My daughter is going through a divorce. She is living with me. She has an 18-month-old daughter. She is pregnant and she is suffering with daily migraines. Do you have any suggestions for managing stress and for parenting in her/our situation?
This is one of those situations when the lines between parent and child become blurry for all involved. Your daughter needs her parents more than ever and her daughter needs her mom more than ever. These competing attachment needs can create serious challenges if they’re not addressed appropriately.
Your first priority is to make sure your granddaughter is protected from the chaos and stress associated with your daughter’s physical and relational challenges. Elder Dallin H. Oaks reminded us about our need to protect children in the October 2012 General Conference when he taught:
“Children are highly vulnerable. They have little or no power to protect or provide for themselves and little influence on so much that is vital to their well-being. Children need others to speak for them, and they need decision makers who put their well-being ahead of selfish adult interests.”1
One way you can do this is make sure she is immersed in the joy of childhood. Take her for walks, play with her at the park, read books to her, make sure she has access to toys and other age-appropriate activities. Even though she’s only 18-months-old, she is highly sensitive to adult stress, especially from her mother. Unfortunately, it’s common for adults to discuss details of their divorces and other stressors within earshot of their children, oblivious to the fact that their children pick up on tone and intensity, even if they can’t comprehend the content being discussed.
Your daughter will likely need help protecting her daughter from these stressors, as she has constant migraines and other stressors that overwhelm her on a regular basis. If you don’t have the ability to step in and offer temporary care for your granddaughter, seek out other moms with similar age children so she can have places to play and be a child.
It’s critical to have clear expectations and boundaries with your daughter about what you can and can’t do for her during this time. If you realistically can’t help her with childcare, be clear about it up front and work together to find a suitable alternative. Don’t set yourselves up for failure, which ultimately impacts your granddaughter, who then has to be exposed to more adult tension and drama.
Your daughter has some difficult decisions to make in the next several days and weeks, such as medical care for her migraines, living arrangements, financial issues, and navigating the maze of divorce and child custody. If you are going to help her financially with attorneys and other expenses, have a clear plan about your limits.
Remember, your granddaughter has two parents who have primary responsibility to care for her emotional, financial, and physical needs. If they need help doing that, let them come forward and work out a plan with you. Don’t step in and take away their responsibility. I only recommend stepping in without their permission if you see a situation that endangers your granddaughter’s emotional or physical safety.
Your daughter is likely so disoriented with the loss of her marriage, a pregnancy without the support of a husband, and physical ailments, that she may not be able to effectively plan for her future. There is nothing wrong with you offering help to structure the areas in which she’ll need to make decisions. However, respect and recognize your own limits so you don’t become over involved and invite more stress. Again, I can’t adequately emphasize how critical it is to have regular check-ins with her to ensure the proper balance of roles and expectations as you compassionately provide a safe place for your daughter and granddaughter to rest from the storm of their family challenges.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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.marriage-recovery.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 and currently serves on the high council of the St. George, Utah young single adult second stake. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children. You can connect with him at:
1 Dallin H. Oaks, “Protect the Children“, General Conference October 2012