Notes From a Single Mom: Loose Ties—What Should I Do With the Ex-in-Laws?

Lynn Armitage

The graduation announcement sat on my kitchen counter for a month, staring me down. What to do, what to do? My ex-husband’s niece in New Mexico was all grown up and ready to take on the world. My dilemma was: Should I care? Last I saw her, Haley was 10, maybe 12. We saw her so infrequently—a baptism here, a Christmas there. We were familiar strangers through the years. Now we’re not even related anymore.

So what’s an ex-aunt-in-law to do? Am I obligated to maintain relations with my ex’s family now that I’m divorced? Or are they one of the assets lost in the property split?

When I was married, I was the perfect daughter-in-law and a very thoughtful sister-in-law. In retrospect, a circus seal. I sent birthday cards, shipped Christmas presents and ordered duplicate photos every time I processed a roll of film. (That was before the digital-camera revolution!) When the in-laws were in town, I spun myself into butter impersonating Martha Stewart. I fell just short of placing chocolate on their fluffy down pillows every night.

I worked really hard for them to like me. And even though I did all the work maintaining family relations during my marriage, in the end, it didn’t matter. Blood is thicker than water. Even thicker than the savory gravy I poured over perfect pot roasts cooked for visiting in-laws.

After a nasty divorce, sides were chosen, loyalties declared. Phone calls from the in-laws stopped. Christmas and birthday presents for the grandchildren are now shipped to the ex’s house. There has been no consorting with me, the enemy, whatsoever.

Maybe my pot roast was too tough after all.

So what’s the protocol for ex-relatives non grata? Although Hallmark hasn’t acknowledged us yet, we’re out there, in growing numbers.

Corinne Gregory, a manners expert and founder of The PoliteChild, says I am bound by my duty as a mother to do the right thing. “They may be your ex-in-laws, but they are your children’s relatives. The blood tie doesn’t simply go away because you and your spouse are no longer married.”

I didn’t need a manners expert to tell me that. Somewhere in the recesses of my self-pity, I already knew that my daughters are the most important element in this equation. Yes, I’m hurt and feel spurned by the ex-in-laws. But in the end, it’s not about me. It’s about what’s best for my children. I may be divorced, but through them, I will always be connected to my ex-husband’s family, like it or not. And so must they.

In my new, self-appointed position as curator of my daughters’ bloodline, I sent Haley a congratulations card . . .  signed lovingly by her two cousins.

Lynn Armitage is an enrolled member of the Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin. She still cooks a pretty mean pot roast, too.

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oneidaeast54's picture
Submitted by oneidaeast54 on
You tackled a tough question cuz, great job!

hjwjc's picture
Submitted by hjwjc on
I really enjoy reading your column. Your writings hold my interest and they are real. I have been a single working mother/parent all of my life and alot of what you say I can relate too. Keep up the good ... no scratch that, keep up the EXCELLENT work!

corinnegregory's picture
Submitted by corinnegregory on
Lynn, thanks for including my comments in your article. This is one of those really tough areas where keeping those connections alive continues to scratch open old wounds. In my case, my "out-laws" (my term for my ex in-laws) decided to drop all contact with us after my divorce from their dad (who had some seriously mental health issues). It's unfortunate that they decided to drop contact with their flesh-and-blood relatives, but I can only control my actions, not those of others. I'm glad you dropped that card in the's never "wrong" to be kind and considerate even if others don't return the courtesy! - Corinne Gregory Author, "It's Not Who You Know, It's How You Treat Them."