Our new patron Jasvinder Sanghera CBE has written this blog for today.
Not Only Covid Prevented Us From Hugging Our Grandchildren
“Every Child needs to have access to parents, grandparents and grandchildren in order to be a full human being”
Today October 3rd is Grandparents Day. A day that celebrates and symbolises the beauty and strength of a relationship between grandchild and grandparents, who are one step removed from parents as one of the founding members of a family. I have just googled Moonpig.com and accessed hundreds of cards marking Grandparents Day, many are personalised with faces of silver haired grandparents, grandchildren on laps and quotes that will make your heart melt and lift the spirits of grandparents across the nation. I say with conviction that Grandparents are able to provide a deep love and rich tapestry of information that informs a child’s identity, background and cultural history related to their family. As a grandparent, I also get to relive the childhoods of my own children through the eyes of my grandchildren and notice little things and share how ‘you used to do this or that’. It’s heart-warming to spend quality time with grandchildren without all the responsibilities of being the main carer and yes safe to say, spoil them a little!
Covid tested the nation on so many levels and we were all forced to rethink engagement with our loved ones, shielding to keep ourselves and others safe which meant lengthy temporary separations. The heart-rendering stories of grandparents were televised into our living rooms, sharing how grandparents were desperately missing hugging their grandchildren, including missing the births of the next generation. These stories tugged at our heart strings and some managed to get a wave from a window or a call on Facetime which for a short time alleviated the pain and absence of one of the most innocent and precious relationships. Grandparents Day will be celebrated by millions across the UK today and in the backdrop of Covid become even more significant as many will hold their grandchildren a little longer and tighter with greater gratitude.
NOW, I am supposedly well informed as a seasoned campaigner of over 30 years and YET, now here comes the real shocker, to my shame I did not know about the estimated 2 million children in the UK that are denied contact with their grandparents! That 1 in 7 grandparents are denied contact, which would equate to at least 2 million children as there are approximately 14 million grandparents in the UK. One in every 3 people over the age of 50 is a grandparent. I did not know any of this, until it affected me and this experience has sharp parallels to my 40 years of being disowned by my family and so I experience this as another living bereavement. Sadly, it was my personal loss that has brought me closer to those adversely affected by this severe emotional abuse, and now I know I cannot and will not just be silent. I have always believed that our lives begin to diminish the day we become silent about the things that matter.
So, I went onto searching more about this thankfully I came across Bristol Grandparents Support Group which was founded by a grandparent who experienced this loss and so the mission started! And just as I founded Karma Nirvana this group breaks the silences and supports those impacted by this hidden abuse not only in the UK but internationally. Since their inception they have dealt with more than 8,000 grandparents and tragically this has included 7 suicides due to the unbearable pain linked to the loss of grandchildren. I connect to the support groups on line and hear the sheer raw pain of grandparents and how children are being used as weapons in an adult war. The experiences of grandparents spending years in turmoil being torn from relationships with their grandchildren and many being revictimized by a court system that does not hear or support them, as the bottom line is, they have no rights. We go around the Teams room and I listen with a lump in my throat to grandparents sharing the years lost their personal fights to regain this relationship whilst holding onto hope. Time is not their friend and as an aging population many fear dying before ever connecting. I hear numbers related to the years of absence, 2, 5, to 20 years lost and these years will never come back and yet all live with dignity and hope that one-day their grandchild will come and find them. That one day they will be able to give them the memory boxes that are filled each passing year and even that the disagreement will come to end so that the core carer of their grandchild will put the child’s interest above their personal issues. We all know parents, they have absolute power over who the child will see and a child becomes powerless because of age, fear and even loyalty and this will and does affect children later in life. I implore the parents of any child to think again if wishing to distance their children from loving grandparents. It is not only the grandparents that suffer, but also the child. We do not want a generation of children not knowing their history or a love of grandparents as this will create children living with more questions, a deep sense of loss, guilt and regret. I truly hope all grandchildren are able to grow up understanding and knowing a grandparents love and where relationships were abruptly severed that grandchildren knew of our love for them, and that we were powerless to do anything.
