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My son and his wife of 14 years have filed for divorce. He accepts total blame for their break-up and that is a heavy cross to bear. He will move out this week to give her space to begin healing. Life has been chaotic, to say the least, for a few reasons for a very long time.
What is the best thing I can do as a parent and grandmother when I live 1,300 miles away from them? How can I accept this divorce and move forward myself? This is heartbreaking for me to see all of us suffering emotionally. I want desperately to live in their state so I can help take care of the children. I feel helpless and sad that I can’t be there. It was so awkward being in the same room as the wife’s parents and her friends recently while I was visiting the family. I had no idea how they felt about my son and what they knew about their situation and what opinions they had formed. It was like the elephant is in the room, but nobody was talking about it. My husband, who isn’t my children’s father, is not a good sounding board when I need to talk about this situation and I feel I need to express myself verbally. It just makes me cry.
Your family needs you now more than ever, even at a distance. Your anxiety and worry about their well-being is understandable, but it’s critical for you to be a source of strength and stability during these turbulent times.
You first need to become grounded, rooted, established, and settled.[i] You don’t want to become another piece of flying debris in their already cluttered family storm.[ii] This means that you deepen your spiritual connection so you can have the correct perspective and appropriate inspiration to support this family through their trials. Remember Jacob’s counsel in the Book of Mormon when he said, “Look unto God with firmness of mind, and pray unto him with exceeding faith, and he will console you in your afflictions”[iii]
It’s also critical to find your own emotional support from other adults who can be there for you in your time of need. If your husband isn’t willing to be that person, then you have to proactively seek out others who can hold emotional space for you, even if it’s a paid professional counselor. Your son and his family need to know they’re going to make it through these hard times. It’s likely they will be looking to you for reassurance and guidance.
Even though living close allows you to offer more direct support to your son’s family, there is still so much you can do for this family. Many of those physical demands can be outsourced to others, but your love and influence as a mother and grandmother cannot be replaced. President Boyd K. Packer reminds us that your influence as a grandmother is more about “what [you] are, not just what [you] can do.”[iv]
Your life experiences give you wisdom your son and his children don’t possess. While this doesn’t mean you need to lecture them on what they should or shouldn’t do, it does mean that your wisdom can be a source of great strength as you listen patiently, watch the struggle, and trust in God’s watchful care. President Dieter F. Uchtdorf reminds us that, “Though we may feel lost and without compass, God’s love encompasses us completely.”[v] Your son and grandchildren can feel that love and support from both an earthly parent as well as Heavenly Parents.
And, yes, there are so many things you can do to extend your love for your son and grandchildren. There are endless resources online about how to be a long-distance grandparent.[vi] Get creative and let your family see how important they are to you. In fact, your interest and presence during these difficult times can be something the children rely on to provide a safe haven unfettered by the loyalty splits so common in divorce.
I also feel it’s important to stay connected to your son’s ex-wife. Do everything you can to foster a positive relationship with her. As you stated, she’s not to blame for this divorce. Go out of your way to clearly share your love and support for her during this divorce. Ask her specifically what she needs and how you can support her and the children. Your support for her doesn’t mean you’re being disloyal to your son. He’s limited in how he can support her right now, but it’s likely you’ll have more ways to reach her. The children need to see your equal love and support toward their parents. Don’t be a passive mind reader with her and her support system. Offer to be involved in her life and let her decide how close she wants to get to you.
Your son’s family is falling apart, but you don’t have to fall apart. You will feel less powerless as you accept who you are to them and what you can do to bless their lives. Your strength and steady support will be a critical lifeline to all of them as they go through this transition. It will also make the limited time you have with them even more meaningful.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at [email protected]
About the Author
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, UT. He is the owner of Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com) and the founding director of LifeStar of St. George, an outpatient treatment program for couples and individuals impacted by pornography and sexual addiction (www.lifestarstgeorge.com). He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, available at Deseret Book, and the audio series “Strengthening Recovery Through Strengthening Marriage”, available at www.geoffsteurer.com. He also writes a weekly relationship column for the St. George News (www.stgnews.com). He holds a bachelors degree from BYU in communications studies and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Auburn University. He served a full-time mission to the Dominican Republic. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.
[ii] I borrowed this idea of becoming a piece of flying debris from a thought shared by Dr. Brene Brown https://www.oprah.com/spirit/brene-brown-how-to-conquer-shame-friends-who-matter/all
[iii] Jacob 3:1
[vi] Here are a couple of examples of long-distance grandparenting resources: https://www.fambooks.com/activities.html and https://www.grandparents.com/grandkids/long-distance-grandparents