Benefits of Grandparent Visitation: Family Relationships During and After Divorce

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The relationship between grandparents and grandchildren can be valuable for both the child and her parents. Attorney Ellen Seigerman explains that a grandparent-grandchild relationship can have “a significant and positive impact on a child.” Even if your relationship between your parents or in-laws is strained, helping your children preserve their bond with their grandparents can have important emotional benefits.

Trauma, Mental Health, and Grandparent Visitation

Unless the child’s grandparents pose a safety risk, visitations can be positive to a child’s mental health. If the children have a close bond with their grandparents, limiting contact can cause the child trauma and distress. Specifically, cutting off contact between your children and their grandparents may lead to depression, anxiety or behavioral issues, as the loss of any significant adult in a child’s will almost inevitably create a sense of loss.This is unfortunately, common in divorces where one parent gets sole physical custody and limits contact with grandparents on the side of the noncustodial parent. In situations where a parent does not get along with the grandparents or wants to minimize personal contact, it can still be beneficial to the children's mental health to allow reasonable visitations. Parents can facilitate these visits in a similar way that they would with an estranged spouse. For example, the parent could meet the grandparents in a neutral location to drop off the child for an afternoon visit. Likewise, the grandparents could pick up the children from school on a Friday afternoon, thus minimizing contact with a parent. If a parent has an amicable relationship with another family member such as an aunt, uncle, or cousin, he or she could also facilitate grandparent visits.

Additionally, if you have a strained relationship with your children’s grandparents, fostering a civil relationship can be a good way to model conflict resolution. In other words, while your children may know that you do not have a close relationship with their grandparents, by showing them kindness and respect, they can learn to deal with difficult relationships constructively. Such amicable interactions can also keep children from feeling as though they have to "pick sides" between a parent or a grandparent.

Even if you and your spouse have a healthy relationship, a weekend visit with grandparents can be healthy for a marriage. For a family to be healthy and well-functioning, parents need a strong relationship. In families with two working parents, it can often be difficult to find time to discuss important issues and nurture the marital relationship when children are around almost 24/7. A happy, relaxed parent is usually a better parent, so utilizing grandparent visitations as a family resource can improve parents' mental health.

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Family Support

In some cases, grandparents can provide parents with invaluable support, including childcare, parenting advice, and moral support. Even if your relationship with your parents or in-laws is not perfect, having your children’s grandparents as a support system can be helpful for both you and your children. This grandparent support can be particularly valuable in stressful times, such as during a divorce. Indeed, Tammy Henderson of Oklahoma State University explains that grandparent visitation can “smooth out the negative influences of divorce.” In other words, grandparents can provide an additional source of stability during times when things are not going smoothly. Likewise, if you and your spouse are going through a rough time, spending time alone, without your children, may be necessary to talk about difficult issues and to rebuild your connection and romance. During these times, grandparents can provide the family with support and give parents important alone time. To boot, time with grandparents can help children learn the importance of working together as a family during difficult times--a skill that can help children build resiliency and help them learn that it is okay to ask for help.

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Family Structure and Origins

Giving a child access or her grandparents can help her understand her family of origin. Even if your child is young, hearing family stories, looking at old photographs, and getting to know her grandparents can shape her family and cultural identity—something she will likely appreciate as she gets older. This can be particularly valuable to mixed-race children, children of immigrant parents or grandparents, or other families with multi-faceted racial and cultural identities.

Additionally, interacting with grandparents—and watching parents interact with grandparents—can help children better understand the nature of family relationships across the lifespan. For example, children can learn respect for elders and develop ideas about how families function. These early experiences ultimately shape how individuals view family as adults. In other words, if you model positive inter-generational relationships, your children may also grow up valuing the contributions of older family members as well as elders in the community.

More on Involved Granparenting

Love and Guidance

No child can have too much love, support, and guidance. Even if you and your child’s other parent are available to your children, having caring interactions with grandparents can give your child an even greater sense that he or she is loved and secure. Because most grandparents are also secondary caregivers, children also enjoy a more playful relationship with these adult caregivers—something that may not be present as frequently in the parent-child relationship. Ultimately, attorney Seigerman argues that “most children benefit from a loving relationship with their grandparents.”

Additionally, never underestimate the wisdom of a grandparent when it comes to child-rearing. Although modern parents may find some of their ideas outdated, many values of past generations are still pertinent to today's family's. For example, grandparents who had to work longer hours at physically demanding jobs in their younger years may be able to instill young people with a new perspective on the importance of working for what you have.

Although children may find time with their grandparents "boring," spending time with persons from older generations can give modern kids the opportunity to unplug from video games, smart phones, and the Internet and try out activities that their parents may not participate in regularly. For example, a grandparent may teach a child how to bake a cake from scratch, build a club house out of scrap lumber, or take and develop pictures using a film camera. Parents may not consider these "new" experiences when raising their children, but can give kids a fresh perspective on the past and may even foster new passions or hobbies.

Learn About Grandparents' Rights

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