Three of my four grandparents died the year I was born. It is only really as an adult, seeing the strong bond between my own children and their grandparents, that I realise both what I missed out on, and what a difficult time my parents must have gone through at that time, losing three parents and dealing with a new-born.
Last month, the world lost (and celebrated) its most famous grandmother, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. The Queen’s eight grandchildren (who affectionately called her ‘Grannie’) showed their love and respect for her by holding a vigil at her coffin in Westminster Hall during the lying in state.
This weekend, the UK celebrates all grandparents, with Grandparents’ Day on Sunday 2 October. This day was introduced in the UK by Age Concern in 2008, to celebrate our grandparents by giving them their time in the spotlight.
Grandparents can be key in providing love and support to families, during good times and bad. Many grandparents joke that they get all the fun and get to hand back the kids at the end of the day.
But sadly, that is not the case for all. Some are left bringing up their grandchildren, and others have to fight through the courts to see them.
And what happens when a couple separates? Grandparents often play a vital role in supporting children through family break-up, providing love and stability for the changing family structure. But things can be tricky where the relationship between the parents and grandparents has broken down, and parents stop grandparents from seeing the children.
Grandparents don’t have an automatic right to apply to court to see their grandchildren, and often will need the court’s permission to do so. There is no presumption that spending time with a grandparent is in a child’s best interests. Courts have recognised the important role grandparents play in children’s lives, especially young children, but are also wary of adding conflict to the children’s lives if there is real hostility between parent and grandparent.
But there are steps you can take to safeguard your relationship with your grandchildren and/or promote better relations going forward. Where relations break down, and it becomes harder to see grandchildren, informal family-based discussions with both parents or mediation should be the first port of call. Seeking guidance and support from charities like Family Lives and Kinship can also help.
If informal efforts fail, then the family court can be asked to decide upon whether contact with grandparents is in a child’s best interests. Whilst there are some legal hoops to jump through, the family court does recognise the value of grandparent contact to children and the valuable contribution that grandparents can make.
My children are lucky enough to have three amazing grandparents in their lives, and cherish the stories they are told about their fourth, Pops, who looks down on them from his cloud.