Par­ent­ing grand­par­ent­ing

How to cope when fam­ily pol­i­tics af­fect your re­la­tion­ship with your kids and grand­chil­dren

Woman’s Day (Australia) - - Contents - Cather­ine Weir

There are so many ben­e­fits to be­ing a grand­par­ent. You can watch your grand­kids grow and pass on a few words of wis­dom learned from rais­ing your own chil­dren. How­ever, par­ents and grand­par­ents some­times dis­agree about how kids are raised.

Cather­ine Weir, head of the fam­ily law de­part­ment at Mel­bourne le­gal firm Wil­liams Win­ter, and An­nie Gur­ton, a Sydney-based psy­cho­log­i­cal ther­a­pist, talk us through some common sce­nar­ios.

Why you mat­ter

Hav­ing a strong re­la­tion­ship with your grand­chil­dren ben­e­fits old and young. “For the chil­dren, it’s an op­por­tu­nity to con­nect emo­tion­ally with car­ing adults other than their par­ents,” says An­nie. “For the grand­par­ents, there is a deep sense of their lives feel­ing worth­while and mean­ing­ful.”

If you’ve been told you spoil your grand­kids, that’s per­fectly OK! “We all need to feel spe­cial, and the kind of in­dul­gence that grand­par­ents pro­vide is good for our sense of worth,” says An­nie. “They are also usu­ally very good at teach­ing man­ners and cour­tesy.”

With more than 30 years work­ing in fam­ily law, Cather­ine has wit­nessed her fair share of grand­par­ents need­ing le­gal as­sis­tance.

“I’m amazed how self-sac­ri­fic­ing they can be,” she says. “Many raise chil­dren in the early years while par­ents have to work, and oth­ers will step in if a par­ent be­comes un­able to care for the child.”

When things go wrong

Many grand­par­ents would like to play a larger role in their grand­chil­dren’s lives. In some cases where re­la­tion­ships are dif­fi­cult, you may need to go to the Fam­ily Court to ap­ply for vis­i­ta­tion rights or a full-time re­sis­tance or­der.

“For ex­am­ple, if one par­ent dies, the sur­viv­ing par­ent who has care of the chil­dren may not want the de­ceased par­ent’s par­ents in­volved,” Cather­ine says. “Or if a par­ent has an in­ter­ven­tion or­der is­sued against them by the other par­ent, they’ll have lim­ited time, if any, with their kids un­til the or­der ex­pires.”

Cases where grand­par­ents ap­ply to the courts to care for the grand­chil­dren are more common, usu­ally due to their own child hav­ing drug, al­co­hol or men­tal health is­sues and be­ing un­able to care for the grand­child them­selves. Some­times, a per­son­al­ity clash or a dif­fer­ence of opin­ion can see time with grand­kids lim­ited.

“The re­la­tion­ship grand­par­ents have with their own chil­dren is a po­ten­tial mine­field of prob­lems,” says An­nie. “They may have fixed views that drive the par­ents mad, and all kinds of emo­tions from frus­tra­tion to ir­ri­ta­tion can arise.”

Get­ting help

“Any­one con­cerned for the care, wel­fare and de­vel­op­ment of a child can make an ap­pli­ca­tion to the Fam­ily Court,” Cather­ine says, adding that the courts may not al­ways rule in your favour.

“Un­der the Fam­ily Law Act, the chil­dren’s pri­mary re­la­tion­ship is with their par­ents. Grand­par­ents who ap­ply to have more time with the grand­kids may not suc­ceed, as the court recog­nises it is the role of par­ents to de­ter­mine how to bring up their chil­dren, and the courts are re­luc­tant to in­ter­fere.”

Cather­ine ad­vises con­sult­ing a fam­ily lawyer for the ap­pro­pri­ate av­enues, “be it coun­selling, fam­ily dis­pute res­o­lu­tion or the courts”.

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