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