When an adult child goes through a messy divorce it can rip families apart, with in-laws who were once close friends suddenly finding themselves on opposite sides of the difficult split.
But according to a new poll carried out by Starts at 60, most over-60s ensure that they remain close to their son or daughter in-law after their child’s marriage ends – no matter how tough the divorce was.
Around 49 per cent revealed they managed to keep a strong relationship with their in-laws afterwards, while 32 per cent said they tried all they could to keep in touch – but sadly it didn’t work out.
“My ex daughter-in-law is still the mother of my grandson, nothing can change that, and therefore deserves to be treated well by us. I always acknowledge birthdays and Christmas,” one reader insisted.
Some readers recalled their own relationships with their mother or father-in-law and said keeping in touch from their perspective was also important.
“My mother-in-law was my best friend,” one reader said.
Meanwhile another agreed and added: “I stayed in touch with my in-laws, I had amazing in-laws and loved them dearly till their deaths, am still in touch with my sister in law and we still call each other family.”
On the flip-side, just 19 per cent admitted they cut their son or daughter-in-law off completely – with many revealing it was down to their in-law’s behaviour throughout the split.
Whether their child’s spouse had an affair, or they simply never liked them throughout the marriage, some said they immediately cut off contact – choosing to remain completely loyal to their child.
“My daughter in law believes I knew everything about him [my son] leaving her before it happened. I didn’t,” one reader explained. “She never confided or took me into her confidence at any time. When they split, it was my problem and because I had to wait for weeks before my son rang me and told me, I am the worst in the world.
“Still gave limited contact with the grandkids, through my son or thru (sic) phone calls, but not the same. Really sad. They live in another state, still.”
Another reader revealed that their in-laws eventually became “outlaws” and one added: “My daughter in law has cut everyone off, demanding any and all contact be through her solicitor. She is a very controlling person, and this is the last little bit of control she is trying to have.”
Divorce expert Rachael Scharrer says an adult child’s divorce can often hit parents the hardest – with many feeling emotionally involved in the split.
She previously told Starts at 60 that the most important hurdle is understanding that the divorce doesn’t directly involve you as a parent.
“You were not one of the two people committing themselves to each other and you certainly weren’t living in their home witnessing words and behaviours ‘behind closed doors’,” she explained. “As such, you may not be privy to all of the details that contributed to the marriage break-down.”
Offering further advice, Scharrer said parents essentially need to play the role of “the sounding-board and source of comfort and understanding”. However, while the main job is to offer support, she also said you may need to play devil’s advocate now and again, should it be needed.
“I am sure you have heard of this saying – there is your version, my version and the truth. Remember that you may only be hearing one side of the story and while it may hurt hearing about your child’s pain and challenges, it is helpful to remain open and encouraging of a functioning, respectful and amicable relationship between your child and their ex-spouse,” she said.
That is especially important when there are grandchildren involved, as encouraging an amicable relationship (where appropriate) may ease issues over custody and visitation from both sides in the future.
Marcia Watts, relationship psychotherapist counsellor for Brisbane-based counselling service Transform2Lead, previously gave her own thoughts on the issue and said it’s important for a parent to draw on past experience of the couple’s relationship to help guide their future actions.
She said that a more harmonious relationship can mean you remain close to your son-in-law or daughter-in-law even after the divorce, but that it’s important to offer your full support to your biological child first, before re-building bridges with their ex-partner.
However, many contentious divorces can follow a previously difficult marriage, and things may be much more hostile. In that case, Watts suggested keeping boundaries firmly in place to ensure you’re there solely for your own child.