One of the challenges for children of parents who do not live together is developing and maintaining ties with extended family members… aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins and close family friends. When your child has had their family structure change significantly, it is important now more than ever that they have strong ties with extended family to provide them with a sense of “normalcy” and family connections. It can be difficult to find the time to get them together with everyone who is part of your circle when you only see your children half or less the time than you used to. If you ever lived with your child’s other parent, you know that even then there were challenges connecting with everyone on a regular basis. Between your own commitments (especially if you are employed) and activities such as football practice, play rehearsals, homework and early bedtimes to start all over again the next day, there was probably minimal time available to see everyone. Now with less time, it makes it even more challenging, and although people not in the same situation as you and your children may not understand, you cannot always easily change the Parenting Time schedule to have them attend every family event. Post-separation it is even more important to make sure your children are involved with your extended family and friend circle because missing those important opportunities to deepen these relationships can create a tremendous feeling of loss and a lack of “belonging,” adding salt to the wound of what they are already experiencing.
Growing up as a child of divorce, I know first-hand how hard it is for children to feel a lack of full connection. Living primarily with one side of the family and being far geographically from the other side meant that there were close relatives including Aunts, Uncles, grandparents, and cousins that I never met or peripherally knew. As a stark contrast, my grandparents on my maternal side were primary caregivers and my world was intertwined with theirs, a reality that I will always be incredibly grateful to have experienced. I always regretted not knowing a significant part of my family, and sometimes felt a part of me was missing. Placing a priority on connecting children of divorce with their extended family comes from a very personal place. On the one hand, I felt a deep loss of connection on one side of the family, while on the other side I felt consistent love and connection that was of primary importance to my emotional development. Children of divorce and separation are particularly vulnerable to feeling a sense of loss of family structure, making it even more important to provide them with as many people around them on a regular basis who love them unconditionally. The world is a mirror for children — they are still developing and looking to others to see that they are worth loving. The more people you can surround them with who send them positive messages and support who have a true connection to their personal family history, the more you will positively impact their emotional development and decrease their feelings of loss.
So what is one to do when time is limited and scheduling feels impossible? Maximize the holidays and school breaks you are with your children. If they are not going to be able to attend family events during the holidays, create an event on a non-holiday to gather family. Take road trips or if you have the means, fly to visit family members for the sole purpose of giving your child exposure to the important people in your life. This is where they will learn the funny stories of your childhood, observe other relatives and the traits they may share with them and get to know the people that will be forever a part of them. Do not allow the fact that you are not with your children full-time become an excuse for them not knowing your family. It is your responsibility to make this happen, even if it means making sacrifices because your favorite aunt lives in freezing Canada and the only time you can take your child is winter vacation! Trust me, the love your child will feel enveloped in and the sense of belonging they will develop is more important than anything else you can provide them.