you and the children. Do this by living your life and inviting your daughter to be part of it, along with your grandchildren. Enjoy and celebrate your grandchildren, remembering the powerful impact you are having on their welfare. While your daughter and grandchildren need you desperately, you must maintain a life separate from them. Be sure to keep time for your marriage as well as personal time. It is out of your health and wellness that you can effectively give to others.

Fifth, hold your family in prayer. Each precious member of your family needs God’s protection and grace. We must always guard against believing we are, or must be, the complete answer to others’ problems. But we aren't and we can't be. God is in control.

I would like to hear from others who are raising, or caring for their grandchildren, or have experienced “boomerang” children. What helps and what hurts?

David Hawkins, Ph.D., is the founder of the Marriage Recovery Center. He has worked with couples and families to improve the quality of their lives by resolving personal issues for the last 30 years. He is the author of over 18 books, including Love Lost: Living Beyond a Broken Marriage   Saying It So He'll Listen, and  When Pleasing Others Is Hurting You. His newest books are titled  The Relationship Doctor's Prescription for Healing a Hurting Relationship and  The Relationship Doctor's Prescription for Living Beyond Guilt.  Dr. Hawkins grew up in the beautiful Pacific Northwest and lives with his wife on the South Puget Sound where he enjoys sailing, biking, and skiing. He has active practices in two Washington cities.