Extra Step: Stepgrandparents
By Brette Sember
you remarry, your child not only has a stepparent and possibly stepsiblings,
but he or she suddenly has stepgrandparents as well. The impact
of the stepgrandparent varies, depending on your family situation.
But no matter how you slice it, stepgrandparents add yet another
layer to an already complicated family.
If your new spouse has children, the situation between your child
and the stepgrandparent is likely to be a bit confusing. The stepsiblings
in your home already have a strong bond with the stepgrandparents,
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.
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
doesn't spend as much time with his or her grandparents or doesn't
have a relationship that is as involved.
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 stepgrandparents are people who may become special in her
life, but are not as directly tied to her.
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 stepgrandchildren, it
must develop gradually.
If you remarry and your spouse has no children, the relationship
with the stepgrandparents 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.
the stepgrandparents 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
child's 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 stepgrandparent by the
same name as a true grandparent. Some people are comfortable with
the use of first names for stepgrandparents. 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 spouse's
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 can't rush it or force it, but you can be
understanding as everyone gets used to the new situation.
McWhorter Sember is a retired family attorney and mediator and nationally
known expert about divorce and parenting after divorce. She is the
author of The Divorce Organizer & Planner (McGraw-Hill), How
to Parent With Your Ex: Working Together for Your Child's Best Interest
(Sourcebooks) and No-Fight Divorce: Spend Less Money, Save Time,
and Avoid Conflict Using Mediation (McGraw-Hill). Her web site is