By The Foundation for Grandparenting
An increasing number of grandparents are becoming step-grandparents. A recent study noted that one third of grandparents interviewed had at least one step-grandchild. Most grandparents “acquire” step-grandchildren when their own children re-marry, or when they themselves re-marry.
The Stepfamily Foundation reports that stepfamilies are growing by approximately 50,000 people a month. Each day 1,300 couples with children under 18 remarry. Seven million children, or one out of six, live in a stepfamily. Remarriage of parent(s) can potentially involve the addition of four step-grandparents for a child.
Wicked stepmother syndrome does not apply
Happily, when we ask children about step-grandparents, the old “wicked stepmother” tag doesn’t seem to apply. Researchers Furstenburg and Spanier asked twenty-five newly remarried subjects how their children and stepchildren got along with their spouse’s parents (step-grandparents). The step-grandchildren’s views were reported to be essentially positive. Three out of ten step-grandchildren saw their step-grandparents at least once weekly.
Tips for step-grandparents
When the time and circumstances are right, most children can accept a step-grandparent. After all, the more people a child has to love, the better. When it works, a wonderful bond is formed for life between child and step-grandparent. But often, it isn’t easy to make it work.
Multiple factors are involved
Factors like the timing (early or late in the life of the family) of the entrance of the step-grandparent; the age of the child (the younger the better); the conditions that create the step-grandparenting scenario (death of a spouse, divorce, prison, etc.) and the relationships of the adults in the family picture, peace and understanding, hate, etc.) affect the acceptance by the child of the step-grandparent.
To be effective, step-grandparents need to be informed of how this process works. Often the step-grand-parent’s idea of how things will be do not match the reality of the situation. New step-grandparents must be sensitive to other people. For example, a new stepmother of a teen-age girl will have a hard time no matter what. Children accord step-grandparents little authority—Step-grandparents of adolescents have a hard time when they have to assume any of the “police” function teenagers need.)
Understanding the dynamics
Step-grandparents can get important clues about how to act from understanding the dynamics of the conditions that made them step-grandparents in the first place.
For example, if the child has no living grandparents, or lacks a grandparent of the same sex of the step-grandparent, the step-grandparent can easily enter the place in the child’s heart as a beloved elder. After all there is no competition. When this works well it also deepens the bond between the biological grandparent married to the step-grandparent because they have the love of the children in common.
It can get complicated
On the other hand, if the child has living grandparents the step-grandparent can be an important and loving friend — a value added to the youngster’s life. But the step-grandparent has to be sensitive, letting the youngster come to the step-grandparent and being aware of existing grandparent-grandchild relationships as well as what is happening in the family. There might be jealousy, envy and more. The effective step-grandparent must be a friend to everyone. No easy task.
The impact of divorce and remarriage
If a divorce and remarriage occurred, the tone of the relationship between the divorced parties impacts greatly on the acceptance of the step-grandparent into the system. For example if the step-grandparent is the “other” person in a divorce, the abandoned spouse will certainly not want to allow this “other” person near his or her grandchildren. Unfortunately, when this happens grandchildren can become pawns in the battle.
The timing and readiness factor
“Timing” and the “readiness” of the child to accept another person is the most important criteria for step-grandparent to assess before they step into the lives of children. For example, if the mother dies, and the father remarries, it may take a long time for the child to accept the stepmother walking in the mother’s shoes.
Therefore it is best if the step-grandparent is an available friend, without any needs of his or her own for emotional attachment to the child.
A childless man or woman, for example, who might want a close relationship quickly and has a personal need for the child to love them, must learn to put themselves in the child’s shoes and not take the child’s actions (like openness and loyalties) or what the chills says, personally. In other words, step-grand-parents should try to be as selfless as possible. Emotional maturity is required.
Take your time
Step-grandparents shouldn’t try to rush things. They are well advised to wait in the family wings before entering a child’s life. Many step-grandchildren have to deal with profound psychological issues such as divided loyalties, trying to comprehend the circumstances leading to the remarriage of the child’s custodial parent, working through the dissolution of the parent’s marriage, and trying to make sense of a new family configuration.
A lot to ask
This is a tall order, and the last thing a child needs is to be expected to have an instant relationship with step-grandparents. In fact, the children may even resent you at first because they see you as a “party-crasher” in their once secure family life.
Consequently, the watchwords for successful step-grandparenting are:
5. being non-competitive.
Eventually, if you have step-grandchildren, you can be a new friend and a new person for them to love.
Just be careful to let your new wards come to you. Be there for them when they are ready. Be consistent and reliable. Remember, don’t try to win them over, and certainly don’t try to buy their love with gifts.
They need the essence of you, and in time you will become an important person in their lives. Children have no built-in limit to the amount of people they can love. As a step-grandparent, you extend the child’s intergenerational support system, and everyone benefits as a result.
Well worth doing
Effective step-grandparenting is an art, and can be a source of revelation, great joy and wonder for those who undertake this role with sensitivity, tenderness and compassion. <<
This article was made available by “The Foundation for Grandparenting,” a not-for-profit charitable organization. www.grandparenting.org