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The sting of a broken or damaged relationship is all too common in today’s world. Once, we grandparents were the ones in charge. Everyone danced to our tune. But no more. Now our children are in charge of the rules, the schedules, the ways we are allowed to interact with our grandchildren and much more. We can feel hindered in our freedom to interact with our grandchildren as we would like, and sometimes there will be problems.

And once unkind words are said, accusations have been made, or the fur has flown—then the damage has been done. How are we to fix a problem we didn’t cause or even see coming? How can we bridge the gap between cultural divides and political danger zones? How can we mend hurt feelings and misunderstandings on both sides? And why do we even want to humble ourselves to make things right?

Well, the answer to those questions is found in the faces of our grandchildren. We love them and want to be part of their lives. We don’t want misunderstandings and hard feelings to keep us away from being part of those children’s lives.

What can we do?

The road to reconciliation isn’t easy and it isn’t fun. It requires a sacrifice of our belief that we’re in the right. It requires being the bigger person and allowing the other party to air their anger and whatever understandings they have of the problem. We may need to humble ourselves and listen to their side of the story when we’d rather send them to their bedroom. It’s difficult.

Here are five steps to help rebuild a broken or damaged family relationship. There may be more, or you may find your way to renewal of the relationship with just one or two of these efforts. Take the time to think through what has happened and the outcome you want to achieve. And don’t forget the big smiles on your grandchildren’s faces and the hugs they give—all the things that make us love them so much. We don’t want to lose touch with them.

  • What is your desired outcome? When there has been trouble in the family, even a divorce, what do you as the grandparent desire for the future? Realize there’s a price to pay for achieving that goal, then plan appropriate steps to achieve it.
  • Explore points of view. When there has been a breach in a relationship, there are usually differing perceptions of what has taken place. Who became angry? Who said what? What was said and done that offended another? Sometimes a careful walk back through the events that took place can pinpoint places where the others involved have valid concerns. Or not. Even if you absolutely believe you’re in the right, how can you fix the relationship enough to have access to your grandchildren in the future?
  • At some point it will be necessary to talk to those who are offended. That may mean making a dreaded phone call and asking for a face-to-face meeting. It may mean making an apology for your part in the breakdown, and it may also mean you never get the apology coming to you. That’s hard.
  • If the other party agrees to meet, you’ll have to determine to listen to their side of the story. You don’t have to agree with that assessment, but you need to understand what they believe and how they’ve arrived at their position. If you can own your part of the problem, your willingness to humbly apologize for whatever you said or did will go a long way to smoothing ruffled feathers. 
  • If you can forgive any past wrongs done to you, in the quest to have a healthy grandparent/grandchild connection, then you’ve achieved victory. If you can’t entirely forgive, but you can live with a new understanding of the relationship and you’re able to continue spending time with your grandchildren, then that’s also a win. 

It is sometimes helpful in family relationships to overlook behaviors that we would rather “fix.” But wisdom would tell us that keeping the doors open in the relationship is more important than speaking our mind. So, overlook the latest tattoo or nose ring, accept that your grandchildren are allowed way too much time in front of a screen and eat too many sweets. Determine that advice may not be desired, even though it is sound. Understand that it’s your childrens’ turn to be in charge, even when they don’t “get it right.” 

It’s a tall order to keep our relationships running smoothly. It takes courage and a very large, loving heart. But we can do it because we value being part of our grandchildren’s lives and we may even be able to influence them for the good in this difficult and sometimes painful world.