Should You Keep in Touch with Your Ex’s Parents for the Sake of Your Kids?

Posted September 30, 2011 by

Photo of emmie

My friends tell me I have an unusual  relationship was with my former in-laws — my ex-husband’s parents. The way I’ve always looked at it was that these are my children’s grandparents, and I’ve always had a relationship with them was separate from my ex-husband. I never looked at that as unusual, either. My ex- worked nights and I was often at family events without him. Even before we were married, my then-future mother-in-law invited me to lunch or shopping. My own mother suffered from emphysema and COPD so as my children grew and she got sicker,  I looked more and more to my  mother-in-law for support as a new mom.

My children each have their own special relationships with their grandparents. I always invited them to attend school events and field trips. The boys call them with special news, questions about homework, etc. My former-in-laws were also my back-up for childcare when my kids were little. As the boys got older and no longer needed babysitting, they would ask to spend weekends with their grandparents; and my youngest son, now 14, has spent nearly all of his past 3 summers with them.

After my divorce I remained close with my former-in-laws. Not only did they continue to see the children regularly, with or without their dad, but I continued to invite them to birthday parties and school events. The children still asked them to go on field trips as chaperones. They even helped us move since they owned trucks and vans.

As I moved on from being married to being divorced, I met other families going through the same thing and was surprised to see that the relationship I shared with my former in-laws was definitely NOT the norm. It seemed that many grandparents felt they would be taking sides if they kept relationships going with former daughters- and sons-in-law. Most, I found, only saw their grandchildren when they were seeing their own adult child. Many times it was only holidays, like once a year at Christmas. (Wow!)

When I married again, I saw how uninvolved my husband’s parents were in their grandchildren’s lives. Unless the boys were with us on a birthday, his parents did not call the children, did not send a gift — nothing!  Even after my stepson moved in with us and my husband’s dad passed away, his mother made no effort to get to know this little boy. We have even asked her to spend time with him and she claims she would not know what to do with him (she raised two boys!).  It seems to be the same on the other side, with his ex-wife’s parents. Obviously my stepson saw his grandparents if he was visiting at his mom’s and they were there, or at a holiday. Since his visits with his mom are sporadic, we decided to extend the invitation to his grandparents to see him as often as they wanted. They live 10 minutes away, whereas his mom lives 45 minutes away. They took our phone number and even let us know they would call. Guess what? We’ve never heard from them.

I have suggested inviting those grandparents to lunch, but my husband believes they will not come. He believes they feel they will be taking sides if they choose to visit our home. I hear this is common in divorce situations. Maybe I could understand it more if they were closer to their divorce date, but it’s been 11 years. Or maybe even if I had something to do with his divorce, but I met him several years after he was divorced. And it was his ex’s idea for this little guy to live with us to begin with, (although we don’t know what she’s told her parents about the reason he lives here). So maybe all that comes into play with these grandparents.

I feel very strongly that there is a special bond between grandparents and grandchildren, and all I want to do is support that bond. With my stepson, I felt a relationship with grandparents would really boost his self esteem. I guess if the bond is not there to begin with, you cannot force it. I am just baffled at how many children are missing out on this great relationship!

What do you think? Do you keep in touch with your ex’s parents?

About

I am a mom of two boys, ages 16 and 22, both with ADHD, bipolar disorder, anxiety and depression. I have remarried and my husband has 2 boys, ages 13 and 16. The 13 year old lives with us, and has some behavioral problems and attachment issues. There is always something happening at our house!