The adverse effects on children who have bonded with their grandparents, and the knock-on effects throughout society are passed on down the generations and if we truly believe our children are the future then we have stop this now and this means a change in law. We should care and yet I am typing not feeling that society really knows the extent of these issues or politicians even care enough and it is not like they do not know about it. Grandparents have brought the issue directly to the corridors of power, debates and promises have raised the hopes of many grandparents. The Ministry of Justice statistics demonstrate 2,000 grandparents applied for Child Arrangement Orders in 2016, that was up from 1,600 in 2014. The true numbers of grandparents being denied access to grandchildren is unknown as there is no public information on this, therefore we are dealing with the ‘tip of the iceberg’ of this life changing issue., just as I said back in 1993 about forced marriages, the statistics are not telling the true story and we have to speak out so others come forward because they are suffering in silence. I didn’t ever imagine it could happen to me, so it could happen to you and this issue is a generational issue that cuts across gender, ethnicity, class, age and diversity.
I will end this on how we in the UK value our children in society and law, this is the foundation which should underpin childhoods because children are innocent, this quote was said by a senior judge:
‘The welfare of the child is paramount’
This is an abiding and unassailable principle of family law and children are less likely to experience depression, teenage pregnancy and delinquency when relationships with both family including grandparents are safeguarded. Family courts make huge and life-changing decisions for parents, children and it is time to ensure that the importance of grandparents is also recognised.
Today is Grandparents Day and my plea to you all, is to stop for a minute and think about the pain and the loss this day brings for millions as it places into sharper focus the absence of Britain’s Lost Grandchildren. Now you know better, will you do better? If you wish to join the conversation, campaign, need support or wish to share your experience. please contact me email@example.com
Personal testimonies I have the privilege of sharing having heard these grandparents over the past 3 months
“We lost our grandson whom we raised from 6 months to 8 years. We love him so much but we can’t even talk to him. She has totally isolated him. It is total torture. This is our retirement, so sad. Grandfather England
“The child was 5 years old when her mother stopped her father from seeing her. We have a huge loving family, including great grandparents but we have all been cut off dead.” Grandmother, Wales
“They were also cut off from great-grandparents, their dad, aunties, nephew, niece, cousins and the children have no idea we are all here.” Grandmother England
“We have had no physical contact and we live with the possibility and hope that she will find us at the age of 18 (12 years to go) no photographs to see change and development. Always wondering how she is and if she is ok. “ Grandmother England
“The loss cannot be undone, and a childhood cannot be recaptured. Gone forever is that sense of history, intimacy, lost input of values and morals, self-awareness through knowing one’s beginnings, love, contact with us, it is a living bereavement. I have felt suicidal and cannot bear to see other children playing, if I take my life then it will stop but then I keep praying that I will see them.” Grandmother England, contact stopped for 15 years
“I hate celebrating birthdays, occasions, I feel sadness that I can’t share the moments I see children and wonder if she looks that way in age, humour and the rest.” Grandmother England 12 years absence
“The current legal position is unfair and biased adversarial legal system rather than our personal stories.” Grandparents England, have applied to court but very slow process due to the allegations from daughter, we have also been arrested by police for harassment due to sending cards”.
“It has been 4 years since I saw my granddaughter, there isn’t a day I long to see her. It’s a permanent sadness I have never experienced before and when I walk my dog I see others with grandchildren and ask if I have any, I always break down.” Grandmother Wales
“My grandchildren are now 12 -17- not seen since 2012. I am coming up for 81. Two heart attacks and a stroke, plus all the old age problems. I remember the one man who spoke in the meeting – in tears he said ,”Will we do anything in my life time.?” I spoke to him afterwards and said that was my fear also.” Grandmother England
“My daughter stopped me from seeing my 1 year old grandson, on his birthday, because on one night out of 4, I was not able to stay at her house and since then she has removed him from my life. I wake and sleep with him, the loss is indescribable and as I enter the court arena she has started to tell the most unforgiveable lies about me, I pray to God the court will see though this and put my grandson first, but time is not my friend and I hear he is now walking and has teeth”