When my mom was a kid and her parents divorced, she didn’t see her dad for almost a decade…until she was married and had a child of her own (me) and decided to reach out. My husband’s parents divorced and he never built a relationship with his father, who passed away when Dave was in his 20s. He has remained disconnected from his father’s family even though they live in a neighboring town. My kids’ biological mother has chosen not to have an active role in her children’s lives, even though we’ve given her every opportunity to be involved. It is difficult for me to understand her choice, and I am seeing the effects of it in the way the kids respond to her (or choose not to, in the case of our oldest son). While we cannot force her to be more involved, I do not want our kids to lose contact with the rest of their biological family.
Our children have aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents with whom they have virtually no contact because of their mother’s choice not to be involved in their lives. I know from speaking to their great-grandmother and grandmother that this is extremely painful for them. Our oldest son was ten and the twins were six when my husband divorced their mom, and up to that point, her family had been actively involved in the kids’ lives. When she decided not to have custody or even partake in her visitation rights, it did not just affect the kids; it affected all of the family who had been close to them.
Since my husband was “the enemy” for leaving the marriage, reaching out to the family was difficult for him to do; I tried to help, but as the new wife, I was even less popular. The kids weren’t old enough in the beginning to make the efforts on their own, and now that they are old enough, they don’t know the family well enough to be willing to make the effort. With our oldest son, he flat out refuses to have anything to do with his biological mother.
While I hope that your situation is not as difficult, I know that there are even worse cases of “disconnect” out there. For the sake of the kids, finding ways to keep their relatives in their lives might be as important to you as it was to me. While it wasn’t always successful, we did find small ways to help the kids connect with their mom’s family:
•Use holidays as an excuse to bring family closer. While sharing Christmas dinner together might not be feasible, it does not take much time at all to put together a specific family newsletter that talks about the kids and what they did with their year that doesn’t expound on your honeymoon, new baby, or new house. Include lots of pictures.
•The kids’ birthdays are always a good time to include everyone. Have a birthday party at a place other than your home, like a skating rink or a pizza place. Invite cousins and other family members to attend. Being in neutral territory will make it easier for the family to participate, and the focus will be on the kids, not on the ex-husband and his new wife.
•School functions always make it easy. This is one time where you can have even the youngest school-age child call grandma or auntie and say, “We’re having a school program. Will you come?” Just knowing that the kids still want them involved helps bridge the gap.
Divorce is never easy. When bitter feelings aren’t resolved, the ones who suffer in the long run are the children. It would have been easy for me to not even worry about it, but I couldn’t imagine not being able to see my aunts and uncles or grandparents, no matter what the reason, so I kept trying. I sent pictures to the other grandma every year, and made accommodations wherever possible to allow the relationship to flourish.
Family counselors often encourage adults to act like grown-ups and put their issues aside for the sake of the kids. It’s not always possible if all of the adults aren’t willing to do that, but it is worth trying. Kids who have been through a divorce need all the love and reassurance they can get – from everyone who loves them.