Many people underestimate the role and the importance of the extended family members in the stepfamily success. During and following a divorce, many grandparents, aunts, and uncles become more actively involved with the children, to help with childcare and to be of support to the children and their divorcing parents. As the family moves through the phases of divorce, stabilizes, and forms a stepfamily, the extended family members often feel discarded, as their help is no longer needed. The adults forming the stepfamily may not realize how profound a loss at times is the distancing of the involved family members from their children’ lives.
Here are some tips to help the extended family members to deal with their changing roles and for the adults forming the stepfamily in understanding the unifying power that their relatives have in their family:
- If you are a grandparent who used to be, but no longer are, involved in caring for your grandchildren, make it a point to maintain a special relationship with your grandchildren. Get together with them regularly and continue to do things you enjoy together. All of you suffered a loss when the relationship shifted, which triggered a grieving process. Talk to the children about the change and reassure them that your relationship is solid, just different.
- It may take several years before the stepfamily feels like a family. As a family member such as an aunt, an uncle, or a grandparent, you can help the stepfamily by accepting and encouraging equal treatment of the step-siblings. It may be expressed in gift-giving practices, in participating in all birthday parties, and in taking all the children out together regardless of their blood ties to you.
- Parents, please be sensitive to the shift in relationships with your extended family members, especially the ones who actively helped you with your children during your transition into the single-parent family phase. Your children may have spent a lot of time with your parents or your siblings. They probably deepened their relationship together and formed special connections. Make room for that special relationship to continue. It will probably bring much joy to both parties and give a sense of continuous stability to your children, in this new transition into becoming a stepfamily.
- Step-parents, embrace the extended family, whether it’s yours or your spouse’s. In more cases than not, they are a blessing because they provide the children with a safe haven from the daily grind and can help you be accepted as part of the family.
- Boundaries are an important part of any relationship. It is very likely that as you form your stepfamily you will need to draw new boundaries with your extended family as to their involvement with your children. Just do it with sensitivity.