When Grandparents are Rejected

In my memory feed today on Facebook popped up two adorable little faces. A reminder of sweet blessings, disappointment, broken relationships, and heartache that left my husband and me with one question; “What did we do to deserve this?”.

In the many years of counseling women in crisis, far too often I listened to the painful stories of mothers feeling rejected and abandoned by the biological father of their child (or children). Anger, pain, frustration, hatred, and broken promises fueling their rage and desire to seek personal justice for the wrong they had suffered by their partner. And, then came the assault on extended family – grandparents. Comments and questions all directed toward deflecting their anger and pain onto the parents of their estranged partner; “Why haven’t they done something, they need to stop him, they need to get on his case, they don’t see he is a liar, they don’t get it, they stick up for him all the time, they are blind.” The final blow is packed with vengeance, “I don’t want my kids around his parents.”

In certain situations, there may be valid reasons why a parent does not want a child to be in contact with a grandparent. Especially when there is a history of abuse, neglect, addiction, or mental illness that is not managed by the grandparent. It is every parents’ duty to protect their child from adverse circumstances and act responsibly in choosing who will influence their child in promoting healthy mental and emotional development.

Understandably, being around the parents of your former partner can trigger a slew of uncomfortable emotions that remind you of the broken relationship. As it is uncomfortable for the grandparents as well, knowing that their adult child’s behavior contributed to the break-up or divorce. Most importantly, the children are also part of the relationship. A child is very keen on the family’s social construct and is just as emotionally and socially affected by a broken relationship as the adults are. When the unfortunate outcome of a struggling relationship is to break-up or divorce, a child’s sense of security and belongingness is fractured. Especially when children witness their parents arguing or people that were a constant presence are suddenly not there anymore.

A brother offended is more unyielding than a strong city, and quarreling is like the bars of a castle

Proverbs 18:19

I am referring to relationships that do not impose an immediate threat to one’s life or liberty. Protecting yourself and your children is an absolute priority when yours or their physical, emotional, or mental health is being threatened.

When grandparents are denied contact with their grandchildren, it can be heartbreaking for the grandparents and the grandchildren alike. When this decision comes from displaced anger, seeking revenge, or blame-shifting, the legitimate issues, and potential support systems get sidelined. It hurts everyone. Grandparents can offer security, stability, comfort, encouragement, and unconditional love while parents transition their relationship. Grandparents are a critical piece to a child’s identity formation, just as grandchildren are critical for a grandparent’s living legacy, affirmation, and significance. As I share with these young women from a place of personal experience, it is important to consider that one day your children will grow up and ask questions. If they do not get an honest answer, they will seek one out themselves. Do not deprive your children of foundational relationships that can benefit you as well as your children purely out of spite. That is a disservice to you as much as it is to your children and their grandparents

I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well.

2 Timothy 1:5

Grandparents can reach out to parents with offerings of support and love that include respecting the primary parents’ visitation concerns. This is about building trust between grandparents, parents, and children. It is not about fixing the parent’s relationship with each other. Setting a foundation of open communication, honesty, respect, and trustworthiness is a great first step. Be willing to jump through reasonable hurdles such as time frames to visit the grandchildren, location of the visit, and rules to follow with the grandchildren. Remember, their parent is hurt, feeling abandoned, or betrayed, and might not be receptive right away.

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.

John 13:34

We may not like the choices our children or their partners make, but that does not change how much we love them. As a blessing grandparent (by marriage), my husband and I are familiar with the pain of rejection. Our offers of support and love went unanswered. We hang on small moments in time, memories that bring fleeting joy and lingering sadness. We pray fervently for healed relationships and we grieve the loss of important moments in our grandchildren’s lives that we will not share with them. We hope daily for the opportunity to extend our love without measure to those precious hearts that will always be our forever family.

If you are a grandparent who has experienced rejection, you are not alone. God sees you.

But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children,

Psalm 103:17