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Did I divorce my ex's family too?

Growing up, I recall spending holidays with family, extended family and friends.  Often the same extended family members (aunts, uncles, cousins, etc.) and the same long-time family friends are invited and spent the holidays with us every year.  What happens to the dynamics of those gatherings, family traditions, and rituals when your parents split up? Many of the holidays we spend with and celebrate with family have religious significance and involve rituals and traditions that are passed down from generation to generation.  As Passover approaches and my family prepares for the gathering for our Seder, I’m recalling, as a child, enjoying massive Passover seders with my family and numerous reappearing guests.  When parents get divorced, one parent may think they are divorcing the entire extended family.  In my own divorce, I was lucky enough to maintain my relationships with my former mother-in-law, father-in-law and sisters-in law.  I’ve also been lucky enough to be invited each year to their annual Christmas and Easter gatherings (my ex-husband was not Jewish) which has also meant I’ve been able to maintain relationships and friendships with my in-laws’ friends with whom I spent many holidays and family events throughout our marriage.  Not all divorces end up this way, however.  I know I was one of the lucky ones.  In-laws have children who spent these same holidays with my children on a regular basis and other random get-togethers and sleepovers throughout each year. Family friends also have children with whom your children have interacted over the years.  Despite the parents' separation or divorce, these children are still our children’s cousins and friends.

The long-term effects on children and families of not being in an intact family structure and not having regular interaction with both parents, grandparents, and extended family members can be significant. Strong family bonds and social connections have been associated with better physical and mental health. Lack of interaction with family members can contribute to increased stress, depression, and anxiety for both children and parents. Maintaining relationships with both sides of the family after divorce helps children feel connected, supported, and loved by all family members. It provides stability, a sense of belonging, and different perspectives (especially in a multi cultural family or a family of mixed religions), contributing to their emotional well-being and overall development.

Overall, the absence of intact family structures and limited interaction with extended family members can have long-term implications for children’s emotional well-being, social development, and overall quality of life. It impacts the importance of maintaining positive family relationships and providing support systems for children to thrive.

If you find yourself going through a divorce or separation, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Encourage Communication: Foster open communication between both sides of the family, ensuring that children feel comfortable and supported when interacting with relatives from either parent’s side.  I frequently check in with my children to make sure they are emailing and texting or otherwise continuing to communicate with their cousins from my ex-husband’s side of the family.  They are close in age and therefore have a lot of common life experiences and issues (i.e. related to school, social lives, the stresses of applying for college, etc.)

  • Plan Regular Visits: If it’s possible, and I know it may not be possible in your own situation, try to schedule regular visits or gatherings with extended family members to maintain connections and strengthen bonds. This could include holidays, birthdays, or other special occasions.

  • Respect Boundaries: Respect each other’s boundaries and preferences when it comes to involving extended family members in the children’s lives. This can help prevent conflicts and ensure a positive experience for everyone involved.  I get it. You may be in a situation where your ex’s family does not want to maintain a relationship with you. Try to respect that and hope that and encourage your ex-spouse to nevertheless continue to involve your children in these family events and help your children maintain their relationships with extended family and friends.

  • Support Independent Relationships: Encourage children to maintain independent relationships with extended family members, allowing them to develop their own connections and bonds outside of parental influence. This can empower children and provide them with additional sources of support and guidance.


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