Single-Parenting Challenge: Dealing with Former In-Laws

When you divorced your husband, did you divorce his family, too? If your wife passed away, do you maintain a relationship with her family? Or are you willing to accept their gifts of love, support, and financial help because of their relationship to your kids?

Maintaining contact creates stability

Grandparents and other family members can be intuitive when it comes to realizing that the kids need their emotional support and the sense of belonging that support can bring. However, grandparents and other relatives may not always be on the same page in the case of divorce. For starters, they may not believe in divorce. Secondly, they're your ex's family and their loyalty is probably with him (or her). The best advice is to withhold your judgment and give them time to get used to the idea. Just because they aren't ready to get involved in your kids' lives now, it doesn't mean that they won't come around eventually. Include them in every holiday or significant event in your child's life, including birthdays, award ceremonies, and sporting events. Ask your child to do the inviting by writing a note, placing a phone call, or asking relatives in person. How can they resist?

Many single parents wrap the ex's family into one closefisted wad and drop-kick the whole bundle of them out the door. You're angry with them at the moment, but that's no reason to deprive your children of their love and support. Honestly, you don't have the right to cut them out. After all, this isn't about you — it's about your kids. So take a big breath and bite your tongue — for your kids' sake.

One of the greater things that can happen when these relationships are kept intact after a divorce is that they help your child see that not everything has changed in his life. A divorce is so traumatic for a child that he may think everything in his life is strange and different, which can generate a sense of instability. However, when he still gets to spend a week in the summer at Grandpa's cabin at the lake, or when he's still invited to his cousins' birthday parties, he then knows that many things are the same. These contacts can be great stabilizing factors in his life.

Agreeing to see grandparents

Your kids' grandparents are important people. They can be vital to your children's emotional well-being. The bond between grandparents and their grandkids is special, and your children need the warmth and love their grandparents have to offer. Even if you can't stand to be around your in-laws at the moment, don't cut them out of your kids' lives. Remember that you divorced your ex — you did not divorce her parents!

Of course, that's not to say that all grandparents are caring and supportive. Some grandparents can be dysfunctional, just like anyone else. However, if a grandparent's love is unconditional, it can often be very close to parental love. For example, Grandpa's love doesn't necessarily depend on his grandson's grades or how well he behaves — Grandpa loves him anyway. So do everything you can to encourage and maintain the loving relationships between your kids and their grandparents. Not only do your kids need this unconditional love, but grandparents can also be an awesome source of comfort and stability, especially immediately following a traumatic divorce. Maintaining positive relationships between a child and her grandparents provides one more constant in the midst of all the changes divorce brings.

Grandma and Grandpa can help

Maintaining a relationship with Grandma and Grandpa can be good for your children, especially during difficult times. For example:

  • If you're a single mother, your kids need the positive role modeling of Grandpa in their lives, and if you're a single father, they need the influence of Grandma.
  • If Grandma and Grandpa sincerely love and care about your kids, they want to provide good things in their lives by demonstrating their love and helping the kids as they cope with the divorce.
  • Grandma and Grandpa can provide a little financial help as they take the kids shopping for school clothes, treat them to a movie or a lunch break, or even take the children with them on a little vacation trip.
  • Grandma and Grandpa's home can provide a stable environment where your children can kick back, enjoy Grandma's homemade comfort foods, and get away with some of the stuff on your no-no list at your house! Getting away with stuff may upset you, but you need to relax and realize that the grandparents' influence is only in effect while the kids are at their home. Remember how great it was when you were a kid and your grandparents spoiled you once in a while?
  • Grandma and Grandpa can fill in as counselors and therapists as your kids pour their hearts out and tell them stuff they might never tell you. Their grandparents have lived a long time and survived many crises in their lives, so their advice can be golden. It's like having free psychologists in the family.
  • Grandma and Grandpa can give you a break from time to time as they serve as loving babysitters. They may even have your kids for a weekend so you and a friend can get away for some much-needed rest and relaxation.
  • Many grandparents provide free childcare for their grandchildren, especially those who are preschool age.
  • Depending on your own personal relationship with your mother and father-in-law, they can give you needed emotional support.
  • Here's one of the very best things Grandma and Grandpa can do for your children: If the two of them are still together and happy, they provide encouraging proof that all marriages do not fail and that it's possible for a man and woman to be happily married to each other for many years. When you're going through a divorce, your kids need to see and experience good marriages.

Grandma and Grandpa's legal rights

Most states have passed laws that grant grandparents the right to visit their grandchildren after a divorce? In fact, if any parent — divorced or not — refuses to allow a grandparent time with a grandchild, the grandparent may sue for this right.

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