It’s no secret that divorce, remarriage, and re-coupling; especially when there are children involved, can be hard on the entire family – ex-spouses, children, new spouses and the in-laws and other extended family members. People don’t realize or even consider the feelings of ex-brother and sister-in-laws, ex-mother and father-in-laws, aunts, uncles, cousins…It is difficult, and for some, impossible to let go of bonds that were established during years of matrimony. As a matter of fact, is it fair to ask this of our extended family members?
My ex and I were together for nearly six years and he spent plenty time with my family. He was there for holidays, birthdays, family reunions and so much more. He hung out with my brother, watched sports with my father and was there to emotionally support my family and I when my father was terminally ill. He was more than just a boyfriend and eventually the father of my child. He was truly a member of our family. So, as you can imagine, it was difficult for my family to just break all ties; which is what was initially best.
As I’ve stated in earlier post, it’s so harmful to try and throw everyone together if there are unresolved feelings, emotions and conflicts about your divorced husband or wife. It takes time to get to the point when you all can gather together in the name of family. Certainly, if you want to gouge your ex-wife’s eyes out or secretly pray that your ex-husband is run over by a freight train, it’s probably not a good idea for you to attend extended family gatherings together. And, if this is the case, your extended family should respect your need to heal as well as your current spouse’s need for time to adjust. As such, in-laws, if you must continue a relationship with the ex, do so on your own time. Don’t force everyone to attend gatherings until all involved parties are ready to do so. Remember, your loyalty should lie with your child AND his or her current spouse. Pushing the idea too prematurely often does more harm than good.
Side Note: Often times the adults want to use the children as an excuse for pushing their way in, due to their own hidden agendas. “But little Billy wants me there.” Please be realistic and honest about your own agendas that have nothing to do with the child. You know that little Billy NEVER benefits from having his whole family together, if they are at each other’s throats. Children pick up and are gravely affected by obvious tension.
In my case, it took years before my ex could stop by my mom’s house (that’s where my brother, his wife, my husband and our kids usually gather for Sunday dinner) for a visit. For years, my family asked about him and missed him, but respected my current husband and I enough not to push. This summer, however, my ex stopped by just to drop something off, but decided to sit and chat for a while. Surprisingly, it wasn’t all that awkward. He hugged my mom, talked to my brother, played with the children…After nearly 8 years of working on co-parenting and adjusting to our new lives, we’ve finally buried those hatchets, resolved old feelings and can concentrate on being better parents and even friends. Additionally, my husband and his wife are secure in our respective marriages and are comfortable with our ex-spouses. More importantly, we all share a mutual respect for each other and know the appropriate boundaries that must not be crossed. All of these factors must be present prior to participating in immediate or extended family gatherings.
Children, ex-spouses and in-laws have to lose so much after a divorce; property, money, homes, relationships, etc., but family shouldn’t be one of those things. Although biological ties are the main reason that blended families are thrown together; it shouldn’t be an essential requirement for being a family. I’m fully aware that evolving past any bitterness and hurt and resolving old feelings is crucial prior to challenging the traditional notion of family. But, don’t allow that bitterness and hurt or unrealistic expectations to prevent healthy bonding within the blended family. Allowing this bonding to occur confirms our reality as blended families and that is, that all of the members of the extended blended family are family. We are all there or at least we should be, for the same purpose; to raise healthy, well-adjusted, well-rounded compassionate citizens of this world. At some point, that must take precedence over our past unresolved feelings and hurt. When you embrace this notion, children are no longer held hostage by the pain of having to choose, but instead, they are free to just love. More importantly, they only benefit from the true experience of having several parents to love and be loved by, along with additional family members with whom they can establish everlasting bonds.