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Don’t divorce the grandparents when your marriage breaks down

Sir John Major’s former daughter-in-law, Emma Noble, claims the former prime minister and his wife have little involvement in the life of her autistic son, Harry.

Emma, who is divorced from the Majors’ son, James, says they hardly see their grandson, despite living only a few miles away, and didn’t send a card or present when he turned eight in July.

“I want Harry to respect his grandparents. I don’t want him reading about me saying bad things about them, but there is a distinct lack of support in every respect,” she was quoted as saying in a tabloid interview. “‘I just feel Harry deserves much more involvement. I would like to know that they realise what a wonderful boy he is. I can’t understand how they wouldn’t want to be more involved, can’t imagine them not wanting to be. My hope for the future is that things will change.”

Sir John and his wife, Norma, as well as James, have strongly denied Emma’s claims, but whatever the truth of the matter, it seems there is an amount of friction – or misunderstanding – between the two households.

Divorce can play havoc not only with immediate family relationships, but also with those of the extended family.

Grandparents, aunts, uncles and even friends can find themselves sidelined from the lives of children.

This can happen for a number of reasons: grandparents may take the side of their child against the “ex”, potentially making it difficult for them to see their grandchildren if the “guilty” party in the divorce is the main carer.

Conversely, one spouse might consider the other’s parents to have in some way contributed to the marital breakdown and therefore be reluctant to involve them in their children’s lives.

Divorce might also result in one party moving away; if they take the children with them, then relatives who previously lived nearby will have less opportunity for regular contact.

When a marriage breaks down, it is very important to maintain existing relationships wherever possible; children who are close to their grandparents can be badly affected if they suddenly stop seeing them. And grandparents, already sad because their child’s marriage has foundered, will suffer if they are denied the chance of continued involvement in children’s lives.

Whatever your feelings towards your ex and their family, it is wise to make every effort to keep channels of communication open. Bear in mind that whatever has passed between you and your former partner, their parents and extended families are not usually a part of that.

Single parenting can be difficult, so it makes sense not to alienate grandparents and other relatives, as they can provide a valuable role as babysitters and child minders.

They can also help to maintain a sense of continuity in your children’s lives.

If you have recently gone through a separation or divorce, and have children, make it one of your first tasks to speak to relatives and explain that, no matter how problematic your relations are with the kids’ other parent, you want them to maintain a loving relationship with family members – even if it’s only through telephone calls, letters and cards. This will help prevent misunderstandings and feelings of awkwardness – and hopefully ensure that both children and grandparents continue to gain joy from each other.

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