I founded Bristol Grandparents Support Group in 2007 when I lost contact with my grandchild as a result of family breakdown, I felt isolated and alone.
If I felt that way then other grandparents must be feeling as heartbroken as I was.
At the very beginning a grandparent said to me,
I don’t want to join a support group if it is going to make me feel worse than I do already.
Words that I have never forgotten.
BGSG has never charged a membership fee, we are very grateful to those who give us donations to enable us to carry on supporting grandparents, running a charity does incur costs.
After 15 years, it is important to know if we are still getting it right, to ask the very people who are members of BGSG.
A support group only works, in my opinion, if it is led by its members.
Grandparents have shared their thoughts.
Joining a support group was and still is my lifeline. It is an opportunity to share ideas and feelings in a safe environment without fear of recriminations from family members. As a group we can work together to hopefully make changes to the system, that clearly is not working.
I believe that support groups work because they are there for those in need , run by like minded people who fully understand the devastation, despair and need of the sufferer.
Sufferer is a strong word but only those who have undergone the estrangement from their grandchildren can fully understand the suffering .
Within a support group you can shout and cry knowing that someone will listen at any time, day or night, understand and help you to pick up the pieces so that you can move on with your day – and your life.
It helps you to get through the special days one at a time, birthdays, Christmas.
Within the group you have the opportunity to help another person who is in need of a shoulder and a friend, a fellow grandparent, which can be so satisfying.
There is the opportunity to listen and understand. An opportunity to discuss together and realise that you are not alone, the problem is not pertinent to you personally, and essentially, you did nothing wrong.
No advice is given, nor is it needed, a friend is all that is required.
The support group is open to everyone in all areas of the UK and abroad and lasting friendships can be made, sometimes without ever meeting each other, the bond remains.
I think you stumble across support groups when looking to help and be helped by those who have something in common with you, the horrors of estrangement. They are places where you can feel normal in a situation which is anything but.
Being able to pass on your own experience to newcomers as they join, having picked up support ourselves. To make others feel they are not the only ones and that there is hope. That hope and expectation may not mean a resolution to the estrangement itself but a passing on of coping strategies and positive experience that may come out of our sadness.
The group has taught me to own my own behaviour and that focusing on the negative is not the way. We can all blame our parents as our kids may blame us and so on. Sweep your own side of the street and leave them to do the same. None of us is perfect and the group has taught me that it was OK to say I did my best.
Even in the darkest times support groups can be the places to share a good laugh. A support group works because it means I can ‘talk’ to like minded people who are going through the same trauma as I am.
We may not have identical problems – but the underlying issues are the same.
We are estranged from our grandchildren.
Whether it be from a daughter – a son – or in laws – the bottom line is heartbreak for all those involved – especially the children.
For me, it’s even more important to ‘talk’ to grandparents who have the double whammy, two children who have estranged themselves.
I have made some amazing friends in this group, without whom I would not get through the day when I’m having a black time.
Our group has been my salvation! When I contacted them last year I was at such a low point , I cried on the phone and the warmth and concern I was shown made me realise I was not alone and there were people that were suffering as I was (and still am) who truly understand.
They offer a safe place of warmth and understanding, they unite people who through unthinkable circumstances feel like they no longer fit in with the ‘normal tribe’ Who can bare their souls to others who will not judge ,criticize or blame. It can also be place where information and ideas are shared that may help to guide group members to other sources of help and support … and above all else it can be just a safe place to be yourself, without having to ‘put on the show’ for others.
The group compensates for the emotional support that we would normally get from family. We expect family to love and care about us. It is an unloving and uncaring act to be deprived of one’s grandchildren. Grandparent groups are very loving and caring safe places, greeting each other with hugs as one would usually do with family.
There is shared experience. Most grandparents have access to their grandchildren. To not have access to grandchildren is isolating, and meeting people who have the same experiences as you can be comforting. When you know that there are others grandparents who don’t see their grandchildren you know that you are not alone.
There are shared successes. These can be small steps that give hope to a final reconciliation or ways of coping that can be tried by others in the group. There are shared failures. These are often legal attempts to enforce contact when reason has failed to produce results but as we know the law has not caught up with this problem.
Support groups work for all those reasons but the main reason that they work is because at the edge of total despair and raw grief at the loss of the light that filled our lives, our grandchild, there was nothing else.
When you become one of those grandparents that are denied access to your grandchildren it is one of the most heart breaking and emotional situations you will ever experience.
You sit and wonder “why is this happening to me, what did I do wrong, why has my own son gone against us.
Then all you want to do is talk to family and friends about it but they don’t really understand, how can they?
Attending a self-help support group is one of the best ways to get these emotions out in the open because you are sharing similar situations with people that do understand exactly what you are going through. Groups offer support in many ways, by just listening, having speakers from professionals that can give us free advice and guidance, which is invaluable.
When you think about it, if you are on drugs or an alcoholic Doctors will advise you to go to support groups, why are not more GP’s recommending support groups, some have only been advised by a solicitor!
Those are views of grandparents, some of whom have set up their own self-help groups.
One grandparent said to me that coming to meetings helped her to feel normal again.
To be rejected by a family member is so traumatic all self-esteem is lost, grandparents constantly question, were they bad parents or terrible in-laws?
Every individual will take and bring something different from being part of a support group, but it brings solidarity, empowerment, and an element of control.
Being able to be honest and open is therapeutic.
We can not change the situation, but we can make a difference, we can work towards accepting that the past has been and gone, what is important is today, and what we achieve in that day is paramount.
It is never the role of a support group to question or judge.
By just being there for someone else, when they are at their lowest ebb is a basic human response.
We all need to be loved and to love.