This week marks a year since Michael Jackson died. Right after his untimely death, the focus was on the future of his children, Prince, Paris and “Blanket.” According to Jackson’s will, his mother was to raise them, and the judge granted her permanent custody. There were questions about the role of Debbie Rowe, the biological mother of the older two children, and Janet Jackson – pundits were busy speculating who would really care for them.
Despite the superstar status of the Jackson family, there is something quintessentially human and familiar about them. Haven’t we all, as a result of a death or divorce, had a complicated situation in our own family? Perhaps you can relate at some level.
The numbers of boomer grandparents assuming care and financial responsibility for grandchildren continue to increase. Statistics show that over 2.9 million grandparents are raising more than 4.5 million grandchildren. This is particularly true in families that involve a single parent, a habitual substance abuser or a member with chronic illness. If you feel that you are caught in the middle of a soap opera, a complex crisis or a painful tragedy, here are some ideas to consider as you begin to take better care of your grandchildren and yourself:
1. Do what you can to maintain structure and continuity. By stabilizing the children’s environment with a familiar routine, they’ll begin to feel less anxious and more secure. Children are resilient – as you model positive and hopeful thinking, they are bound to thrive.
2. Accept the changes in the family, whatever they are, even if you feel caught in the crossfire. Validate the children’s feelings and withhold blame regarding their parents. While you show support, try not to take a particular side or excuse bad behavior. Remember that your primary concern here is to attend to the most immediate needs of the children.
3. It is necessary for all of you to mourn what you have lost. In divorce, it may be the dreams you had for the future. In death, the feelings of sadness about not having that parent or child as a part of your life. By keeping the lines of communication open, all of you can feel safe enough to talk about your grief.
4. Protect the children from the comments of others as best you can. Whether the absent parent’s behavior stemmed from a hunger inside, a serious emotional problem or habitual drug use, now you can shield the children from its’ impact. Focus on your relationship with them and build trust so that they’ll feel more accepted, nurtured and confident.
5. There will be a huge void to fill and you may be confused about your role now. Don’t be afraid to see a family therapist, child psychologist or parenting coach. Learning skills and techniques from experts can make a big difference the second time around. And talking with someone outside the family can truly be a lifesaver.
Right after his death, Michael Jackson was the focus of media frenzy. But while he was alive, his main priority was to protect his privacy and his children. And how painful it must have been for Paris, Prince and “Blanket” to lose that comfort and the only parent they really knew.
But it looks as if their grandmother has their best interests at heart. Without a lot of fanfare, there seems to be a coordinated effort to bring stability to the children’s lives. Although their loving world collapsed, their large extended family rallied around them. In accepting Michael’s posthumous Lifetime Achievement Award last January, Prince choked up while thanking fans for their support since his dad’s death. And Paris spoke briefly about her love for her dad. What little information the media has received about the family this year makes you think they’re all doing the best they can.
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