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The Importance of Extended Families

The word “extend” means to “make larger” and to “ reach out”.

I can’t say enough about family and friend support. When I separated

from my husband a few lifetimes ago, my family and friends came

running to help. I was so lucky. I am not sure what I would have done

without them! Divorce can take a toll on friendships as the old friends

decide who they will still see or which person to support. Usually it can’t

be both. Part of the pain of loss in divorce is the loss of the ex’s family

and some of the friends. You also learn who your true friends are and

where your support lies.

Of course, all families need support at one time or another. We are social

animals and need the interaction with other people who care about us.

Having friends is vital. We can’t just depend on our spouses to be

everything to us. It is common knowledge that our friends can be our

chosen families especially if we are short on relatives.

More than other families, stepfamilies really depend on getting help and

emotional support from extended families and friends. This is because

some of members of the new family may have moved locations, even

cities, lost friends due to the divorce or decided to look for new friends.

Sometimes, I hope not often, some of the relatives disagree with the new

partner and disengaging from them is necessary. Starting again to find

friends can be hard. Stepfamilies deal with so many different ups and

downs. It is important that there are people who care to help with all

the changes that go on over the years. Children need support too and

they can get that from aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents etc. and

close family friends. Besides, studies have shown that when their

parents are coping in the stepfamily, children adjust better.

Sometimes the parents in a stepfamily need to ask their relatives to help

them. Don’t let pride get in the way. Unless you ask for help, relatives

might not know you are struggling. I know that it is hard to put your self

out there but try just the same. It could pay off.

Also, sometimes you will have to find ways to make new friends. In

many cases the people you meet already have their own group of

friends. You might have to be the one to ask about joining a group or a

neighborhood social time before being included. Old friends, you may

not have seen for a while, may be happy to reconnect with you. But you

most likely will be the one to reach out to them. Don’t give up though.

Thank goodness my brother and sister-in- law came over with their

children and liked being around all of us. There would be chaos when all

the children got together but we loved it. A girlfriend invited me over to

make cookies with my stepdaughters and I was so thrilled. It was a

highlight that I will always remember because it was early days and no

on else really wanted our gang to invade their houses. It was rare that,

other than my brother’s family, anyone wanted all seven of us for

dinner. Who could blame them! We just decided to invited friends to our

house instead. Sometimes you just have to find those friends and push a

little. Most likely they will see how fun and interesting all your

stepfamily is and enjoy being with all of you. What do you have to lose?

There are other stepfamilies out there to find also. Look for stepfamily

workshops, lectures and support groups. You will

meet others with similar issues and you just might find you have lots of

things in common with them. Even though all stepfamilies are different,

there is nothing like the understanding of “being there”.

When you read some of the books available for stepfamilies they define

the “extended family” to include the ex and his/her family. I am always

surprised when I read this. I am going to take a deep breath and talk

about this thought. 

It is rare for ex-partners to become friends. Often there is too much hurt

and anger between the ex-partners. However, there are a few situations

where that is possible. Maybe if each of the partners agreed on the

divorce or one of the partners was able to put their feelings totally

aside, it might work. If you are one of those families, that is great. Good

for you and your ex-partner.

Still, I was puzzled and after thinking about this possibility for a while, I

decided that what these authors must mean by including the other

family in your extended family is more about getting along with the ex

for the sake of the children. Also, they may be thinking it would ease the

stress on the parents and help them to get on in their new lives. If so,

that would make sense and I agree.

Your children need you and your ex-partner to be polite, communicate

and at least try to compromise with each other. That is a given. You can

understand that no children like to see their parents fighting. Some

acceptance of the “other” family allows the children to relax and cuts the

anxiety between members of the two families. Children are more willing

to accept being in a stepfamily when both parents are ok with it. You are

very fortunate if you and your ex can work this out because

communication makes co-parenting easier, children are more relaxed

when moving from house to house and children’s loyalty issues are less

extreme as well.

Here is a thought…. it would be nice if you didn’t dread every time you

had to deal with the ex and his/her family. But having an extended

family that includes times with an ex-partner could be emotionally

exhausting for you, and this arrangement might not appeal to your new

partner much. Your new partner’s feelings about the matter should

count heavily on how you go about your relationship with you ex.

My husband has this nice relationship with his children’s mother. He

wouldn’t say they are friends but more that they are friendly. We don’t

see her and her partner socially. They separated when their children

were very small and needed to consider their schedules carefully. Both

of them have always managed to co-operate, consider the children first

and they adjusted plans when needed. There was a time when I wanted

that same type of relationship with my ex, but it was not to be. My ex-in-

laws however would call me once a month and because I loved them

dearly it was wonderful to stay in touch. I reached out to my ex-sister-in

–law years ago. I was her only bridesmaid and we were very close at one

time. I am glad I did try to include her in our lives and we have been

good friends ever since. My sons knew about these friendships and it

was so nice to talk with them about their other grandparents and their

aunt. It is a win win too because my children see their aunt more and

my stepchildren like having another aunt in their lives. So in that way

some of my ex’s family could be considered part of my extended family.

It depends on how you look at it.

I might add that there are definitely good reasons for stepparents to at

least be kind to your ex-partner. Think about the advantages! You can

share information and problem solve together about your stepchildren.

The teenagers won’t be able to manipulate you the same way. The step

kids will see you are trying and they will likely accept you sooner. This

of course only works if the ex-partner is willing to try too. Check it out.

Chances are that it will work both ways.

At the end of the day it is important to reach out for support to your

extended family. Look for those relatives and friends who believe in

your stepfamily and are willing to listen and help when you need it. As

mentioned, circumstances may not be such that an ex-partner will be

that helpful and that is just the way it is. Otherwise, it may well be worth

the effort to reach out to your ex and put aside previous conflicts so you

can have positive communication and good support for your children.

Remember to stay connected to people who are fun too. The very best

medicine for a stepfamily is laughter.



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