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  1. Shong Ho Report

    It all sounds like a fairy tale and I can here the birds chirping In the trees. No it is not as clear cut as you make it out to be. Once you are child gets divorced you as a grandparent must support your child and his decisions. To be friends with his ex will cause serious boundary issues and what if he meets somebody new? Welcome To “the Adams family” where we all have a big Family reunion! Unfontunately loyalty does come into play. There is no problem with having contact with the kids but the ex must realize that the life she had before the divorce is no more. She is no longer “the daughter in law” unless she so badly wants to relive her old life…. And have no life of her own

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  2. Lee Report

    I have been divorced from my ex wife for 2 years. I used to have my kids every other weekend and 1 night during the week. I now live abroad, but still have weekly contact via phone and arrange visit for them during holidays. I have just found out in the last few months that my mum arranged a meal out for her partners birthday and invited all the grandkids ( sisters kids ) but also invited my ex wife, and i only found out when one of my kids told me and when i confronted my mum she said she thought she had told me. I have now learned that they all plan to go out for Christmas dinner together. I feel that my mum is disrespecting me and my relationship with my new partner, I understand that they need to keep a contact with their grand kids, but to invite my ex wife is not right. I have had problems with my ex trying to cause trouble with my new life and just dont trust her. I wouldn’t dream of going round to her mum’s with the kids and play ‘ happy families’…. I just dont get it!!!!

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  3. countryvictorian Report

    Emmie,

    What a thoughtfully wise person you are to want to bring in Grandparents into your childrens and step childrens lives. I think because Grandparents (of divorce) are so afraid to do anything to offend their child or take sides,it is important to defuse the situation. I believe it is important to have a “heart to heart” talk with the Grandparents of your step children. This maybe much easier via letter. If you explain your intentions are solely for the children’s sake and that it is not your intention to create division but to help their Grand-children learn to honor their Grandparents, build a healthy relationship with them and create lifelong memories. You can start by first setting up a time schedule which the Grandparents are in agreement with where your step children can visit their Grandparents. Perhaps it may be better at the Grandparents home or choice of location so they feel they are not betraying their daughter. It would be in their territory which can defuse any conflict from a former spouse. This also establishes a zone that the Grandparents can defend since it is within their boundaries. Your step children will have a richer experience as they walk into their Grandparents world so they can pass on family traditions, foods, history and culture with all the feel that comes with their side of the family. You can never create this experience in your home “zone” and only by allowing your step-children time alone under their Grandparents care can this experience be fulfilled. So try allowing all visits to be within the Grandparents “zone” in what they feel comfortable with instead of trying to “get” the grandparents to revolve around your time schedule or your world. Remember, you are the outsider or invader to them (sort of like how Europe viewed the Germans in their territory during WW11) and you need to be patient as you try to build bridges over time with them. So allow your step children to enter into their other families world, under their time schedule and their home advantage. This may solve your dilemma, create peace on all fronts and give your children what they really need, their other family experience in another world. In the long run, this is a much healthier, bridge building answer!

    Sincerely,

    Lisa

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  4. lanib Report

    i’m in Banna’s position: I get along fine with the in-laws, i care for the well-being and happiness of my husband’s daughter and i treat her like my own on the RARE occasions i’m with her (only within my MIL’s house, can’t go into the street or let anyone see, this happens once very two months, she doesn’t even let my husband see his daughter, although accepts his very generous child support payments). It’s the ex that doesn’t want me around and honestly, can’t really accept that there’s a new woman in this family’s life. I understand her pain, but it hurts me when his entire family sees her treating me like this, and treats him like this and feeds into it– my parents have suggested that THEY say something to her, defend us a bit, after all, legally she has no right to do any of this, it makes it seem like his family supports her behavior and has made it impossible for me to get close to them.

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  5. kanderson3278 Report

    Unfortunately when my ex decided he wanted a divorce my in-laws (and the rest of the extended family) decided I never existed even though I thought we were close enough to have a relationship after all was said and done…we have know each other since 1989. What I didn’t know was for years he had been telling them lies and half truths about me so when I tried to talk to them they wouldn’t listen and his mother even told me one time “why would I call you?”. It was truly devastating to have lost my marriage, even though it was abusive and then lost an entire family to go with it. My in-laws and other family members had always been very generous with gifts and cards for all kinds of holidays and I was constantly calling my in-laws with every little thing my son said or did. For them to cut me out of their lives and only rely on their son for the little info he tells them about my son’s daily life is truly a travesty on their part. Our divorce was final in Dec 2010 but I still kept calling with my son to tell them things or wish them a “Happy (fill in the blank) Day” but they won’t take my calls so I stopped trying around the beginning of the year. It fills me with sadness that my 7 yr old son only has contact with them if he’s with his father and typically only on a special occasion.

