When you divorce your wife, you also divorce her family. That moment is a huge reset button for relationships. Any veneer of cordiality is ripped away. Any pretense to continue tolerating one another is sundered. After the divorce’s legal clauses come out, the claws come out. What if your ex-wife’s parents or siblings are deliberately trying to drive a wedge between you and your children?
Lower Your Standards
First, expect nothing from your ex-in-laws. That neutrality, that distance, can be to your advantage. If you start from the premise that they will have nothing to do with you, any contact they make will seem to be an improvement.
This applies to your kids, too. Though unlikely that the in-laws will cut their own grandchildren, nieces and nephews out of their lives, they could be under the false assumption that such a response is expected by their daughter or sister (your ex-wife).
Many divorced dads do not recognize that blessed absence. Only when things turn genuinely nasty, when the ex’s in-laws seek to poison your own children against you, will you be grateful for what had been total silence.
Turn the Cheek
The first, best strategy to softening the in-laws, is to shield the ex-wife’s parents from the anger you feel toward your ex-wife. For many reasons, keeping your kids’ grandparents in their lives is important.
No matter what your ex-wife says (or even her parents say) to you that seems mean, spiteful, vindictive, untrue or wrong, do not respond in kind. Respond, but not with the same venom they directed at you.
Do not ask your ex-wife’s parents and siblings to choose sides. You know that is a doomed quest from the start — she is their blood, after all, and they will choose her. Instead, highlight to your children’s aunts, uncles, and grandparents that the kids still need them in their lives.
The risk to the ex-in-laws is that you can minimize their ability to be with your kids, cutting them off from their nieces, nephews and grandkids. That is not a threat you need to make; it is a reality they should already know.
Set Proper Expectations
If you suspect the ex-in-laws are hoping to distance your own children from you, you can turn things around by asking them what they hope to accomplish in the ongoing relationships. Just as your ex-wife may have raw feelings after the divorce, so too will her family. They may be lashing out with no end game in mind. They may think that indirect anger through your own children is somehow a good idea, since it allows them to vent their spleen without confronting you.
In the face of you diplomatically asking them what they hope to see in the relationship with you and your children, they may wilt. They may need to have boundaries spelled out.
Sometimes the ex-in-laws are unaware of their own behavior. They adopt the same mannerisms and wording as their daughter, and before they realize it, they are unintentionally hurting your children and you. Call them on it, politely but firmly, every time it happens.
Time Does Not Heal
For the Dad who does not respond when ex in-laws attack, when his own children mimic the words and actions their grandparents use, time does not heal that wound. Dr. Richard Warshak says that such behavior needs to be called out, since the child is hearing only one side of a complex story.
Silence and acquiescence, in the hope that the in-laws and your own children will eventually see the error of their ways, is not an effective defense. Depending on the age of your children, says Dr. Warshak, use the right words to convey to them, “I am your father, and I will not be marginalized. I love you too much to be pushed aside.”
That puts them on notice that you are aware of what the “other side” is doing, and you are prepared to love them no matter what.
Deciding on Mediation
If the situation has deteriorated to a point where your own children will not communicate with you because of the ex in-laws, you may find success at mediation. A family law attorney, therapist, or other professional can arrange for everyone to gather and find a path forward:
- Your ex-wife
- Her family
- Your children
The goal is to identify the problem, find a respectful solution, and move on. You need not relive every insult or action, but if you encounter resistance, let a professional handle it. You are likely to react emotionally, which is not helpful to a resolution.
No matter what else you do to handle your family matters, please call The Firm For Men at 757-383-9184, or contact our office online. We handle all aspects of Virginia family law for men. We will work with you in dealing with an ex-wife or her parents and siblings. You deserve to be happy. We can help.