Blended families and stepfamilies: changing family relationships
Relationships with grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins often change after separation and divorce.
For example, you might not continue to have contact with the family of your child’s other parent. And if you do have contact, it’s natural for it to gradually reduce over the years.
If you repartner, there’ll be more changes. You might gain some new in-laws, and your child will probably meet your new partner’s parents and family.
Children usually benefit from contact with extended families as long as the relationships are positive. It’s important for them to feel that they belong and there are plenty of people who care about them. And grandparents can support children during their parents’ separation or repartnering.
Maintaining existing extended family relationships
Most families find it easier when each parent keeps in contact with their own extended family. This means that when children stay with each parent, they see that parent’s extended family.
Some families all get together for important occasions like birthdays, graduations and weddings. If both families can cooperate, these occasions usually go well.
Sometimes situations are more challenging. If your child’s other parent has died, doesn’t live nearby, is estranged from family or doesn’t have much contact with your child, contact with your child’s other grandparents and relatives might depend on you.
You might want to think about whether your child’s other grandparents and relatives are important to your child and whether your child wants to see them. If they feel happy after seeing them and if your child’s other parent is OK with you being in contact with them, it’s probably a good thing.
Developing new extended family relationships
If you repartner, your children will probably gain a new extended family. If everyone is open to it, children can develop friendly, supportive and sometimes close relationships with your new partner’s parents and other family members over time.
How close this relationship becomes can depend on:
- how old your child is when they meet your partner’s parents – young children often become close more easily than older children
- how interested your partner’s parents are in building a relationship with your child
- how much time your child spends with new extended family members
- how open you and your child are to getting to know your partner’s parents.
You can support your child in developing relationships with new extended family members by accepting invitations from your partner’s relatives when you can. If you feel comfortable you could think about arranging get-togethers with the new extended family. But try to follow your child’s lead and take things at a pace that suits them.
Your parents: building relationships with new children in your life
Your parents can develop a good relationship with the new children in your life and help them feel comfortable in their new family by:
- being welcoming and showing interest in getting to know them – for example, by making time to talk at family get-togethers
- being available to help out sometimes with the children if they’re asked
- including the children when organising family activities that involve their other grandchildren.
My grandson Milo is 5 years old, but he is new to us because my son has a blended family. He was very shy when we first met. But now we kick the soccer ball and get a hot chocolate or have a walk when the family comes over. We have some really great chats. He asked me the other day if I was around in cave man times … Ha ha!
– Lindsey, 60