Is there more that grandparents can offer besides just babysitting post-divorce? Is it possible that this family relationship is actually an invisible scaffolding that can support us all in the hardest of times? I spoke to Insight Live host, Kurt Kettner-Borough, in an interview on Revelation TV about children, divorce and The Mending Chronicles of Liam and Emily narrative workbook. We touched on the role grandparents can play when a family is trying to pick up the pieces after a divorce.
When Kurt and I got to chapter two in The Mending Chronicles book, which is about anger, Kurt explained how his own experience of divorce had left him a very angry boy. “When I was nine years old, I was a volcano, I was just crazy. I would play one note on the piano for like three hours and do crazy things. I’d bash my head against things and that was why my parents sent me away. I had all of this anger trapped inside of me. Just looking at this page in chapter two, it says furious, upset, angry, grumpy, rage, resentful, mad, cross, frustrated. I was all of those. No one helped me process that, even though my dad was a psychiatrist.”
Liam, a primary character in The Mending Chronicles, has his own volcano of anger waiting to erupt. Liam moves to his grandmother’s house with his sister and mother after the divorce and finds the adjustment very difficult. He has had to give away his dog, his own space and home, and none of this by his own choice. He has big plans for his tenth birthday party but the reality of their situation wouldn’t allow for any of them to happen. Liam’s mother has to explain this to him.
I told Kurt about that moment when Liam’s volcano finally erupts. “He is furious. He takes the cat, Jenkins, who is lying on the couch and flings him across the room. A vase smashes and Gran runs in, Mom runs in, Emily is there and he is suddenly panting. He realises what he has done. Gran points down the hall and he is told to go to his room. He sinks there and starts crying. Gran comes in and talks to him. She says to him, ‘Wow, you got a lot off your chest, it was like a volcano.’ We have this pent-up anger and then something will trigger it and then before you know it, pppssshhh!”
At this moment in the conversation, Kurt asked if we could slow things down. He picked up on the point about Liam’s grandmother stepping into the situation and being there for him to process what has just happened. He explored what can grandparents do after divorce? He held up The Mending Chronicles book and referred again to his own experience. “In the case of my family, my mother didn’t have the emotional intelligence to sit down and do something like this with me. But perhaps a grandparent would be able to do it.”
Many times parents are too emotional themselves to cope effectively with how their kids are responding to the divorce. There are so many memories and potential triggers. As Kurt said, had he written down nice things about his father in a book like The Mending Chronicles, his mother would have just lost it. But had there been a grandparent who could have stepped in and suggested that they provide a safe space for their grandchild to process their thoughts and emotions, it would have helped both parent and child.
Kurt said, “A grandparent knows the parent, knows the grandson, has that love for them. I really think if you are a grandparent, you have the most beautiful position. Not just going in there and giving people advice, ‘When I was your age, we did this…’ but to go in and really listen.”
What Kurt said resonated with me and I could see the immense gift this would give to a family who was hurting. Letting others into your space when you as a parent are so incredibly vulnerable is not an easy thing, especially if you and your folks have ‘history’. But it’s not about your relationship. It’s about your child and their grandparent’s relationship. Healing can happen in that space. It could be their saving grace, their solid ground in a shaky world.
My comment back to Kurt was, “Grandparents offer life experience and normally if they have the kind of relationship where they could offer that, the kids have a relationship where they could say things they wouldn’t be able to say to their parents.”
Possibly there are thoughts in your mind spelling out the scenarios of disaster if you let people in, but can you really afford not to? What can grandparents do after divorce? Children CAN heal from divorce, they just need a safe space in which to process what has happened. Having a caring person like a grandparent and a tool like The Mending Chronicles of Liam and Emily can give them that fighting chance.
Perhaps the grandparents in your lives are sickly, live far away, or have passed on. It doesn’t have to be grandparents who fulfill this role, it could be another person who is close to your kids and who has your back. The important thing is that you have an invisible scaffolding of support at this time for you and your children. The road ahead is most certainly easier with others holding you up.