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Divorce in the Family

Worried Parent/Grandparent (Grandparent) 06 Sep '16

Each month we feature a Common Advice Blog piece. The Common Ground Panel of professionals answer one of your questions on how to support a young person dealing with difficult situations in their lives or a young person experiencing a mental illness.


"My son is going through a difficult time with his divorce. He is drinking more and more every day and I’m worried about him and the effect his drinking is having on my grandchildren who are 13 and 15 years old. I don’t know how or if they are coping with everything that’s going on. I don’t want them to start drinking too, but I just don’t know what to say to them. Please help."

Common Ground Panel Responses


Renee from Youthline says:

I have heard divorce described to me by some as the next worst thing they have experienced, after death. I’m not sure if that resonates with your son, however it sounds like he is indeed having a difficult time and maybe drinking is his way of coping.

It’s great that you’re aware of your son’s drinking and the impact this may be having not only on him, but on your grandkids. They may be having a hard time with the divorce, so having caring grandparents and other supports are going to be crucial in helping them all to get through this hard time.

It can be hard to know what to say in such difficult circumstances, and so maybe just asking them how they are doing, and listening, allows them to identify for themselves what they need.

There is not a “one-size fits all” approach when dealing with grief, loss, broken relationships, or substance abuse. What has been found to be useful, is having a number of supports (Interventions) available.

For your son, and grandchildren this could include:

  • Family/friend support to initiate safe and caring discussions around what they are going through, and how they are coping with it. Focusing just on the alcohol use and blaming your son, would be very unhelpful in this scenario.
  • Engaging supports, or school activities
  • Family or individual therapy

I hope this and what others offer give you a place to start in helping your son and grandchildren through this time.

Jono and Ana

Jono and Ana from Mental Health Foundation say:

It can be really hard for adults to talk to young people about this sort of stuff. A good start point is just checking in to see how they are feeling about the situation. If you're noticing your grandkids are starting to withdraw, becoming easily agitated or that they are avoiding being at home, then a really good start point is to talk about how that's worrying you and you want to check in to see how they are doing.

You might also want to just let them know that if they aren't feeling so great that you're there for them to talk to.
Sharing food is also a great way for you to talk to your grandkids. Because everyone loves grandmas cooking! Spending time with them over a meal or afternoon tea provides warmth and space for them to feel comfortable and some of the best conversations happen around the kitchen table.

Its really important that you don't take a harsh stance with them about "don't drink" because it could seem like it's coming out of nowhere. But it could be a good idea to ask them how they feel about their dad's drinking and maybe even brainstorm ways that they could approach the topic with their dad.

You're grandma, and just knowing that grandma is still there to give them love and cookies is a comfort for some young people on its own. 


Jenny from Skylight says:

Express your concern to both your son about his drinking and to your grandchildren. Expressing things from your point of view can help to open up a conversation that can lead to finding ways forward for everyone concerned. For example you could say to your son, “I notice how difficult your divorce has been on you and wonder how I can help and I am worried about the effects on the children.” You might be able suggest that having some counselling or talking about it could help him through this time, that alcohol will only make things more difficult for everyone. You could offer to find out the best place he could go for help. The Alcohol Drug Helpline number is 0800 787 797 

And to your grandchildren you could say, “I have observed that your dad is taking the divorce really badly and drinking more as a response to his pain - how is that affecting you?” Let them know you are available any time if they want to talk about it and keep offering to listen and be there for them. Let them know it is OK for them to express their feelings about everything that is going on for them. You don’t need to know how to fix it, just how to listen and be there for them. 

Reassure them that neither the divorce nor their dad’s drinking is their fault and that both their mum and dad love them and will always be their mum and dad. 

Be careful not to criticize either parent to the children.

Each month we feature a Common Advice Blog piece. The Common Ground Panel of professionals answer one of your questions on how to support a young person dealing with difficult situations in their lives or a young person experiencing a mental illness. Got a question to ask our panel? You can ask us here »

*Please note, by commenting on this post, you agree for it to be used by Common Ground online and offline to help encourage a conversation about supporting young people.
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