They say that when you marry your spouse, you marry their whole family. Unfortunately, when you divorce them, you don’t always get to leave their family behind – especially when you have children.
Your kids may have special bonds with their grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. They shouldn’t have to stop seeing them because their parents are divorcing. Likely, extended family on both sides want your kids to remain in their lives.
Unfortunately, just as divorce can bring out the worst in a couple, it can do the same to their families. Your parents and siblings may be relieved to finally be able to you that they never liked your spouse, and you could have done much better.
How family negativity harms kids
Problems arise when grandparents, aunts and uncles say negative things about their in-laws in front of the kids. Your children may need their extended family more than ever as you, as their parents, divorce. They should be able to spend time with them without hearing negative things about either of you.
Divorcing and divorced parents are always cautioned not to fight or disparage one another in front of their children. The same needs to apply to all family members and friends. No child wants to hear someone say unpleasant things about either parent. Many kids see such communication as a reflection of how their mom or dad feels about them. They may feel like they must defend that parent or choose sides.
Possible solutions to the problem
Set an example for your extended family by remaining positive about your spouse when your children are around. If that doesn’t work and you learn that they’re speaking negatively about you (or your co-parent) to or in front of your children, then it’s time to discuss it with them.
You may have to only allow your kids to see your former in-laws in your presence if the badmouthing doesn’t stop. Just remember that you can’t prevent your co-parent from speaking poorly about you unless it endangers your children.
Some parents write nondisparagement clauses into their parenting plans as a way of codifying their expectations. They’re difficult to enforce, though. If you can’t get through to the adults involved, then you may just have to make these teachable moments for your kids to show them how words have the power to hurt people.