My youngest son just turned 15. This has brought to my mind a story from shortly after I had adopted my children. My ex-husband and I adopted our children in March of 2005, following a six-month foster care placement for the kids. We had to move the date because my grandfather died, and that meant our original court date wasn't going to work out.
A few months later my parents finalized their divorce. My oldest two children are December birthdays, and right before my oldest son's birthday, my phone rang.
"Rebecca, it's your mother. I'm calling about T's birthday." I was trying to do eight different things at the time, so I said, "Hey, mom, what about it?" She got real quiet and then she said, "I'm not coming if your father is coming. Make sure you tell T that...." I cut her off mid sentence, "Listen, mom, I am not getting in the middle of you and dad. This birthday is about your grandson. It's not about you, dad, his wife, me, or anyone other than T and his first birthday in this family. Come, don't come, but you tell him yourself...and yes, before you ask, I will say the same thing to dad. Do you really think I am the one that needs to be in the middle here?" There was absolute silence on the other end of the phone.
My father was amused by this conversation when I recounted it to him. I'm not sure why he was amused by it, because as I recount it for you all, I am still not amused by it. You don't divorce your children or your grandchildren. It's very stressful, as I've discussed being an adult and having your parents get divorced. I have often wondered what it must be like for the grandchildren. Who explains to them why grandma or grandpa skipped the graduation ceremony? Everyone loses when we start with the "If she is...I won't" or "If he is...I won't" nonsense, and that is what it is – a bunch of selfish nonsense.
Do you want to be remembered as the grandfather of the bride who had a tantrum because the grandmother showed up, the one who ruined the wedding, or do you want to be remembering the joyous occasion of your granddaughter's wedding (ask yourself this as a parent, too)? I had a coaching client tell me about how her father had a tantrum at her wedding. Remember, it's about the person having the occasion, and their life event is not about you. Don't ruin someone else's day with your selfishness.
There is no court order to protect the adult kids and their families from getting trapped in the middle, and there's no law requiring you to have access to your grandchildren. Be respectful of the rights of others to enjoy their special events with everyone who loves them. It's a privilege, not a right, to spend time with people, especially things like graduations and weddings.
Obviously, there are some situations where you just can't be with the ex-spouse in the same room. There are lots of reasons this can happen. If that is the case, talk to the adults involved and create some sort of schedule so that you get some time.
Kindness makes the world go round, and as a grandparent, you're in the perfect position to demonstrate that. If you do run into the ex, or worse, the ex's new spouse at a family event, be polite and say hello. They don't have to be your BFF as the kids say today, but you can be civil for a bit and then go on your way.
These are just a few tips on how to grandparent after your divorce. This is a topic that needs more discussions, but I don't work with many grandparents, so please leave me comments to build out into new posts on the same theme.