Why Grandparents Lose Contact
The first section of the book is dedicated to helping grandparents avoid the behaviors that could lead to estrangement. Some grandparents are known for criticizing, for handing out unsolicited advice and for guilt-tripping. They crave control and overstep parental boundaries. They involve third parties in family disputes, and, possibly the most dangerous, they indulge their human need to be right. All of these are behaviors that can cause problems. "Certain folks are fighters and won't let things lie," Hoffman writes. "They are the ones who have the hardest time adapting to familial issues. . . . The ego takes over."
Even when grandparents have resolved to change their behavior, they may run into a roadblock. That roadblock is called, "Yes, but. . . ." Grandparents must learn to let go of the "but's," to make honest and unqualified efforts to change.
The best advice is offered by someone that Hoffman refers to as Grandma Gail. Grandma Gail calls her daughter-in-law the LAW. She understands where the power lies.
When It Doesn't Work
At this point maybe you are thinking that author Susan Hoffman is a real wimp. Think again. Hoffman, who sponsored a grandparents' rights bill that was passed in California, is no pantywaist. The next part of A Precious Bond deals with what happens if grandparents' best efforts don't prevent estrangement. The answer? To court we go.
While Hoffman admits that going to court for one's grandparents' rights is "adversarial," she also asks grandparents to think about the best interests of the child. If it is in a grandchild's best interests to have a grandparent's love, then perhaps the grandparent should be willing to fight to provide that love. Hoffman does advise that parents who exhibit a pattern of "blowing up and getting over it" should be given time to get over it before legal measures are taken. But, generally speaking, "the angry parent will remain the angry parent."
Hoffman has detailed advice for those grandparents who end up going to court. She warns about the financial burden of litigation, but has some strategies for reducing the cost. Paralegals can help with paperwork, and grandparents can represent themselves in court, an undertaking known as pro per or pro se. Hoffman's book includes a testimonial from a grandparent who won visitation by representing herself, so it is possible. Hoffman recommends that all petitions be supplemented with three items: a declaration, which is a narrative about the grandparent-grandchild relationship; a date log, which shows times spent with the child; and photographs, which document the presence of the grandparent in the grandchild's life. Photographs need to include both the grandparent and the grandchild. (Grandparents should make a habit of documenting their relationship with their grandchildren, even if they do not expect to lose contact. It's good insurance.)
Other helpful features include examples of court documents and opinions from family law attorneys. Hoffman includes a collection of letters from readers, along with the responses that she has written for Grand magazine. First person narratives are always interesting and helpful, as they provide graphic illustrations of some of the principles that Hoffman has been writing about.
The Bottom Line
If your relationships with the younger generation have been even a little bit rocky, A Precious Bond is good reading material for you. For grandparents who have already been denied contact with grandchildren, it is essential reading. Hoffman also has created a non-profit organization, Advocates for Grandparent Grandchild Connection, and she is actively involved in fostering support groups. Some of the members of her original support group in Corona del Mar appear in a documentary film, also called A Precious Bond.
I get many communications from grandparents who are estranged from their grandchildren, and most of them are desperate for help and advice. I now have a resource that I can feel good about steering them toward. Thank you, Susan Hoffman.