After divorce, here's how to unify your extended families
In this article, you’ll find answers to questions like:
1. How to approach talks?
2. How to set boundaries?
3. How to empower my children?
1. HOW TO APPROACH TALKS?
Although your relationship with your ex-spouse may be tense immediately after a divorce, conversations about how to talk with family members are necessary. You may need support from siblings, parents or others, so talks with extended family should be part of the co-parenting plan, says Kelly Giegerich, clinical supervisor and licensed mental health counselor for Center for Family Services of Palm Beach County.
“Parents should come together on how much to share with other family members and what boundaries to set,” Giegerich says. “Support systems are very important for the parents and the kids, so as much as possible, try to keep that natural system of help in place.”
When talking about your divorce, she suggests using phrases like, “I really need your support right now, but we have decided not to share certain details of our decision/divorce/relationship …”
2. HOW TO SET BOUNDARIES?
It’s common for couples to struggle with these types of boundaries — even if they aren’t divorcing, Giegerich says. To make it easier, establish ground rules for family members on both sides, such as:
• Don’t criticize the other parent
• Don’t discuss the divorce or the relationship around the children
• Remain collaborative or, at the least, neutral when interacting with the other parent
As part of the co-parenting plan, parents should work out how grandparents and other family members will be involved. For example, Florida provides no legal rights for grandparents after divorce, so parents should indicate if and when grandparents are allowed to babysit and outline consistent routines among households.
3. HOW TO EMPOWER MY CHILDREN?
Caregivers should be told that children may feel insulted by negative remarks about a parent.
“The child may feel loyal to one parent or both, so they can feel disloyal to other family members if they hear them talking about their parents,” says Randy Heller, a licensed marriage/family therapist.
She advises parents talk with their kids on how to address that dilemma if they are old enough to articulate their feelings.
“First, let your children know to speak in a respectful tone. Then give them some words to use, such as, ‘Please don’t talk about my father/mother. It makes me uncomfortable,’ ” she says. “It’s very important that children have a voice, but not necessarily a choice. They should not be able to decide whether or not they want to visit or stay with extended family.”
If family members are not optimal support, Giegerich suggests you seek counseling for yourself and your children. The Center for Family Services of Palm Beach County and the Center for Child Counseling offer local counseling programs. If you don’t have insurance, fees are based on a sliding scale.
• Kelly Giegerich, licensed mental health counselor and clinical supervisor, Center for Family Services of Palm Beach County
• Randy Heller, licensed marriage/family therapist; adjunct professor, Nova Southeastern University; board member, Florida Academy of Collaborative Professionals; member, Collaborative Family Law Institute
• Florida Parenting Plan
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Mental Health America of Palm Beach County
Based in West Palm Beach, local information and services related to mental health, including support groups and an online screening test561-832-3755 Website Email
National Alliance on Mental Illness Palm Beach County
Family-to-Family — free 12-session course for caregivers of family members with severe mental illness561-588-3477 Website Email
UF/IFAS Extension Palm Beach County
SMART Couples — free programs to strengthen marriages and relationships, including premarital classes561-233-1742 Website Email