Q: Our grandchild's therapist recommended that we only portray our son and his ex-girlfriend in a good light, and never say anything bad about them. Our granddaughter is ten. She never met her mother except as a baby, and my son has only been to see her twice since we got her at 18 months. Why don't you say nice things about your daughter and son-in-law?
A: If your granddaughter's therapist is not court-ordered, I'd arrange for another one. He or she isn't explaining what you need to know, such as, what defines "portray in a good light" for the therapist.
I think there are too many therapists who equate grandparents raising grandchildren with parents who divorce. There are also attorneys, child welfare case workers, and a host of other experts who see things this way. The truth of the matter is, it is not. The laws are different, especially financial support issues. The case law, or how the law is interpreted through the courts, is MUCH different. The circumstances are different.
But too many therapists think of grandparents as custodial parents, and treat them as such. We are not the same. So, therapy skills for grandchildren living with grandparents should not be the same.
I don't believe absent parents who abandon children to run off and use drugs, etc., should be placed in the same light as absent parents who are serving their country or fellow man in some far-off land, either as military or missionaries (Doctors Without Borders comes to mind). The odds are with us that those parents are doing something noble, and will be back to collect their offspring one day. Even a parent who's pulled his or her head out of the dark tunnel and goes back to school- really goes back, not just goes to do more drugs, alcohol, etc.- deserves recognition for that.
Kids are not stupid. Are Mom and/ or Dad doing something wonderful? They are not. Are they coming back? Odds are good that they are not.
There are some therapists who feel that if the child is told the parents are alcoholics, made the choice to stay away to be with a boy/girlfriend, in prison, etc., that somehow the child is going to think he or she is a loser, too. That's just nonsense in most cases. The kid who is in a secure, loving environment knows better. There are some who go as far as to suggest that the grandparents buy birthday and Christmas presents for the child and put the absent parents' names on those. This is nonsense as well.
Our children's therapists do not suggest this at all. There have been three actual therapists at different times due to work conflicts and life in general. None of them have ever said that. They said to try not to be negative about the parents, if at all possible. They said don't bring up either parent until the child brings it up. They said keep the explanation on the child's level of understanding, and a lot of details were not necessary. They said to be honest, don't sugar-coat it, but don't make it worse than it is. They said to make it clear that the child is not the parents, that we are here to take care of them, and they will never be harmed or neglected again. They said children have their own feelings, and are allowed to have them, and express them in healthy, appropriate ways.
I mention my adult daughter and ex-son-in-law here because my reading audience is adults. What we discuss here isn't mentioned in our home. At home, with the children, we say as little as possible about either one of them unless one of the children brings it up, and then we tell them truth if they are old enough to digest it, or ask questions and tell them as much as they are able to handle, per our children's therapists. It is on the children's timetable, as they see fit.
Getting a good therapist, when the grandparent has the resources or is allowed the choice, is no harder than choosing a good attorney. It's an interview process. You go in to see the therapist at an initial appointment, even if it cost some money. You have a summary of the problems, and the solutions you seek. You ask up front how much experience the therapist has with the issue of grandparents raising grandchildren. You ACTIVELY LISTEN to the prospective therapist's answers. You ask about prices and how insurance is billed. This person is working for you and your grandchildren, and will be compensated. You personally don't take any MMPI or other written test at this point. This isn't about you (get your own therapist if you need one). You do NOT bring the grandchildren!!!!! This is important. GET A SITTER IF YOU HAVE TO DO SO.
You compare the answers you receive with what you've researched about grandparents raising grandchildren. If you don't think you, the grandchildren and the therapist are a good fit, you move on to another therapist.
And don't think for one minute you can be the therapist for the grandchildren! You are too emotionally staked in this. Your family is too staked in this. You also need an independent party when you go to court, an expert, not Aunt Martha who was a social worker before she retired to run the bingo parlor.
(Note: Some readers thought my answers were actually too brief. So, I'm editing the original post into several posts, for easier reading.-DRG)