For many children having access to extended family improves their long term outcomes. Extended family members usually provide an additional layer of love, fun, protection and knowledge for children, helping them to learn to build relationships with people outside of their immediate family unit.
Being an extended family member or a friend, watching and experiencing a family go through a break up is extremely difficult. As a grandparent, aunt, uncle, sibling, cousin or partner you may find that not only are you grieving the loss of the family how it was but also supporting family members through the break up.
It is best if family members can find a way to be neutral in the break up but you may find yourself witnessing attempts to isolate a family member from the wider family. You might witness the emotional harm to children who are being used as a weapon to hurt an ex. This is a difficult position to be in and it is hard not to intervene. Parent’s who are rejected by their child may become depressed and establish unhealthy coping mechanisms. They may develop trauma and become agitated or angry. Supporting them will be a high priority but it can also be draining. You may also find yourself supporting them financially e.g. to pay for court and solicitors fees.
In the worst cases, where a child rejects their parent they may also reject every family member on that side of the family, causing immense worry and grief to the entire family. When a child rejects one entire side of their family this is a sign of significant pathology in the family.
Other children in the family find it difficult too, not only losing a family member but losing a friend and having to deal with feeling of “is it my fault?”. Adults feel this way too sometimes but children internalise these feelings more and are unable to rationalise that this is not about them but adult issues. They too may need support.
Unlike parents, extended family members, have no rights with regards to the child. There are very few services to support extended family members in their grief. Much like parent’s they may feel like they have no alternative but to apply to the courts to help maintain a relationship with the child. Unfortunately, where a child has experienced an emotional cutoff from their entire family, judges and family court assessors are unlikely to sufficiently understand the dynamic and contact may be limited to writing letters and sending gifts for the children at birthday’s or Christmas. Sometimes not even indirect contact is allowed. Families find themselves in the position of having to learn to live with the loss and do what they can to support the children from afar. This impacts on the community as a whole.