When grandparents lose interest in their grandchildren

13 March 2014

Six-year-old Jackson* had always been the apple of his grandfather’s eye. He often used to go to town with his granddad or they’d drive around the farm together. But everything changed when his grandparents adopted a child.

A mom’s story

Six-year-old Jackson* had always been the apple of his grandfather’s eye. Often when his parents were looking for him they found he’d gone to town with Grandad or was driving around the farm with him. Like many grandparents, Jackson’s granny and granddad loved spoiling him.

He was used to spending a lot of time with his grandparents because for financial reasons his family lived with them.

But everything changed when Jackson’s grandparents adopted a child of their own, says his mom, Lorraine*. “The new child suddenly became the centre of my parents-in-law’s lives. My father-in-law withdrew completely from  Jackson and gave all his attention to the new little boy, Richard*.”

This new relationship has placed Lorraine and her husband under enormous pressure. “There is a lot of squabbling between us and my in-laws because Jackson is being neglected,” says  Lorraine. “My child was everything to his granny and granddad but now he’s like an old toy they’ve thrown back into the cupboard.”

Pleas to discuss the situation are falling on deaf ears. Lorraine is concerned because Jackson has begun to diplay aggressive behaviour. He’s also disobedient and bursts into tears about the smallest things.

An expert gives advice

Sandra Hitchcock, a mediator and relationship consultant of Cape Town, says it’s important to first restore the relationship between the adults.

“There are now negative feelings because the parents want to protect the interests of their children,” says Hitchcock.

She recommends the parents have an open discussion with an unbiased person, such as a mediator, present. “The mediator manages the mediation process and helps the parents  draw up a list of issues for discussion. They will agree on the rules for the discussion, for example, each person will have a chance to talk without being interrupted.

The discussion

  • • Agree on a time for the discussion when the parties don’t have to rush to the next appointment.
  • • Have the discussion where the two children can’t hear what’s going on.
  • • The children’s interests should be the core of the discussion.
  • • Discuss each party’s idea of how the new family should function.
  • • Each person should have the opportunity to air their feelings, because as soon as the emotions have been expressed and recognised the common purpose can be tackled.

Identify common interests

As soon as the two couples have heard from each other during the mediation they can together find ways of handling the problem. The mediator will help identify common needs and interests.

“In this way the two couples can decide on a plan in which everyone played a role in the decision-making process. This will change the feeling of being divided,” says Hitchcock.

Changed child’s behaviour

Jackson’s changed behaviour can be ascribed to the tense atmosphere between his parents and grandparents, says Hitchcock. “Another child has taken his place in his grandad’s affections. His familiar world has changed completely and he feels insecure.” This behaviour is a symptom and will improve by solving the problem between the parents and grandparents.

Hitchcock advises:

  • • Jackson must spend time with his granny and grandad with his parents’ “permission”.
  • • Lorraine and her husband must acept the new child.
  • • Jackson and Richard must get to know each other and become “brothers” so they can function as one extended family.
  • • The adults must take the lead and love and accept both children.
  • • It will help if Lorraine and her husband look at his parents’ situation with empathy. They love their new child as much as their grandchild. It may be that in their excitement over the new child they’ve lost sight of the fact they’re neglecting Jackson.

“It’s good for children’s development that their grandparents be involved in their lives in a positive, healthy way,” says Hitchcock. “If love, caring and inclusion are practised, children will strive to emulate this.”

Here’s help

  • • Contact the South African Association of Mediators at info@saam.org.za. Mediators of this organisation often offer their services pro bono in cases where families can’t afford such a service.
  • • Contact Sandra Hitchcock at themediationcentre.co.za or on 021-930-2177 if you live in Cape Town.

* Not their real names

-Shané Barnard

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