February 2006 - An
Extra Step: Step-Grandparents
When you remarry, your child not only has a stepparent and
possibly stepsiblings, but he or she suddenly has step-grandparents as well.
The impact of the step-grandparent varies, depending on your family situation.
But no matter how you slice it, step-grandparents add yet another layer to an
already complicated family.
Step-grandparents and Stepsiblings
If your new spouse has children, the situation between your child and the step-grandparent
is likely to be a bit confusing. The stepsiblings in your home already have
a strong bond with the step-grandparents, as well as established rituals involving
birthdays and holidays. Yet your child is a virtual stranger to this person
and the dichotomy is certain to be apparent.
It can be difficult for one child in the home to watch other
children in the home open gifts from a grandparent-type person and not get any
himself. It can also be hard to watch stepsiblings head off on outings and be
left behind. This is exacerbated if your child doesnít spend as much time with
his or her grandparents or doesnít have a relationship that is as involved.
The first thing you must do is be very clear with your child
about the roles of the different adults. Your child probably already has grandparents
of her own, so make sure she is clear on this. Help her to understand that the
step-grandparents are people who may become special in her life, but are not
as directly tied to her.
Suggest to all the grandparents involved that they reach
out to the grandchildren they are not related to. This does not mean that they
treat all children equally, but it should mean they eventually develop some
kind of caring relationship with all of them. Do not pressure grandparents to
take all of the children at once or suddenly treat them all equally. If they
are to have a relationship with the step-grandchildren, it must develop gradually.
Step-grandparents without Stepsiblings
If you remarry and your spouse has no children, the relationship with the step-grandparents
may not be so glaringly difficult for your child, but it is bound to be confusing.
Let adults and children get to know each other gradually.
If the step-grandparents have no other grandchildren, this
could be a difficult thing for them to get used to as well. Talk a bit with
them about how they feel about the situation and what their expectations are.
It will be up to you, the parent, to help them understand the childís developmental
stage and reactions.
It is important that all grandparents have different names and that a child
is not asked or required to call a step-grandparent by the same name as a true
grandparent. Some people are comfortable with the use of first names for step-grandparents.
For those who are not, come up with different honorary names (such as Nana,
Papa, Bubbe and so on) or attach a title to a first name, such as Grandma Jo.
Reassure the existing grandparents that their role is not being usurped and
they will continue to have front row seats to watch their grandchild grow. If
you are the type of family that has large all-inclusive gatherings, encourage
your parents and your spouseís parents to get to know each other and develop
a friendship. This is not a grandparenting competition, and is instead one big
family that has room for everyone.
The key to making any step situation work is patience. It takes a long time
for people to get to know each other, form bonds, and become comfortable. You
canít rush it or force it, but you can be understanding as everyone gets used
to the new situation.