Written by: Aneesa Sidat

 

It’s been a tough week.

 

Bereavement is difficult, especially when coping with the loss of a family member.  Not only is it a struggle for yourself to come to terms with, but when trying to help young children deal with the loss and accept a death, the personal challenges get tougher.

In my case, it was tougher still as it was my ex-father-in-law who sadly passed away (May Allah grant him a high rank in Jannah) whom I still very much consider family, not only as my children’s’ grandfather but as someone I loved and cared for.

 

The biggest challenge I faced this week was how my involvement would be perceived. My ex was out of the country dealing with the funeral and I was regularly attending his brother’s home here in the UK to pray and pay my respects.  It was natural for me to take my children there to spend time with their family, particularly in the absence of their father who would otherwise have done so. As one would with any other family member, it was also natural for me to support the family during their difficult time.  However, I was always aware of my intentions being misconstrued by distant family and friends. Nevertheless, I ignored those fears and did what I believed to be “the right thing” for Allah’s sake.

 

This may seem unusual to most, however, personally I do not understand why families should be torn apart following a divorce, particularly where children are involved.  In most South Asian families, culturally a divorce means a broken family, quite literally.  In some situations, both parties are closely related yet it is very common for families to suddenly become estranged.  This baffles me.  Have I missed something in the Islamic texts where we should forget a network of friendships, sisterhood and feelings of closeness overnight, because of two people not getting along?

 

Seven years ago when I knew my marriage was over and I decided to get out, the thought of breaking ties with the rest of the family was more difficult to accept than the divorce itself.  It is devastating to contemplate letting go of people you love after spending years building up those relationships.  It was clear in my mind that I could recover from losing my husband– especially since I was initiating the split– but I could not deal with my children suffering further by not being as close to their extended family as they would have if their parents had stayed together.  It seemed unfair for me to impose that upon them, so I tried my very best to keep them close.

 

The key factor here is that I have children.  Maintaining a healthy relationship with their father’s family is beneficial to them. I know that, and so do my former in-laws.  As I have primary custody, they appreciate me taking the children to visit occasionally around their father’s family visits, are free to offer advice in relation to the children’s best interests and know I would do the same.

 

As the divorce was my choice, staying friendly with my ex’s family does not look like I wish to stay close to him, as it would appear if he initiated the split.  I have still built up my own life independently from them and our now-fairly-infrequent contact has benefitted the children immeasurably.

 

 

Of course, there are boundaries and limits, as we see each other much less frequently and I do not get involved in their family events and functions, especially if he is around.  Between us, the children see a lot of his family and I hope they don’t feel they have been disadvantaged in any way because of our divorce.

 

I was invited to another ex-brother-in-law’s daughter’s wedding.  Being asked to attend the wedding last year was without a doubt one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. Of course, I went. Why wouldn’t I?  I keep in contact with my children’s cousins and it would be rude to refuse an invitation! I wasn’t worried about my former in-laws as they still consider me to be part of the family.  I wasn’t concerned about awkwardness with my ex because of segregation at the wedding.

 

I was, however, very apprehensive and anxious about the inevitable rumours which would fly around the community by family friends, distant relatives, and all those guests who weren’t familiar with my setup.  A few of those guests did ask me directly if I had got back together with my ex-husband and I told them I appreciated them asking me so that I could explain why I was there.  They understood that from an Islamic point of view, it was perfectly logical.

 

Regardless of whether our intentions of maintaining ties are solely for making the divorce easier for the children, it doesn’t matter.  We all equally care for them and this means a lot to me and no doubt to their father too.

 

Of course, things may have to change if either of us remarries.  Not only would my ex’s wife or my husband not appreciate and be uncomfortable with this friendship, but visiting the former in-laws would cause a lot of awkwardness!  Again this is not an Islamic necessity.  If the new spouse is mature, understanding, and perhaps has children of their own, keeping friendships is still possible, within strict limits.

 

After 7 years, especially now at the time of his father’s death, my ex-husband fully appreciates that my maintaining a positive relationship with his family has greatly benefited his children as they were able to grieve with their family in his absence.

 

I strongly believe that if you focus on the greater good, go forth without having a bitter, closed heart and have your intentions clear from the outset, a divorce can be less painful, not just for you but also for your children.  May Allah make this a possibility for all and give families the strength to see it through for the childrens’ best interests.  Ameen.

 

 

Aneesa is a busy mum of two from Blackburn, UK. As well as working for SISTERS magazine, she is a keen part-time photographer. Her work can be found on Aneesasidat.com and on Instagram @aneesa.sidat.

 

 

 

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