Aunts, Uncles, & Cousins: What happens to them after a divorce?

Keep important relationships with aunts, uncles, and cousins strong.Make sure your child doesn't lose important relationships with their aunts, uncles, and cousins.

It is vital that children are reassured that even after a divorce, their family remains a family. Often when discussing what this will mean for kids, we focus primarily on relationships with parents, siblings, and grandparents. But what happens with other family members whose interactions with your child could be affected by divorce? Aunts, uncles, and cousins, further removed from the center of co-parenting concerns, may be overlooked when families develop plans on how to navigate shared time. As many of us know from our own experiences, however, our relationships with these extended family members can be central to our happiness as children and how we developed as adults.

It can be easy to assume that concerns about extended family members should fall upon whichever parent is the relative. This assumption may be too simplistic, however, and does not account for the complexity that accompanies scheduling visits and prioritizing children's relationships with family. Here are 3 tips to help you and your co-parent work together to ensure your children maintain healthy and loving relationships with their entire family.

Resist the urge to foist responsibility onto your co-parent.

It may seem preferable to let each co-parent take full responsibility for negotiating time with their extended family members. With parenting schedules that split time between co-parents, however, adjusting further to accommodate the busy schedules of extended family members as well can be especially frustrating. Although parents shouldn't feel obligated to remain friends with their former partner's extended family, acknowledging that those aunts, uncles, and cousins are still special to your children can ease the way for maintaining respectful relationships with them. Discuss the importance of those relationships with extended family with your co-parent and decide how you want to plan visits in the future.

Be open-minded and generous with your time and knowledge.

Events for extended family members will not always neatly fall during the corresponding parent's scheduled time. Relinquishing your parenting time for an event that is for your co-parent’s extended family may feel hard to do. It’ll be all too easy to perhaps feel jealous of your time with your children, especially at the beginning of your separation when you are becoming newly acclimated to not seeing your kids on a daily basis. But encouraging healthy relationships between your child and their entire family will be a necessary and helpful demonstration of a generosity of spirit, a lesson that will benefit your child well into adulthood.

Additionally, your own child will most likely have events—athletic tournaments, recitals, science fairs—that should be enjoyed with as many friends and family as want to come. Consider sharing details for events that fall during your parenting time with people on both sides of your child's family. At the very least, encouraging and welcoming your co-parent to extend that invitation to their own family can be a big step in showing your child that your family remains unbroken, even if their parents are no longer together.

Including extended family is a two-way street.

It will be crucial that the inclusion of extended family members is not a one-way street. Co-parents will need to keep the importance of cooperation and their children’s happiness at the center of their thoughts as they work together in this matter. If details are shared grudgingly or inclusion is denied outright, it will be difficult for co-parents to further foster their child’s relationships with family members on both sides. When denied relationships with family members because of a breakdown in co-parenting, it will be the child who suffers the most. Having relationships with family they can rely on, that are not subject to fluctuations in their parents’ ability to work together, will be crucial for kids to feel anchored and confident.

There can be genuine concerns when including extended family members to a greater extent in a child’s life. While you and your co-parent may have a positive co-parenting relationship, if a family member does not adhere to the same principle of positivity about your two-household family, it may be necessary to reassess your child’s exposure to that person. If an aunt, uncle, or other family member speaks negatively about either co-parent or the structure of your family in general, it’ll be important to counteract those messages with your kids. The parent related to the family member in question may also need to address this matter directly, reinforcing with their family that speaking ill of their child’s other parent or the separation will not be tolerated.  

The importance of family does not diminish after a divorce. In many cases, the need for strong family ties, unchanged by a separation, could become even more significant for children. If you and your co-parent are committed to helping your children maintain those ties, cooperation, coupled with perhaps a high degree of selflessness, will be required of you both. Remember that involving extended family needn't be the responsibility of just one parent and that being generous with your time can teach your children a generosity of spirit that will benefit them well into adulthood.