For some families, becoming a step-grandparent is a simple process. There are, however, many variables to consider before forging a bond with your new stepgrandchild. Keep in mind that younger children typically have less difficulty accepting new grandparents. Older kids, especially teens, may still be reeling from the trauma of divorce.
Easy Does It
All of the issues surrounding divorce and remarriage often result in more pressure for children and their new grandparents, as each is expected to embrace new family members. In addition, children may be hesitant and afraid to open up. Some feel they may hurt their biological grandparents if they cultivate a relationship with a step-grandparent.
Knowing these factors can help you make adjustments according to each grandchild. “The best approach is to go slowly,” says Lillian Carson, Ph.D., author of The Essential Grandparent’s Guide to Divorce: Making a Difference in the Family (Health Communications, 1999). “Don’t jump right in, but work at developing a relationship with your new stepgrandchild and her mother or father. It is important to do your best to develop a comfort level with new family members as you and they attempt to blend your families. If this is done with honesty, the relationship can be very meaningful to the children.”
Your New Role
Should you give birthday gifts? Attend sporting events? What will your new role encompass?
According Katrina Hayday Wester, founder of Grandparents Magazine, your role depends upon the child’s parents. “Stepgrandparents may have their own grandchildren and feel torn between treating stepgrandchildren the same as their own,” says Wester. “Will they be expected to baby-sit, give the same types of gifts, change family routines, etc.? Discussing expectations in advance will help new step-grandparents ease into this new role more comfortably. The best way to be accepted is to spend time and communicate with the new grandchild. Spending one-on-one time will help develop the relationship.”
Determine your new grandchild’s particular interests. What is her favorite meal? Does he enjoy playing video games or is he more inclined to enjoy a walk with you? What is her favorite author or television show? Use this information when buying birthday gifts or planning activities with your grandchild.
The role of step-grandparent came easily for Linda Mayer of Deer Park, Texas. Mayer first met her stepgranddaughter at her son’s wedding. The girl was only 5, but very open to Mayer. “She knows that I am not her biological grandmother, but to both of us a blood relationship is not what makes a loving relationship,” says Mayer. Mayer treats her stepgranddaughter the same as her biological grandchildren. “She spends the night, attends holiday celebrations and other special occasions with us and calls me Nana, just like all my other grandchildren do,” says Mayer.
Sharon Conklin, stepgrandmother to seven, from St. Johns, Mich., believes love is the most important factor. “A child can feel love and know if it is genuine,” says Conklin. “I cannot stress enough how important it is to give these God-given gifts loads of hugs and love. I enjoy playing card games, taking walks, sharing good times and just listening to my grandchildren. I guess I love kids so much I can get down to their level. The kids can feel that.”
A New Name
What should your stepgrandchildren call you? Should you call them your stepgrandchildren when introducing them to friends?
Wester says an open discussion with parents and children can bypass an otherwise awkward situation. Her children have step-grandparents, and their initial concern was what to call each grandparent. “We didn’t want there to be any jealousy between grandparents,” says Wester. “We decided the easiest way was to discuss it. From the start, we called each of the grandparents by the names they preferred.”
Still, consider the circumstances the child is coming from. For instance, if the child is having a difficult time accepting new relationships, leave the name preference to the child’s discretion.
Conklin encouraged her stepgrandchildren to call her whatever made them feel comfortable. And how does she introduce her stepgrandchildren? “I introduce all my grandchildren as my own, because in my heart, they are my own,” says Conklin.
When Conflicts Arise
Sadly, not all unions will lead to warm and loving relationships. Sometimes a child’s parent will not feel comfortable allowing a relationship with a new step-grandparent to grow. In the best interest of the child, loving the child from a distance is best. Send cards and gifts and telephone the child if the parent permits.
Stepgrandparent Linda Mayer encountered this problem with her own stepgranddaughter. Her stepgranddaughter was just 5 years old when the girl moved out of state. “We sent gifts but never saw her,” Mayer says. Though Mayer’s stepgrandchild lived far away and probably heard negative comments about Mayer, she is close to Mayer today.
“She is now 20 years old and close to all of us through her own choice,” says Mayer. “I think that being respectful of the touchy situation we had when she was a child, but still offering love and support, brought her to feel that I am her grandmother, too.”
Mayer hopes her story can give grandparents hope that in the end, if they have tried to maintain a loving and caring relationship with stepgrandchildren, they will one day form their own opinions and embrace the relationship.