Even if you do not regard your child’s relationship with their extended family members as particularly close, it has generally been shown that children benefit from being encouraged to maintain links with their extended family – it is important that these precious and unique links are not permitted to suffer just because the relationship between the child’s parents has broken down.
Undoubtedly you may find it difficult and perhaps uncomfortable, at least in the early days, to spend time with or encourage a relationship with your ex’s wider family, and this is something that you can perhaps address as a topic with your ex who may well feel exactly the same. Addressing how to use extended family as a support network for your child can be overlooked. In addition, expressing to wider family the importance of encouraging positive behaviour towards the other parent when they refer to them or when they are with the children is vital. If you are endeavouring to maintain a positive relationship with your ex, then this should be communicated to your family and friends so that they also endeavour to adopt a similar positive approach – there is nothing to stop both parents from reinforcing with their close family and friends that however well intended it may be, negative talk about their co-parent will not be tolerated, but especially when the children are present or can overhear. Family and friends will hopefully be encouraged by and want to support the positive parenting relationship that you are seeking to adopt.
It could be that maintaining relationships with extended family will require a degree of selflessness on your part, often eating into your ‘time’ with the child/ren. Just remember, the importance of the extended family relationships to your children does not lessen because you have separated. These relationships for your children and the support that extended family provide can be hidden or taken for granted until it is removed and this can have a very negative result for children. Grandparents and other wider family members can play understated roles as confidants and influencers, encouraging children to develop an understanding of respectful relationships. Reducing the time with these family members or even ignoring them altogether because of your own relationship with them, can sadly perpetrate a cycle of negativity which will ultimately be detrimental to everybody and especially a child.