Maintaining Grandparent Relationships after Divorce

It’s no secret that divorce is hard on kids. The upheaval of having a parent move out of the home and the conflict that surrounds it can leave children feeling vulnerable, sad or angry. One safe haven for many of these children is the stability and sameness of grandma and grandpa’s house. Preserving those relationships and the time they need to grow is more important now than ever, even if it’s more complicated.

Here are some tips for helping your child keep those close ties with the relatives they love and need in their lives.

1. Don’t Blame Your Ex-Spouse’s Parents. No matter what you may think about your former spouse’s family, they are still your child’s relatives and divorce doesn’t change that. Who knows—they may be as saddened and disappointed by your ex’s marital failures as you are, but are hesitant to say so out of a sense of loyalty. Regardless, your child needs these relationships. The only way you can justify denying them time together is if you have concerns about your child’s safety in their care. Learn to separate the in-laws from your former spouse to resist saddling them with the frustration you may feel toward him, in which they likely had no part.

2. Put Your Own Hurt Aside. Much like divorced parents must do to be able to effectively parent together after a split, you must learn to make your own feelings secondary to the needs and feelings of your children. Even if it’s emotionally difficult for you to see your ex-husband’s parents, do it for your children. If it’s especially hard, you might be able to let your ex handle drop-offs and pick-ups to his parent’s house. But you’ll all be better off if you learn how to redefine and cultivate a “new” post-divorce relationship that is cordial and tension-free for the kids’ sake.

3. Consider a Family Mediator. If communication is difficult and you have real concerns about the boundaries for grandparent/grandchild visits, consider sitting down with a family mediator to hear those concerns and develop a plan that addresses them. A neutral third party can often cut through the emotional static and keep the conversation focused on the real, substantive issues. Simply cutting the grandparents out of your child’s life because you don’t know how to negotiate a plan that meets everyone’s needs is unacceptable. In some cases, grandparents who’ve been shut out seek court-ordered visitation. You can avoid that whole drama (and another set of court-mandated must-dos) by being proactive and reasonable.

4. Look to the Future. You may not be able to imagine it now, but the important role that your former in-laws play in your child’s life may blossom into a real, positive relationship with you, as well. What do you want for yourself and your child ten years from now? A family landscape that’s still fractured and tense; or a group of people who’ve overcome great obstacles to develop relationships based on honesty and mutual respect. It is possible, and you’ll never know until you try.

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