September 12, 2012

My Point Is...Grandparenting: Glory and Grim

By Nita Johnson
Staff Writer

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — While Mothers’ Day and Fathers’ Day get wide recognition, a less celebrated — but equally important — day passed yesterday.

The 34th charted Grandparents’ Day is also a celebration of parenting and, of course, the joy of being a grandparent. In America, Grandparents Day was established as an official holiday in 1978 and was set aside as the first Sunday after Labor Day each year. Grandparents’ Day recognizes the efforts and experiences of the third generation family prototype and celebrates the contributions grandparents make toward the overall development of their child’s child.

Few events are more sentimental than becoming a parent, surpassed only by becoming a grandparent. Grandparenting is the continuation of a family, a new generation to share memories and build relationships.

That sweet smile of the newborn child, the innocent love and trust it places in those who are destined to provide comfort, concern, and unconditional love, and the hope for the future all burst into reality when that third generation child enters the world.

While many parents were excellent in the area of parenting, grandparenting is an entirely new aspect of love. A grandparent is one who should be adored and should be excelled by no other. Those fortunate enough to have outstanding grandparents know the feeling — often turning to the grandparent for understanding and support when the parents seem harsh and too restrictive. Grandparents, however, have logged several more decades of dealing with people, life, and the sometimes hard world that challenges parents with the daily trials of child rearing. And as the parents may be held in later years with high regard for those experiences, the memories of grandparents always have a special place in the heart.

In today’s society, however, many grandparents are placed in a dual position of grandparent playing the parent role. The “spoil them and send them home” is not always an option, placing grandparents with providing the love, understanding and support endowed upon them once they entered the grandparent level, but also places them in the disciplinary role that grandparents not raising the children usually hesitate to take.

But while many grandparents take on the role of a parent, they still lack visitation rights in many states. When one parent who restricted visits to once-a-month and limited holidays was challenged, our Supreme Court ruled that parents have the right to determine the relationship between the child and grandparent. While parents do have that responsibility, the situation can become touchy when divorce and ill will between parents limit a relationship with grandparents.

Attorneys who deal with custody issues readily agree the children are often used as leverage between two parents who no longer agree. In some cases, the non-custodial parent has limited contact with the children, further restricting the offspring from interaction with the other side of the family. Grandparents, unless appointed as the guardian or custody person, are often left out in the cold when it comes to continuing a relationship with those children with whom they may have shared many visits prior to the custody settlement. While the parents continue to bash one another in legal battles, the grandparents and other family members of the non-custodial parent suffer from lack of contact and are limited in their interactions by the custodial parent, or by the court, when family matters are placed in the hands of lawyers, social workers and judges. While the goal of those professionals supposedly target the well-being of the child, the custodial parent still has the option to restrict the non-custodial family members from contact with those children, and in many incidences, does so to punish the family members for the bad blood between the two parents, giving that parent a dictatorship over the child that may not always be in its best interest.

Such occurrences are common, as any family practice attorney will readily admit. Battling the system on behalf of grandparent visitation requires hiring an attorney and is usually an uphill battle unless one parent is deceased. Even then, the grandparents only receive the visitation rights that the other parent would receive if the situation were a divorce settlement. While those grandparents grieve for the loss of their child, they are at least given some consideration for sharing the lives of their grandchildren. Other grandparents must sliver in whatever time they can during the non-custodial parent visitation time and hope the grandchildren will someday understand that although their time is extremely limited, their love remains unconditional.

With the election approaching for selection of a new Senate seat, it is my hope the good legislators of Kentucky will look at the rights of grandparents in continuing family relationships. If it takes a village to raise a child, the grandparents and extended family members on both sides of the family should be included as residents of that village.

That is only fair to the child.