If you are (or will soon be) a divorcing parent, you realize that you can’t completely cut ties with your spouse – or their family. Your former in-laws will always be part of your extended family because they’re part of your children’s family.
In most cases, it’s best if children continue to spend time with grandparents as well as cousins, aunts and uncles to whom they’re close. If your relationship with them isn’t so positive – particularly after your separation and divorce – you’ll need to find a way to maintain at least an amicable relationship with them.
Don’t expect this to happen overnight. That’s particularly true if you never had a warm relationship with them or they’ve become particularly hostile to you since your break-up. How do you do this while still getting the respect you’re due?
Acknowledge their feelings about you and the divorce
It may help to talk about the “elephant in the room.” They may have strong negative feelings about you. Maybe they blame you for the divorce. They may believe things they’ve been told aren’t true. It’s not necessary to give them “your” side of the story. Just let them know that you want what’s best for your children, and that includes a continued relationship with them.
Don’t be afraid to set boundaries
It may be best to let your co-parent handle the communication with them. If you need to contact them to tell them about an event involving your child, use email, text or other communication that’s less likely to invite conflict.
If you learn that your in-laws are disparaging you to your child or in front of them, you have a right to ask them to stop. Your co-parent should be the one to handle that. If they don’t, you may have to. Emphasize that it’s upsetting and confusing to your child – not how it makes you feel.
These conflicts typically lessen over time. Although it can be difficult, the important thing is not to say or do something that will only make things worse – and extend the rift.
It can be helpful to include a clause in your parenting plan that stipulates that neither parent nor their family or friends are to criticize or demean the other in their children’s presence. Having experienced legal guidance can help you negotiate that and other important provisions.