IT IS POSSIBLE THAT THERE COULD BE VARIOUS LEGAL, AND OTHER, PITFALLS ALONG THE WAY
that child. These interests are always considered when a court decides on anything relating to a child and they are determined on a case by case basis, but the courts take into account factors such as:
The child’s age, maturity, stage of development, gender and background.
The child’s physical and emotional security.
Any history of involving the child.
The need for a child to maintain a connection with his/her family, cultures and traditions.
The likely effect on a child that any proposed separation from a parent, caregiver, sibling or any other person with whom the child has been living will have on him/her.
Any disability that the child may have.
Any chronic illness from which the child may suffer.
Lastly, which decision would minimise future legal proceedings.
The courts will also consider the following factors: the relationship between the grandparent and the child, the degree of commitment the grandparent has shown to the child, and the extent to which the grandparent has contributed towards expenses in connection with the birth and maintenance of the child.
The courts are very reluctant to interfere with parental authority, but unless it can be proved that it would be harmful to do so, it has generally been accepted that it is in a child’s best interests to have contact with her grandparents. The message the courts are sending out is that anyone other than a child’s parents who wish to play a pivotal role in her life must represent a positive influence for them. In addition, they must not create conflict and dissension in their environment and above all, they must respect the rights and responsibilities of the child’s parents.
WHAT IF THE PARENTS ARE NOT AROUND?
If a child’s parents are dead or permanently absent from a child’s life, or have left them entirely in a grandparent’s care, they need to apply for more extensive rights to that child. They could also be entitled to government assistance in the form of a foster care grant.
In this instance, applying for care and contact to the child probably won’t be enough, and so the grandparents would have to apply for legal guardianship of the child. Guardianship may only be applied for in the High Court. The reason that a guardianship order may be required is that according to the Children’s Act, only a guardian can do certain things on behalf of a child, including administering her property, representing her in administrative, contractual or legal matters and consenting to her marriage, departure or removal from South Africa, application for a passport and the sale or encumbrance of any immoveable property belonging to her. As a result, a grandparent who does not have a guardianship order could be powerless to assist the child with any matters where a guardian’s consent or assistance is required. The child may then not be able to travel out of the country and could also be precluded from signing up for certain schools, excursions or activities that require permission from a
IT’S WORTH IT...
Child-rearing in South Africa has long been characterised by the presence of multiple caregivers in the lives of our children. With the importance that the extended family plays in our culture, it is not surprising that besides a child’s biological parents, her grandparents are the single most important category of caregivers to assume the responsibility of caring for and raising children in South Africa. Despite proposals to give grandparents a special status in our law, no such provisions have been enacted. The Children’s Act does seem to afford grandparents sufficient scope to protect their relationships with their grandchildren though. Raising a second generation can bring many rewards to a grandparent, including the fulfilment of giving their grandchildren a sense of security, developing a deeper relationship with them, and keeping the family together – but it also comes with many challenges. No matter how much a grandparent loves their grandchildren, taking them into their home requires major adjustments for all and it is possible that there could be various legal, and other, pitfalls along the way.
If you find yourself in any of the situations described above, try to get clued up on the legal side of things as much as you can. You’ll want to have as much scope as possible to focus on developing deep and meaningful relationships with your grandchildren as they grow and rely on you. YB
Clinical psychologist Jeanine Lamusse recommends these books as a great guide for parents with strong-willed children: How To Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk, by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, R232, available from www.exclusives.co.za. Registered social worker and local author Anne Cawood has written a series of parenting guides, notably Children Need Boundaries, R134, available from www.exclusives.co.za or order her titles directly at www.boundariesinc.co.za
child is that more often than not, the moment you impose that you are the parent and you know better, they fight back more,” says clinical psychologist Jeanine Lamusse. “Try to set up the dynamic of a partnership, where all parties feel like they are being respected as individuals. You need to hear your child out to gauge where she is coming from, and always ask for her opinion. Use tools like mutual problem-solving. An example might be to say, ‘I’ve noticed that you struggle with this, and I’m concerned about it because of that. I’m wondering what your thoughts are about it? What do you think we can do about it?’ By passing the conversation back to your child, you offer her the chance to express herself.”
It’s also important to explain the thought processes behind your decisions to your strong-willed child. It may feel like this would be a waste of time, especially with a small child, but the exact opposite is actually true. “So often, when children are asking why, parents think that the child is being oppositional or defiant, but they are not. They genuinely need to know why,” explains Janine. “Parents often say, ‘No, I’m the parent, I’m the authority and that’s the way it is,’ and this is just not useful at all to a strong-willed child, because it’s very important that she understands your thought process.”
CONSISTENCY IS KEY
It can feel exhausting to parent a strong-willed child, and it’s tempting to occasionally take shortcuts or be inconsistent about discipline, but it’s important that you not deviate from the boundaries you have laid down. “This is so, so important. If you say that this is the consequence for this type of behaviour, you need to stick to that and you need to see it through,” says Janine. “You have to give control back, but you also have to have a consequence. You can have a strong will and you can choose the path you want to follow, but remember that there is a consequence to each path – that is what they need to learn,” adds Dr von Cziffra-bergs. There has to be consistency in the consequences that relate to the boundaries you create.