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How NOT to Lose Your Grandchildren When Your Child’s Marriage Ends
JAVAS – ALWAYS IN THE PICTURE WHEN DOES MARRIAGE END?
One of the most rewarding relationships most people will ever experience is that between a grandparent and a child. It is very special and no child should be deprived of the benefits that come from spending time with a loving grandfather. Nor should any child be deprived of learning how to care for that grandparent as the child ages and their beloved grandparents face old age.
Do those kids sometimes eat the wrong thing when visiting Grammy? Sure they do, but that sugar will eventually go away. Do they get dirtier than parents would like when they go fishing with grandpa? Of course they do but that worm "muck" will really wash off when they get home! The question we should be asking is "are these children getting anything more valuable than proper nutrition and clean hands when they spend time with their grandparents?"
Of course, every grandparent knows the answer to that question and so do most parents. It is sonorous "yes!"
But there are parents who might say otherwise. Even in the best of circumstances, disputes can arise between parents and grandparents. Those disputes are likely to increase when parents divorce. Or they may develop for the first time if grandparents take sides against one of the parents or against a later step-parent. New disputes often arise when one parent remarries after the death of a spouse.
Some of the circumstances that might lead a parent to decide that grandparent visitation is not in the child’s best interest are as follows:
1. A grandparent criticizes the parent or step-parent of the child in the presence of the child,
2. A grandparent conspires with the child to obtain a result that is contrary to the parent’s wishes,
3. A grandparent encourages the child to criticize their parents or step-parent,
4. A grandparent does not follow the rules set by the child’s parents, or
5. A grandparent gives "gifts" and then expects more than a "thank you" in return
THE DILEMMA – PRESUMPTION IN FAVOR OF "FIT" FATHERS
While there is a legislative remedy in Indiana if grandparents are denied visitation with their grandchildren, the outcome in court is rarely what the grandparents expected. Pursuant to Indiana Code 31-17-5-1, a child’s grandparent may seek visitation rights if 1) the child’s parent is deceased, 2) the child’s parents’ marriage was dissolved in Indiana, or 3) the child was born out of marriage (and paternity was established).
However, the United States Supreme Court has ruled that the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause protects the fundamental right of parents to make decisions regarding the care, custody, and control of their children. Specifically, the Court stated that "as long as a parent adequately cares for his or her children (ie, is fit), normally there will be no reason for the State to inject itself into the private sphere of the family to further question the ability of that parent to do the best. decisions regarding the education of that parent’s children." Troxel v. Granville, 530 U.S. 57, 120 S.Ct., 2054, 2060, 147 L.Ed2d 49 (2000).
In other words, grandparents will not get visitation time if the biological parents are "suitable" and decided that it was not in the child’s best interest to spend time with that grandfather. Similarly, "suitable" parents can decide how much time with grandparents is in the best interest of the child.
Unfortunately, the consequences of claiming that the parents are unfit are so great, and the burden of proof so high, many grandparents wisely choose not to sue their children for grandparent visitation rights. And those who DO, often burn bridges that cannot be rebuilt.
There are things that grandparents can do to avoid parent/grandparent conflicts and it is imperative that these things happen while the parent’s marriage is still intact. By understanding and acknowledging the proper role of grandparent to grandchild, most grandparents will maintain the relationship they want with their grandchildren in the event that a marriage is dissolved by death or divorce. Here are some examples:
1. While the marriage is still intact, offer to keep the kids so the parents can have a weekly date night. Pick them for dinner and keep them overnight!
2. Don’t do "take sides" when a grandson is angry with his parents.
3. Don’t do "take sides" when the parents are angry with each other.
4. Don’t buy things for the grandchildren that their parents said they can’t have.
5. If the parents are headed for divorce, let them both know that you will always love them. Don’t take sides. Find the right words that keep you neutral, such as "I understand how you must feel" or "I’m sorry you’re going through this." It will be important not to discount their feelings during this difficult time, but you don’t have to adopt those feelings for yourself. It is not disloyal to maintain your relationship with your own child as well as your son-in-law or daughter-in-law! THEY ARE ALL key to having a relationship with your grandchildren.
6. Don’t feel like you are "used" when the parents only let you have the children when it is convenient for them. Both parents will have less time with their children after the parents separate, so understand that your time will likely be reduced as well – at least for a while.
7. Be prepared to lose some visitation from grandparents when your son or daughter-in-law remarries after the death of your child. That new step-parent may be threatened by your closeness to the children and may believe that you are comparing him or her to the parent who died. This is a difficult time for everyone involved and especially for the grandparent who has lost a child and who may have stepped in as a surrogate parent for a few months or years. You can prevent this loss by opening your heart to the new step-parent.
The key to having a lasting relationship with your grandchildren is to maintain and nurture your relationship with both of their parents, value the decisions they make as parents, and value the importance of subsequent spouses.
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