The bond between grandparent and child is precious and should not be unnecessarily broken.
While there is no doubt grandparents suffer greatly from broken hearts when separated from grandchildren, the kids also feel frustration, helplessness, and bereft of an important part of their future. Often the greatest source of grief for grandparents arises from a concern for the child: the impact on that child when a beloved grandparent is abruptly removed from their life. Grandparents wonder: “Do they feel abandoned?” “Unloved?” “Will they think that it is somehow their fault?”
The grandparent-grandchild relationship is its own entity, built on a foundation of unconditional love and mutual affection. It is no secret that grandparents are of vital importance to a child’s life. Think of your own bond with your grandparents.
The enactment of grandparent visitation laws, which provide a way to actively advocate on behalf of a child supports that notion. Grandparent laws are meant to preserve and protect the grandparent-grandchild relationship, bestowing upon the grandparents a position in a court of law to stand up for a child and lend them a voice. Children deserve to have all of the love they can get, and keep it. When a child is unreasonably denied that love, there are bound to be negative consequences.
There is a body of research indicating that when children lose access to a loving adult (such as a grandparent) with whom they have had an established relationship, they suffer abandonment issues, lower self-esteem, emotional disorders, acting out behavior or withdrawal. Dr. Glenn Cartwright of McGill University is a foremost authority in PAS, (Parental Alienation Syndrome) which also affects grandparents through association. I refer to it as GAS (Grandparent Alienation Syndrome). In his article, “Expanding the Parameters of Parental Alienation Syndrome”, Dr. Cartwright discusses the short, medium and long-term effects of PAS. Besides the non-custodial parent, the grandparents also experience anguish over the loss of the child through sudden dismissal. He explains that during the first stage when the child experiences the loss of a grandparent and or parent it is similar to a death, only worse than an actual death because the child is unable to acknowledge or mourn the loss, and it becomes a major tragedy. When the child is subjected to a continual denigration of grandparents by the alienating parent(s), all of the fond memories of them are “deliberately and systematically destroyed.”
The medium-term effects concern the continued absence [as opposed to initial loss] of the lost grandparent [and parent] and the effects it has on the child’s development. What is lost is the consistency, the day-to-day interaction, love and support that normally flows from grandparents and parents. Dr. Cartwright states, “While in the case of death such a loss is unavoidable, in the case of PAS such a loss is entirely avoidable and therefore in-excusable.”
For the long-term effects, Professor Cartwright suggests “that everyone involved in PAS suffers some degree of distress over the long term.” He compares the feelings parents and grandparents experience as being similar to what is experienced when a child goes missing. Professor Cartwright emphasizes that it is the child who suffers most.
Dr. Eleanor Willemsen, professor of developmental psychology at Santa Clara University, in her article “Best Interests Of a Child”, describes the effects on a child when attachments are broken, among them the loss of security and abandonment issues. She emphasizes the harm that happens “when a child loses ongoing intimate relationships,” and there is evidence that over time a child’s social skills diminish, they become insecure and there are cognitive effects. Perhaps Dr. Willemsen said it best in the following sentence: “[T]he most important aspect of being a whole person when you are a small child is your opportunity to develop well.”
GRANDPARENT VISITATION RIGHTS are equally CHILDREN’S RIGHTS: a child should also have the right to remain connected to grandparents. It is an ongoing struggle of many individuals who work to promote the preservation of the family unit by influencing legislation and the public. These GRANDPARENT RIGHTS STATUTES will bring to the forefront the fact that children are often treated as “property,” with little concern for their wants and needs. There is a need for child substantive issues; a child’s LIBERTY INTERESTS must be represented and no longer ignored. Children are people, not possessions.
Perhaps if children were treated more like individuals instead of “property” their true “BEST INTERESTS” would be protected.