Extended Families and Divorce
While your relationship with these extended family members may not center around your co-parent, it should center around the well-being of your children and encouraging them to have strong bonds with the people who love them.
A divorce or separation creates two different homes and central family units for kids. It also creates a split between extended families as well. The relationships between aunts, cousins, uncles, and grandparents will change and may begin to separate although your lives were once intertwined. Depending on the circumstances and conversations surrounding your ended relationship, it may be difficult to keep these relationships in their current state.
However, you continue to have a very important link with these extended family members through your kids. While your relationship with these extended family members may not center around your co-parent, it should center around the well-being of your children and encouraging them to have strong bonds with the people who love them.
You do not need to call your co-parent’s mom the day after you sign divorce papers. Begin to work toward healing yourself first through counseling, spending time with your friends, and prioritizing your mental health. This will enable you to think clearly and be able to establish any rules or boundaries when it comes to your co-parent's extended family and your relationship with them.
Avoid bad-talking or getting into arguments with your co-parent’s extended family in the meantime, but you can take as long as you need before looking to rebuild those relationships.
Before you begin to create relationships with extended families that center on your kids, make sure that it will not have a negative effect on your mental health. In your situation, it may or may not be realistic to establish these relationships or to invest your time in them. If it is going to be dangerous for your mental, physical, or relational health, remember that you do not have to spend time with your co-parent’s extended family.
If you believe that it is possible to have a stress-free relationship with members of your co-parent’s extended family, make sure to center your conversations on your children. Invite them to birthday parties, academic ceremonies or important sporting events, anything that you would have wanted them to be a part of before your split. They may accept or they may choose to forgo these events, regardless of the outcome, you are extending the offer to try to keep them involved in the best interests of your child.
From the start of this new relationship, establish the boundary that negative talk about yourself or your co-parent will not be accepted. Even if you agree with what the aunt or uncle is saying, and you want to commiserate with them – don’t do it. Keep the conversations surface-level and focused on the kids in the same way you would with your co-parent. This is not about being rude or distancing yourself, but it is about protecting your kids who are likely around to hear what is being said. Speaking negatively about your co-parent can alienate the kids or damage the relationship they have with their other parent.
Building New Relationships
Holidays and birthdays are inevitably going to look different, but you can create your new normal with extended family members. When you feel emotionally prepared to do so, reach out to family members with whom you held strong, positive relationships.
As we said before, this isn’t about being best friends with your co-parent’s sister. This is about letting the child’s aunt be a part of big events in their life. Keeping their extended family in the picture will also make the transition between both homes easier. You can create an email list or have a contact within the family you use to casually reach out and extend invitations to upcoming events. Your co-parent can share contact information via TalkingParents features like the Info Library.
At the end of the day, when we talk about extended families, we are talking about the large circle of people who love your children. While coordinating between your co-parent's family and your own may not be your idea of fun, when done successfully it can create more positivity for your kids during a challenging time in their lives. You can continue to show your kids that just because their parents are not together romantically, their entire families still love them and support them just as much.
If Relationships Aren’t Possible
If, for whatever reason, it is not possible to maintain a relationship with your co-parent’s extended family, that is ok too. Focus on scheduling time with your own extended family and maintaining those bonds with your kids during your parenting time. Share the wins and news from your children with your siblings and parents, and plan calls together if they do not live nearby.
With your own family, you create the tone that will be reflected to your own co-parent. Make sure your parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins all understand the kind of relationship you want and what is and is not okay to say around the kids.
If you are co-parenting, communication will always remain key to reducing conflict and staying in sync for your children. Co-parenting communication apps like TalkingParents keep your communication in one place and maintain an accountable record of all your interactions. You can even make calls and send payments in the same place. Learn more about TalkingParents by clicking the link below.