Grandparents and Stepchildren: Getting That “Something Special”
“What children need most are the essentials that grandparents provide in abundance. They give unconditional love, kindness, patience, humor, comfort, and lessons in life. And, most importantly, cookies.” ~Rudolph Giuliani
“The reason grandchildren and grandparents get along so well is that they have a common enemy.” ~Sam Levenson
“Perfect love sometimes does not come until the first grandchild”. ~Welsh Proverb
These quotes are some of the favorites that describe the relationship between grandparents and grandchildren! Reading them sprouts feelings of warmth and coziness. But what about when the children and grandchildren are not related – as is the case of step and blended families? As a step-mom and biological mom, I can say this isn’t always how things really are for us.
I know when I married my husband and his two girls, I had a totally different idea of what my relationship with them would be. But over time, I became a mom to them, and as I really took notice of the subtle differences between the way my family and my husband’s family treated them, I began to feel frustrated and resentful towards my family. Now don’t get me wrong, they were always nice to them. But that “special something” that grandparents and grandchildren share, wasn’t quite the same.
When there were birthdays and holidays, and even babysitting opportunities, my family was never quite like my husband’s family. My mother-in-law was always jumping at the chance to be around the girls and my family had more of the attitude “they already have grandparents”. But for my girls – they just wanted more grandparents!
Here’s the thing – the dynamics of step/blended families are so intricate and complicated, that no one really knows how to deal with all of the challenges – so people get weird! I have seen this happen with both biological family members and non-bio family members. I worked with a couple where the husband’s family never treated the youngest the same because he was a product of his marriage with “the new wife” and they adored the “old wife”!
So what is happening below the surface?
Grandparents are having to adjust to what their own child is going through, which usually has entailed some sort of break-up of their child’s family. They might have been very fond of the first spouse and not so accepting of the new spouse.
Step-grandparents might feel extra protective because often, stepchildren are a source of pain for new stepparents (reasons which we won’t get in to in this article!).
Grandparents might be dealing with negative thoughts about their own parenting if their child couldn’t make a first marriage work. They might be having the thought of “Where did I go wrong?” as a parent to their own child if it is their child who divorced. This might lead to more critical behavior on their part – judging your parenting and/or the behaviors of your children.
The challenge in all of this, is the potential damage it can create in your marriage and family! You may argue with your spouse about the “unbalanced”, critical or seemingly indifferent attitude of grandparents and/or each others siblings (aka aunts and uncles). Your children may act distant or feel judged by your or your spouse’s family, and don’t want to be around them as much. It can also add to any chasm’s that may exist already in your family – either between you and your spouse or stepchild/stepparent or child/stepchild.
So can you make things better? Can you make a family member love your kids/step-kids any more? Of course the answer is “no” – but you do have way more power than you think! These are a few things you can do to nurture the relationship between your children/stepchildren, and any resistant family member:
- Approach them from a place of understanding. Have conversations with them about what they are going through dealing with the choices you’ve made. How has it impacted their life? While it may not have directly happened to them, since they are your support system, it DID happen to them! Whether you are the one who divorced and re-married or became a stepparent, you changed the outcome your parents had intended for you. You will probably enrich your relationship with them when you just talk to them about how they feel.
- Be clear about your expectations and desires around how you want your children (step and bio) to be treated. Be sure to separate feelings from actions. You cannot control their feelings – only they can. You can however, make requests regarding how you wish them to act around your family. Your new family is your number 1 priority. Be sure to set boundaries that protect them and demand respect for them.
- Appeal to their love for you! Remind your parents that you made the choice to be part of a blended family for your happiness! Ask them to “Do it for you.” Let them know the impact their behavior has on your family and let them know that you need their help. After all, you ARE their child, and that is all any parent wants – is for their child to be happy.
- This is the last tip, but maybe the most important – STOP complaining to your parents and family! I know this may seem counter-intuitive, but when you complain and confide in your family when you’re having problems – later, when things work out, they really never forget the “hurt” you experienced, and will feel the need to protect you. If you really need advice, seek the help of a professional – coach, therapist or layperson. Otherwise you are sabotaging yourself and making it harder to have peace under your own roof!
My stepdaughters now have loving and personal relationships with my parents and siblings. I encouraged times for them to be together and “coached” my parents on what my girls would like most from them at birthdays and holidays (usually gifts around time with the grandparents like a “movie night”)
Lisa Perry is the owner of Wellness Life skills coaching and is passionate about – and dedicated to – empowering families and the lives of children. With her experience as a child of divorce and now part of a blended family, she has added her unique perspective to her coaching programs and founded The Well Blended Family.