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  6. Sara Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor Report

    To ‘Banna’: It can be so hard to feel like an outcast, especially in your own family! It sounds like you really want to feel more included and you’re not sure how to cope with how you’re feeling in all of this. It might be helpful to get some support for yourself in your local area and talk to someone who might be able to help you come up with some new ways to communicate with your husband and his family about what is going on and how you are feeling. You can locate supports in your local area by contacting 211, an information and referral service, at 1-800-273-6222 or by visiting them online at http://www.211.org. This sounds really challenging and we wish you luck as you work through this with your family. Take care.

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  7. Banna Report

    I’m okay with my ex -husbands wife having a relationship with his parents for the sake of the children and believe its okay and what is best for the children. However, or situation is very complicated and his ex-wife does not want me around his kids and stil try’s to keep there old routines and “family” culture. Which for me is hard because then when she is around my husbands parents and them all doing something together or at the grandparents house then I’m not allowed to be there and I’m left out of picture because his ex-wife will flip out and my spouse fills that is okay and what is best for the children, so normally I always stay away or am left out of things. Which I didn’t sign up for. How do I deal with it and how do I ever form a bond with his parents when his ex is always in the picture? How do I cope and do what’s best for his children. I have a relationship with my ex-in laws for the sake ofmy daughter but respect the fact that my ex-husband has moved on and don’t want to make things hard on their relationship. Any help is appreciated!

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  8. ambede62 Report

    I can relate to your situation. I Ex’s parent are divorced as well, so there are 2 sets of grandparents. I do talk to my ex-mother in law, but its my ex father in law and his wife that I have kept an active relationship with from the sake of my kids… My situation is very complicated though… and this is what drives my decision to do this… FIrst off, ny ex lives in another state now.. two, my ex no longer talks to his father (for 2 years now) and 3) my ex father in law was very supportive of my decision to divorce and made it comfortable to maintain a relationship with he and his wife…

    I cannot say that this would/will stay the same if he and his son reconcile, but I believe it will. They live in CA, so it is not like we see them very often, but they love the kids and I cannot imagine severing this relationship even though I am in a new one…

    So, KUDOS to you I say!!

    Reply
  9. mikewool Report

    I can totally understand the relationship you have with your ex in-laws. My ex-wife has borderline personality disorder, and has nothing to do with her father. If she does, her mother lashed out at her. (Funny how we figure things like this out AFTER we are married)….

    When we were married, we were not allowed to have a relationship with her father, her mother would freak out if we did. Once we were divorced, I wanted my children to have both sets of grandparents involved in their lives. My parents are older and my father has now passed away.

    My children have two sets of loving grandparents who adored them. The summer after our divorce I even took them back to their grandparent’s farm. They were able to feed the chickens and gather eggs, cut hay, feed their sheep and horse and just enjoy farm life. We rode in the 4th of July parade and had a good old fashioned fun time. It was priceless for my children, who now call them “New Grandpa and New Grandma” They send cards and gifts, and remember the little holidays like valentines and Easter. Kids need grandparents. I also get along with them just fine. Every divorce has three sides, his side, her side and the truth. Kids are the ones who are usually hurt the most from the after effects of divorce. Grandparents have always been designed to be the neutral support for kids. Loving them unconditionally and always being there… don’t worry or explain why you are involved, just cherish the time…….

