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Maintaining Strong Family Links after Divorce

View profile for Liz Headley
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One of the sad repercussions of family breakdown is the potential dismantling of the extended family. If children predominantly live with one parent it can sometimes be difficult for the non resident parent to find the time and opportunity to make sure a relationship is maintained with his or her extended family. 

In talking with children who attend the groups that I run in primary schools, it becomes more and more obvious that grandparents provide a pivotal role in children’s lives. They can be the providers of stability particularly when children’s lives are in disarray due to their parents’ separation and it feels really important that grandparents are still available for children to see and to talk to.

It can be really difficult for grandparents to remain impartial when their own child is going through a relationship breakdown and yes, of course they will want to offer support and sympathy to their offspring. If however, they can restrain from making any negative comments about their ‘ex in-law’ in front of the children, that will encourage their grandchildren to share their feelings with them. The same goes for aunts, uncles and cousins, anyone in the extended family who might be able to offer a listening ear when a child or young person feels upset, worried or confused about what is going on in their lives. 

Keep these relationships healthy and neutral; children want to be loyal to both parents no matter what has happened to cause them to part, so avoiding any comments about their parents is best. If grandparents and other extended family members disappear out of children’s lives it can only compound the sense of loss they are probably already feeling due to their parents’ break up. When grandparents and other family members remain in contact they can really help children feel safe and secure and offer them consistency in a situation where changes seem to occur on a daily basis. 

Children I have spoken to who aren’t able to see some of their extended family members with whom who they have previously had a good relationship, have told me how much they miss them and it can leave them quite confused as to why they are no longer in their lives. Given this I would recommend that parents do make every effort to maintain strong family links. In some cases parents are able to continue a relationship with their ‘ex in-laws’ and this of course will ease the difficulty of seeing extended family but this isn’t always possible. 

I am a strong believer that the very large majority of parents want what is best for their children and are willing to put their own feelings aside and make every effort to ensure that their children’s lives are disrupted as little as possible. So maybe both halves of a broken relationship should encourage their ex-partner to make sure the children see grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, godparents – anyone who they have had a strong relationship with as this will offer the consistency that children need when going through family breakdown. 

If you would like further advice, please contact me.