Do I Need to Help My Kids Maintain a Relationship with My Ex’s Family?
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Divorce and separation are never easy, especially when you’ve got kids involved.
And when you’re leaving your relationship, you’re also leaving behind your ex’s family, the people you’ve grown to know and love – or at least tolerate.
If you were the one to push your ex into spending time with their family while you were together, accepting all the party invitations, making sure everyone got to holiday gatherings, and setting up regular phone calls with your children, it may be a struggle when you’re no longer in that role. What happens if my children no longer talk with their relatives, or attend family functions? Will their lives be less full and happy?
As the default relationship manager in your former partnership, you may wander if you bear any responsibility in helping your kids maintain a relationship with your ex’s family after your split.
Short Answer: No, You Don’t
Once you’re no longer a couple, you have no responsibility to make sure your children maintain a relationship with members of your ex’s family. That’s their job now, and they can either choose to take it on or ignore it.
You certainly can help facilitate this relationship if you really want to – and if your ex is OK with your involvement – but you aren’t obligated to make sure your kids talk to Grandma and Grandpa. And, if your children don’t seem terribly interested in keeping contact with these other family members, it may be best just to leave things as they are.
If you feel guilty about not ensuring that your children are contacting their elder family members, you can help with small gestures such as mailing holiday cards or sending email messages.
If You’re Friendly with Your Ex’s Family
Sometimes, when a romantic relationship ends, you may still retain a relationship with your ex’s family. That’s fine, as long as you aren’t overstepping any boundaries for your ex!
If you’re still friendly with your ex’s family and your ex doesn’t seem interested in helping your kids stay in contact with their family, you can be the one to take over as long as you observe some etiquette:
- Talk to your ex before you do anything. Your ex may not want you to be involved in their family life at all, even just to facilitate a relationship between the kids and their family. Even if you don’t think it’s the response you want, it’s a reasonable boundary your ex is putting up and you need to respect it.
- Keep your distance. Do what you can to stick with long-distance methods of keeping contact between your children and your ex’s family, such as emails, phone calls, and mailed cards. If you set up a visit with your ex’s family during your parenting time, drop your children off and come pick them up later. This is especially important during the early stages of a split, helping everyone learn the way life is now and how to develop healthy boundaries.
- Extend invitations to group events. As your children grow, there will be plenty of sports games, school events, and recitals you can invite their extended family to. If your ex feels comfortable with having their family at these events, you can certainly be the one to extend the invitation.
- Respect your ex’s wishes. There may be a valid reason your ex is keeping the kids from their family, and you may not even know it. If your ex is adamant about keeping your children away from their family, don’t try to go around them and give the family access to your children.
If Your Ex Wants to Keep the Kids Away
Your ex may insist that your children not have contact with their family, or certain members of their family. This may seem strange to you, especially if those family members were active and involved parts of your children’s lives before the split, but it isn’t ultimately your decision to make.
There may have been something that happened between your ex and their family, or your children and your ex’s family, that you don’t know about. Going around your ex’s wishes only breeds resentment between the two of you, which can quickly erode a functional co-parenting relationship.
Take Your Ex’s Lead
If your ex doesn’t really seem to care about fostering a relationship with their family, and doesn’t care if you’re involved, then go ahead as long as it isn’t a huge burden to your life and schedule. However, if your ex asks you to stay away, or actively avoids their family, you need to respect that.
You’d ask your ex to extend the same courtesy to you if the roles were reversed.
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