Dear Grandparenting: We could use your help with our new stepgrandchildren. My husband and I are not confident we can pull this off without it getting a little too bumpy.
My daughter has one child (age 10) and remarried a man with two children (age 5 and 8). They barely know us and we hardly know them. We feel awkward trying to make small talk and are terrified of saying the wrong thing and causing problems.
We are afraid to jump into the new relationship with both feet because the step-grandchildren might want some space. But if we act cool, then they might think we don’t like them. I feel like I’m walking the high wire without a safety net. What advice do you have for us? Lynne Stevens, Fayetteville, NC
Dear Lynne: Given America’s runaway divorce rates, it may be a mere matter of time until stepfamilies outnumber biological families.
And it doesn’t get any easier. Divorce rates for second and third marriages are statistically higher when one partner has children from previous marriages, and higher still when both partners do. It’s not unusual for children of multiple marriages to have four sets of grandparents.
So the rules of engagement are tricky for stepgrandparents, who must balance their natural affection for biological grandchildren against the wants and needs of incoming step-grandchildren. Family rituals and traditions can be disrupted or changed to accommodate the newcomers.
Instead of trying to be all things to all people, try being yourself. Encouraging an emotionally distraught child to call you Grandma, Grandpa, etc. might do them a world of good, but don’t force it. Give them time to learn about you while you learn about them. The older a step-grandchild, the longer it typically takes to establish trust. Treat biological and step-grandchildren equally but leave yourself some wiggle room. Fair does not mean equal. Don’t start off by competing with other grandparents from past relationships.
You may not take a quick liking to the new marital partner or your new stepgrandchildren. But by behaving like a marriage will last, step-grandparents actually increase the probability.
GRAND REMARK OF THE WEEK
Annie Miller from Waynesboro, PA “couldn’t help myself” when she overheard the mother of a newborn jabbering about the wonder of it all.
“Congratulations! It gets even better,” interjected Annie. “Wait until you become a grandmother!”
Dee and Tom, married more than 50 years, have eight grandchildren. Together with Key, they welcome questions, suggestions and Grand Remarks of the Week. Send to P.O. Box 27454, Towson, MD, 21285. Call 410-963-4426.