Guest Author - Cynthia Parker
As we have repeatedly been told, a good support system of family, extended family and close friends is very important to single parents. This system not only provides assistance in caring for the needs of the children raised in single parent families, but also provides encouragement and support for the single parent. Perhaps no one understands better the value of two hours on a Sunday afternoon to do the shopping, plan a birthday party for a child, or just relax than a single parent. Additionally, the wisdom of someone who is not centrally involved in a parent-child relationship can be quite valuable in a situation where the parent and child are at odds.
One of the very best sources of support and encouragement for all members of a single parent family are grandparents. Regardless of how the single parent family was created – through divorce, an unplanned pregnancy or death – grandparents, on both sides, can be vital to the single parent family. Grandparents understand the balance that parents must maintain, as well as the desires of a child’s heart. They are a great resource for finding that “middle ground” that can sometimes be the solution to a problem, and are often an excellent source of “back-up” for single parents who often must make their stand alone.
A study published by the American Psychological Association in the Journal of Family Psychology found that “children and adolescents whose parents have separated or divorced see their grandparents as confidants and sources of comfort.” Additionally, this study claims that “spending time with a grandparent is linked with better social skills and fewer behavior problems among adolescents, especially those living in single parent or stepfamily households.” Yet, despite their obvious value to the single family unit, grandparents in recent times find themselves over-looked or even restricted in the lives of their grandchildren.
In the past thirty-five years, there has been increased talk of “grandparents’ rights.” While grandparents’ rights are “not constitutional in nature”, many states have passed laws governing both custody and visitation by grandparents. In 1998, federal legislation was passed that requires that courts in each state recognize and enforce grandparental visitation orders from courts in other states. However, in 2000, the United States Supreme Court determined that the Washington (State) visitation statute “violated the due process rights of parents to raise their children.” Such rulings allow for the questioning of current state laws on grandparents’ right.
Organizations such as GRO – Grandparents Rights Organization – have begun to spring up in order to meet the needs of grandparents as they strive to cement their relationships within the family unit. Founded in 1984, GRO’s purpose is to “educate and support grandparents and grandchildren and to advocate their desire to continue a relationship that may be threatened with loss of contact or amputation, usually following family acrimony, a child being born out of wedlock, the death of one of the child’s parents, or the divorce of the grandchild’s parents.” Since most such rights are governed by state laws, it is best that grandparents search out an organization that is founded in their home state or the home state of their grandchildren.
Ideally, grandparents should not have to “fight for their rights” in the lives of their grandchildren. [I can hear the murmurs: “But you don’t understand. MY parents will…; My Ex’s parents will…” There are always exceptions to the general rule and I am sure that there are some grandparents who should have not “rights” in the lives of their grandchildren. We are discussing the general rule in this article; not the exception.] The value that grandparents add to the lives of grandchildren – and to the parents of said grandchildren – far outweighs any inconvenience that including them may incur. They will certainly have opinions – after all, they did raise us! – and they will most certainly voice them, but if we will remember that wisdom comes from age and experience, we might find that we can still learn something from them ourselves.