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Okay, so technically you're no longer related to them. And maybe the last thing you want to do after your divorce is deal with your former in-laws. You think, perhaps, they blame you for the break up. Maybe they'll pester you like a couple of whiny children to get back together.

Still one thing is certain: If you have kids, they need their grandparents now more than ever.

Research has shown that the bond of extended family becomes critical when the nuclear unit breaks down. Grandparents can act as much-needed bridges between divorced parents. They can provide security, comfort and stability in the early stages of your breakup and years beyond. So don't let this precious resource go to waste!

Here's how to connect with your ex-laws so they can help your child heal:

Break the ice. If you haven't spoken to your ex-in-laws, call or send an email. Unsure of where they stand in your mind, chances are they're waiting to hear from you.

Acknowledge the pain. Divorce hurts the entire family. So express empathy by saying something like, "I know this has been tough on you too," or "We're all hurting..."

Make it about the kids. Don't get into talk of the divorce at all. State plainly and clearly upfront, "My main concern now is continuity for the kids. They're your grandkids and they love you..."

Establish boundaries. Discuss your expectations. Be specific about how much advance notice you will need if there is a special family occasion (such as weddings, birthday parties, etc.) to which grandchildren are invited so you can plan. If a visitation schedule works best for you, establish one early.

Try to be firm, but not rigid. It's a good idea to have ground rules. Discuss the movies, toys, clothes and gifts you approve of if you think your standards differ from theirs. At the same time, expect some over-indulgence. Even after a divorce, grandparents still live to spoil their grandchildren.

Avoid spy kid games. Don't use the kids as undercover agents. It may be tempting to ask about your ex. But your children need to enjoy a guilt-free visit. They shouldn't be made to feel that they are "going to the other side." And by the same token, if you sense that the grandparents have been plying them with questions about you, make it clear that seeing grandchildren is not a given... it's a gift. They must be respectful.

Be cordial and considerate. Don't use them as babysitters unnecessarily or at the drop of a hat. If you're feeling especially down, avoid them if you can. If you are short-tempered with them, trust that they will take it personally. Simply say, "I'm having a bad day; it's not you...the kids will be ready in a minute." Remember to smile and thank your former in-laws for going out of their way to give your children a good time.

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