05 October 2010

Helping Grandchildren Cope with Divorce and Separation

As you know, one of my greatest challenges in life is being a long-distance Grandma. My darling grandchildren live 8,000 miles away and don't speak English. That makes it tough to develop a close relationship with them.

One way I have found to try to forge that bond is to write a steady steam of letters to them. My kids are busy, so I don't always hear what's happening in the grandkids lives, but when I do, I make sure to mention it in my next letter.

But that applies to ballet and karate classes, to getting a new puppy or a new bike.

Sometimes what we hear about what's going on in our grandchildren's lives isn't so cheerful. That was the case recently. My oldest son and his partner are separated and their eldest isn't taking it well. I knew I had to write...but what does one say? There are no words that can make it OK. There just aren't.

I scoured the web looking for help, or at least inspiration. I didn't find much. Perhaps this is all just too personal. But I know that I'm not the only Grandma who wonders what one can possibly say to a grandchild far away and going trough such pain.

In the spirit of sharing what I wish I had found, here is a depersonalized version of the words I found to say. I hope you never need it, but if you do need it, I hope you will find inspiration for something to say to your own dear grandchild.

My beloved grandchild,

I hear from our family that you are very unhappy about the separation between your mother and your father. Rumour has it that you are angry at them for “breaking up the family”.

I am so sad, dear child, that you are hurting. It is, indeed, very difficult when our families break up.

I'm sure this all makes you sad, and angry, and maybe scares you, too, as you wonder what life is going to be like now. As you think about having two homes and not being with the parent you want to talk to when you need them. Maybe you’re even confused, wondering if they don’t love each other anymore, maybe they can stop loving you, too.

Sometimes it is easier to turn all of these crazy emotions into anger, rather than to feel them all at one time. So many strong feelings all at once is overwhelming. I wish that there were some way that it all could be made better for you.

Sadly, I know that there is no way to make you feel better right away. Sometimes, no matter how much they wish it were not the case, parents find that they can no longer be together.

I think that sometimes people fall in love because they need to come together to make a child – a most amazing child! You. But once that child or children are born, they find that the reason they needed to be together has passed and there are other things they need to do now.

No matter how much they try they can’t make it work to live as a family. No matter how fiercely they love you and don’t want you to be hurt, staying partners with someone who is no longer right for them hurts them too much for them to be good parents. If they continue to try, the fighting and the tears and the anger are horrible. They have to separate to make a good life for themselves and for you.

My darling, your parents have tried very hard for a long time to keep the family together for you and your brother. They know how much this hurts because they went though the breakup of their families, too. They swore to themselves and to each other that they would never let this happen. They have tried so hard to love each other as much as they both love you. But it just doesn’t work.

The love between adults and the love of parents for their children are very different. Adults can love each other and still not be able to live together and take care of each other. That’s not true for an adult's love for his or her child; that love and care never ends, even when the child is completely grown. Neither of your parents will never willingly give up taking care of you.

You know, my sweet, even if your mamma and your Pappa were to change their minds, it would never be exactly the same for you as it was in the days when they were happy together. You would always know that they *could* break up, and so you would never again have the same safe feeling that you had when you were tiny. That's one of the sad parts of growing up, I guess.

But your parents won’t change their minds. That part of their lives is over. Now, the most important thing for you to know is that all of your adults still love you very, very much and we always will. It matters a lot to all of us that you feel so many painful feelings and it breaks our hearts that we can’t make this easier for you.

Having a lot of strong feelings when your parents separate is normal. Over time, as you adjust to the new way things work, I think you may start to feel less angry.

Both of your parents will always be there for you, just as they always have been. When you are with one and miss the other, it’s OK to call them, even if you just want to say “I love you. I miss you.”.

When your grandfather and I separated, your Papa seemed to find the transitions between my house and his father’s house the hardest part. If that’s hard for you, too, perhaps it would be helpful to keep something in each of your homes to remind you that both of your families love you very, very much. Maybe you could keep a photo of your Mamma in your room at your Pappa’s apartment and a photo of your Pappa in your room at your Mamma’s apartment. Or maybe the same shirt or scarf at each place so your “don’t have to choose”?

If you can think of something that would be helpful, you can mention it to your parents and I know they will do their very best to help you make the adjustment as easy as possible. If you find it hard to talk to them, perhaps you can call your uncle and ask him to call me, and I will know that if he says you told me to call, that you want me to tell them that you want help adjusting to all these changes.

I know that things are hard right now, sweet child. I have tears in my eyes just thinking about how much you hurt. Over time you will get used to having two families. You may never like it, but you’ll be OK.

It’s normal to be angry with your parents for a while, but please remember that they love you and want to do what’s best for you and they want to help you to adjust to what has to be.

Oh, how I wish that I were near enough to come to you, to take you out for a long walk and listen to you and maybe to hold you if that would make you feel better!!

I love you, sweet darling. I hold you close in my heart and I send lots and lots of warm safe feelings to you.

Your faraway Grandma


  1. Oh Misti, I am so sorry. (That is a lovely letter you wrote. I think it will really help some.)


  2. Thank you, Valerie. I hope so -- I feel so bad for all of them.

  3. As a child of divorce, all I can say is that was one beautiful letter and covered all the points a young child needs to hear. I wish someone would have done the same for me when my mom and stepdad had divorced. Your grandkids are lucky to have you.

  4. Thanks, Gina. I was really hoping it would say what most needs saying. What I didn't have the maturity to say to mine when they went through it, and I wish someone wiser than me had.


We're happy to hear from you; thanks!