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by Michael Heath

It has been said that you can pick your friends, but you can’t pick your relatives. Spouses have families and when couples divorce those relatives may continue to remain in one’s life at different degrees, especially if children are involved. Planning on how to handle circumstances surrounding former in-laws can save both heartache and headache.

Be Careful What Is Said in Front of the Children

Divorce is an emotional process. One may harbor animosity toward former in-laws for any number of reasons. Those feelings may be justified. But criticizing an ex’s family in front of the kids can be just as bad as speaking unfavorably about an ex. Studies show that children do not like it when one parent speaks poorly about the other parent. It causes kids to feel bad and since it does, doing so is just plain selfish. The same goes for speaking ill of former in-laws and other family members. Those people are the children’s own flesh and blood, and they likely love them and need that connection. Despite any enmity held against an ex-spouse and their family it should not be forgotten that the conflict is, and must remain, separate from the children.

 Take the High Road

Even if any of the ex-in-laws are bad actors, that should not be a cue to join the performance. Being respectful expresses a certain level of civility. The old “kill them with kindness” approach has its advantages. Practicing love and kindness turns the emotional temperature down. People will eventually feel uncomfortable if it is only they who behave badly. Most of all, children and others can learn a lesson from someone setting a good example.

 Tight Lips Are Usually Better   

It is understandable if good relations were made with other family members when the marriage was intact. There may even be an inclination to continue those connections in a friendly way. It should be realized that the dynamics have changed. Blood is thicker than water. While some may appear sincere, they could have ulterior motives. Those going through a divorce should be careful about what is discussed. Legal matters must be left to professionals such as attorneys and judges. Divulging private information is discouraged. It is always a good idea to trust one’s instincts. If someone seems to pry too much or becomes insulted by a hesitancy to share sensitive information, that relationship requires a new set of boundaries.

 Be Careful About Building Walls

Ex-in-laws may no longer be part of an extended family, but to a certain extent they could still be a part of one’s life. To our children they are still grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins. Kids will likely want to continue fostering those relationships and may even need some of the support they provide. Misdirected anger could tempt a parent to block these people from their children’s lives. Doing so keeps the kids from knowing who their relatives are while depriving them of enjoying family gatherings.

Naturally, any parent is obligated to protect their children from potential danger, such as people suffering from drug addiction or participants in criminal activity. But if no real threat exists, cooperation is warranted in allowing relationships to continue. Doing so is an expression of love that flies above the heavy weight of family discord.

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