Intergenerational family

Grandparent Alienation — why we need to start recognising it as elder abuse

Last updated: October 7, 2021
  • national
  • October 7, 2021

A new phenomenon or just a new name? Grandparent alienation is a situation where grandparents, for any number of reasons, are not permitted to have what society would call a ‘normal’ relationship with their grandchildren. In other words, they are alienated from their grandkids.

It can be argued that it was ‘ever thus’, that there has always been cases of grandparents being denied access to their grandchildren. However, the fact that there is now a term for this breakdown in relationships indicates that it’s more common in today’s society. But is it a form of elder abuse?

The World Health Organization defines elder abuse as ‘a single or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust, which causes harm or distress to an older person.’

Unfortunately, there are any number of situations where grandparent alienation can occur and cause harm and distress.

For example, following the death of your adult child their partner prefers, or needs, their own parents to assist them in raising the children, rejecting what they may consider ‘interference’ from their former in-laws.

Or when your adult child and their partner divorce, a situation that may be even more volatile if it’s the former partner that the grandchildren are living with.

On a day-to-day basis, without death or divorce involved, it can be as simple as your adult child’s partner not involving you in your grandchild’s upbringing or preferring their own parents’ involvement.

This may manifest itself in something as simple as not inviting you to your grandchild’s special events, like birthdays, first day at school, graduation etc.

There is support available for grandparents who find themselves in this situation. Even simply knowing they are not facing this issue alone can help.