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  10. Rebecca Wolfenden, Parental Support Advisor Report

    To LM: It can be difficult when you want to establish a relationship with your daughter’s father’s family, and have not received a reply as of this point. In situations like this, it can be helpful to focus on what you can control, namely, yourself and your own actions. You have contacted her dad’s family, and the next steps are up to his family members. You cannot control whether they reply or not. It may also help to talk with your daughter about what she would like to do, if anything. If appropriate, she might contact her dad’s family directly to start to establish those relationships. You can also do some problem solving around coping if they choose not to reply to these messages. Good luck to you and your daughter as you work through this-we know this isn’t easy.

    Reply
  11. LM Report

    I need advice: my daughter is 16; her dad & I never married; we separated when she was 7; his family lives in the East Coast and we live in the West Coast; his parents and grandmother had always sent birthday & holiday cards to my daughter and I had always replied w/a thank you card or Xmas card w/a school picture from my daughter & myself. Now, I want to make sure that my daughter will have a more solified relationship w/his family (aunts/uncles/cousins). I have tried to make contact w/them via emails & befriend his mother on FaceBook (his father & grandma past away in Nov & Dec). I have not had a reply. What should I do? Keep waiting or ask my daughter’s father to make contact for us? (Actually, he has asked us to call his parents many times in the past….. but, we had not made this a priority due to my stressful livelihood as a one-income single parent who had no monetary or physical support from my daughter’s father.) So, please, any advise would be great! Though her father cannot help with this, and for a long time, I had thought that it was his job, I want to help my daughter establish a relationship w/her father’s family.
    Thank you.

    Reply
  12. babicka Report

    I am grandma to three grandchildren, two of the first and one of my son’s second marriage. I am not allowed to send birthday cards or gifts to the home of first wife (ex) where the kids live 9 months a year, weekdays, on weekends they are with my son. I would like to send gifts to both places because the kids (9 and 12) are not allowed to take anything from one house to another. But my new daughter-in-law gets mad.

    Reply
  13. whtzin101 Report

    This interesting article is very well written and shares some valuable information about the importance of grandparents in the lives of the children. I believe that this grandparent/child relationship is very important and even more so in the lives of children whose parents are divorced. I find it unacceptable for grandparents to openly choose not to have any dealings with their grandchildren. There may not be any way to really measure the damagae that is done to a child who grows up without that familial contact, but I firmly believe that the absence of such a relationship is harmful. Even grandparents who live across the country, or across the world can keep in touch with their grandchildren if they want to. Merely a card, a letter,, a call.. would do in lieu of nothing else… and today with electtronic communications for plentiful, there is no excuse. The secret of course, is to be reliable and consistent.. A child cannot have too much love… an attentive grandparent fills a very imporant place in a child’s life and the absence of such is a tragedy, the damagae from which may never be known, but no doubt will exist to some extent at least.

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  14. Lil P Report

    I too mantain a close relationship with my ex’s parents. So much so that I lived with them for a time when we first separated and I am still the In Case of Emergency contact. I have always said it’s about the kids–and that is the focus. They travel with their grandparents over the summer and have lots of great memories.

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  15. Shawna Gauger Report

    Thank you for posting this. It is so refreshing to hear that you maintain a relationship with your children’s grandparents, this does seem to be rare these days. A parent such as yourself is few and far between, putting the kids first, outstanding!

    I recognize that you are remarried and I would still love to get some feedback from you. I am doing a little bit of research, it will take just a moment but would love to get your thoughts. Thanking you in advance for your time! Newly Divorced Parent? Your input is needed here! http://svy.mk/oZoRpc Shawna

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  16. Julie Report

    Like she says herself in the case of her husband’s parents, I think some grandparents just don’t consider that relationship to be one important enough to nurture. I know my own father doesn’t have the emotional capacity to deal with his four grandchildren.
    As for my ex in-laws, I am able to maintain a relationship with my ex mom-in-law, but maybe that’s because she’s my ex’s step mom, and she is not that close with him. She does keep things on a very superficial level. Staying on good terms with the ex father in law has been more difficult.

    Reply

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