Co-parenting can bring challenges for all family members, including grandparents. After all, grandparents and "bonus" grandparents (my name for step/bonus parents who become loving grandparents to the children of their step/bonus children) love their grandchildren unconditionally, and often want nothing more than to be involved in these precious children's lives.
As a grandparent, you have the opportunity to play a vital role in helping your grandchildren adjust to life after divorce. Many grandparents become a safe haven for children's emotions, especially when parents are deeply involved in contentious divorce proceedings and don't always have the time or emotional energy to be there fully for their children. In this way, your role is as much support to the parents as it is to your grandchildren.
However, it isn't always so simple. It can be challenging to grasp your evolving role and adjust to the altered state of your relationship to your child's former spouse.
Mindfulness can be hugely beneficial in helping you navigate changes, establish a new normal and, most importantly, be a source of support and love for your grandchildren.
Here are four ways to establish a mindful approach to grandparenting and bonus grandparenting in a co-parenting environment:
Tune into your deepest values
What matters most to you? Remember that you cannot control anyone else's actions or choices — only your own — so focus on yourself and the values you want to bring forward.
Be present in the moment
Don't get caught up in what-ifs or past hurts. Instead, stay focused on what is happening here and now, how it may be impacting your grandchildren's well-being, and how you can be a source of love and support.
Manage your emotions to communicate effectively
Everyone in the mix may need guidance to adjust to their new lifestyle, but guidance and support are always best received when they come from a place of calm and respect.
The children's well-being comes first
It is never in a child's best interest for the adults they depend on to be at each other's throats. Keep the peace, if only within yourself, so you can be the safe space your grandchildren need.
These strategies will go a long way towards being a source of unconditional love and support to your grandchildren, and will also help you adjust to this new lifestyle with peace.
But what about your grandchildren's parents? One is your child and one is now your former in-law. They, too, can benefit from your love and support, and your relationship with both of them continues to be important, if changed.
How you approach your relationship with your grandchildren's parents is a wonderful opportunity to show that you are committed to the children's well-being, are not choosing sides, and are there as an ally to everyone in creating a new normal.
Here are nine ways to use mindfulness to be a co-parenting ally:
- Commit to a teamwork and collaboration approach
- Stay in touch with your former in-law
- Stay respectful towards your former in-law
- Respect biological parents' boundaries, always
- Give yourself space to enjoy your beautiful grandchildren
- Practice peacefulness on a daily basis
- Adopt a mentality of family continuity — the family structure has changed, but it is still a family
- Accept differences, fully
- Be flexible
Most grandparents and bonus grandparents are careful of their behaviours, staying in the present moment to help grandchildren navigate the drama during visits or babysitting. They make it about their grandchildren's happiness, not picking sides.
Mindful grandparents might disagree with what's been said or done, but are in a unique position to minimize the emotional impact of divorce on children. They can comfort their grandchildren when they are upset and make sure they always feel safe and taken care of.
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My bonus-son's grandmother was a loving, forgiving person. She saw good in everyone. I dearly loved her and miss her, as she has since passed away. It was important for my husband to continue to have a relationship with his son's maternal grandmother. Think about it. Grandparents, no matter how old they are, have common needs, interests and attitudes. They can join together in supporting their grandchildren and their ex-in-law in a harmonious way.
As with much of life, you get out what you put in. Always make it about your grandchildren's well-being.
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