At this difficult time leading up to Christmas it is important to remind ourselves of the importance of grandparents to children.
Very often, grandparents can be the mainstay for children who are struggling with their parents’ separation. They need to know they can go to a reliable person who can speak truthfully and without drama. It is also vital for the parents to have that support because going through separation can feel terrible. It is certain that however sad and upset the parents are feeling, those emotions are mirrored by their children.
Specially trained family mediators who are accredited to work with children (CIM trained) are qualified to talk to children confidentially.
We are aware of how sensitive this role is. It would be ideal for close family members to do this especially in times of trouble. This must only happen though if they have a meaningful and on-going relationship with the children who are affected by the confusion and sadness that surrounds a family breaking down. A genuine wish and ability to significantly benefit these children’s lives is important. The strong emotions experienced by close family members can impair this vital strength. Mediators are effective in this role due to their professional code of conduct. An accredited mediator has no personal connection or previous involvement with the family.
Children need constant assurance that their lives will return to normal. They want to enjoy love and trust in grandparents and to be helped in retaining continuing contact with both parents even though they are aware there is a separation. The grandparents must ensure their role does not impact negatively on other family relationships. Children must be aware that they are never expected to feel responsible for what has gone wrong in their family and must not be offered false hope of reconciliation between their parents. The mediation role may not resolve the immediate dispute but it can certainly help to ease the upset and anxieties of children insofar that someone is listening to them also.
It is also reassuring just to know that Mum and Dad are working towards making arrangements for the future and that the children are an important part of those conversations. It does not have to be negative and we know that grandparents are great fun.
The internet is not the only source of information and ideas. The wealth of experience of parents and grandparents can bring so much towards alleviating unhappiness. Let us remember the innocence of children and help them to have fun and to feel safe to love. Parents sometimes lose perspective due to their own deep unhappiness. The detached role of grandparents is vital to restore calm and to soothe some of those harsh adult emotions that can be overheard and misunderstood. There is no place for blame.
I recall a mediation I carried out with a family. The son age 12, and his sister age 9, spoke to me in mediation confidentially about how it felt for them when they heard their parents arguing and shouting at one another. The little girl used to go and hide in a tent where she felt safe and immune. She was unable to reach either of her parents or to stop them arguing. Her brother also hid away and took on a role of protecting his little sister. I shall never forget them. By the end of the mediation and speaking of their own experiences, they were able to laugh as children and to talk freely about their dreams for a happy Christmas. They were able to express their sentiments in a beautiful and rather magical way. But, the message I heard was that their parents were embarrassing and they felt lost. At the end they asked me to relay to their parents that they wanted them to stop arguing and to please allow them to start to enjoy Mum and Dad again.
Tricia Muzalewski FMC and CIM Accredited Family Mediator
Wynn Mediation December 2020