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  • Author or Editor: Margaret Robinson x
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This chapter explores how, and to what extent, the three generations in the group of divorced families communicated with each other about marriage breakdown and its consequences. It looks at the way that parents warned their own parents about their impending separation, and then investigates what the grandchildren told their mothers, fathers, and grandparents about their relationships with the ‘other side’ of their divided families. It also investigates whether or not children are used as conduits for the flow of information between the two sides of the divorced family.

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This chapter investigates grandparenting that took place in a broad range of family circumstances and does not have a particular focus on families in conflict. It explores the feelings of a small number of grandparents who are deprived of contact and comments on their strategies for coping with the problem. It notes that Cherlin and Furstenberg (1992), borrowing a phrase from Troll, describe grandparents as the ‘family watchdogs’. It further notes that these authors explain that the extended family comes into its own at times of crisis and not at times of ‘health and prosperity’.

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This chapter observes that following parental separation and divorce, grandparents in this study usually sympathised with their adult child and criticised the behaviour of their ex-son-in-law or ex-daughter-in-law. It notes, however, that this is not the only strategy and, although it is recognised that divorce is a difficult process, some couples appeared to achieve reasonably harmonious arrangements and a minority of grandparents demonstrated that their non-partisan approach could also make a contribution to harmony. It further notes that most did not think about the longer-term implications of their relationships with an ex-child-in-law. It observes that they are often angry and some are bitterly partisan in their feelings. It further observes that some grandparents took sides after the break-up and continued to harbour strong feelings of resentment for their sons- or daughters-in-law long after their child’s marriage had ended. It notes that parents often reported that their own parents ceased contact with their ex-spouse because they held him or her responsible for the failure of the marriage. It observes that this is often presented as a natural feeling and one that might reasonably be expected of grandparents in a divorced family.

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This chapter examines the range and extent of support that grandparents provided for parents and grandchildren, particularly after a marriage breakdown. It explores parents’ assumptions about grandparents’ support roles and considers the views of grandparents and their grandchildren about the help that they provided. It discusses how far grandparents are considered to be under an obligation to provide support, and how they responded to a ‘a sense of duty’.

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