A Gaggle of Grandparents.
I was lucky enough to grow up surrounded by grandparents – 6 in fact. A situation brought about because each of my parents grew up as only children and, as children, they each experienced the pain of divorce and the adjustment that comes along when parents re-partner.
By the time my parents met, married and had me and my sister, their parents were firmly ensconced in new marriages. This meant that for the first 3 ½ years of my life I was the only grandchild to 6 grandparents. Then for another 20 odd years, I was one of only two grandkids to the same group of 6 – subsequent to which we then had to share two of those grandparents with two cousins came along to spoil the party.
As a child I assumed all children were lucky enough to experience the adoration of a gaggle of grandparents. I do not recall when the label step-parent or step-grandparent was introduced into my world. I am not sure that it ever was. Of course as I got old enough to understand relationship ties and bloodlines I knew who was biologically related to whom and how. Yet the biologically related grandparents (at least for me and my sister) were never higher on the family hierarchy.
From my experience, all 6 grandparents had always there. I got to know, love and be spoilt by each of them simultaneously. They each also, at various points in my life, pissed me off, frustrated and embarrassed me as a result of ‘normal’ grandparent type behaviour.
Now don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t one big happy family. Nor were the adult relationships between the three sets of grandparents or between my grandparents and my parents without drama or conflict. There was plenty of angst and hurt, unresolved issues and painful histories. My own mother never had the experience of her mother and her father ever being in the same room or even talking to one another following their divorce when she was at primary school. I never experienced my maternal grandmother and my maternal grandfather attending, at the same time, my various milestones such as my 21st birthday party or my graduation. They tended to take turns as to who would get to attend (despite both of them and their partners always being invited).
As we grew older, my sister and myself weren’t oblivious to the relationship difficulties within our family. Even blind man Freddy could see that my maternal grandfather thought poorly of my maternal step-grandfather, ‘Poppa,’ and that my paternal nana was often jealous of my maternal grandfather and maternal step-grandmother (whom we called ‘June’). But despite the adults’ conflicts and their issues, to their credit they generally managed to keep the adult issues away from me and my sister – even when we became adults.
They very rarely spoke badly to us or in our presence about the others. They all seemed to accept that we loved each of them without prejudice and had enough love in our hearts to do so. When I spoke of my grandfather to my Poppa (or vice versa) the men managed the situation with dignity and civility. They would smile and listen. Whilst they might not have added to the conversation, they never put me in a position where I had to choose or censor our conversation for fear of hurting their feelings.
When children get to know a step-grandparent from infancy, it is usually easier to foster a relationship.
Now my gaggle of grandparents had all been around me and my sister since our births. They knew what we liked to eat and what we liked to do. Without a doubt it is usually easier to foster a relationship when children get to know a step-grandparent from infancy. It can be a different story for those grandparents entering into children’s lives when children are older and at a different stage of development. This is normally a more stressful situation, due in part to the grandparent not having an existing, lifelong connection to either of the child’s parents.
As it is between stepparents and stepkids, there is no bloodline to tie, and no instant bolt of love to bond children to their stepgrandparents. These step-grandparents have to get to know their step-grandchildren at the same time they are having to work to find their place in their own son or daughter’s newly blended family. This can be an awkward time. Especially if there are other active grandparents in the picture, hostile Ex-partners and even other biological grandchildren.
Now every situation and family is unique. There are people that for any number of reasons, when faced with their adult child’s decision to form a relationship with someone who already have children, choose not to be a grandparent type person to these children. There is no wrong or right. As we have said in previous posts, different strokes work for different folks.
However, for those that want to play a role in these children’s lives, experts would seem to agree that the best way to cultivate strong healthy relationships with step grandchildren is by spending time with the children and focusing on their areas of interests. Step-grandparents who are sensitive to the complexities of the situation and respect both the parents and the grandchildren’s needs and wishes about this relationship stand a good chance of developing a lifelong bond with their step-grandchild.
How to encourage a Positive Relationships.
To help encourage a positive relationship between step-grandparents and your stepchildren we suggest the following tips:
- Let the children know if you are genuinely interested in a relationship with them.
- Be patient and don’t not push the children to welcome (or accept) you.
- Find out about their areas of interests. Be as supportive as you can of their interests. If possible do things with them, attend their sporting events etc.
- Focus on the needs of the children, not your wishes for the relationship.
- Respect the children’s their stages of development. A teenager is something very different from a 3-year-old.
- Recognise that as awkward as you may be finding the situation, the children are also trying to find their way and juggle a number of complicated relationships.
- Accept your role for what it is and that you may be the backing singer and not the star of the show.
- Respect the other active grandparents. Don’t make it a competition.
- Don’t pry into the past.
- Remember special events and seek to include them in your family events as you do other children in your family. Additionally don’t be offended if they decline or don’t act grateful.
- Be supportive of the stepfamily and the new step-relations. Support the parents and the stepparents in their rules, and expectations (even if you don’t agree with them or did things differently).
- Recognize that there is usually lots of stress involved in bringing two families together. Do what you can to help minimize the stress versus creating more.
- Find ways to praise the children and be slow to criticize them, their parents, their family of origin or the blended family. Don’t make too many demands or be judgemental.
Now, in my forties, I am down to one surviving grandparent – my maternal stepgrandfather, who to me is simply Poppa. He is elderly and he is unwell. When the time comes and he kicks the bucket, I will feel very sad, I will experience significant loss and I will grieve, with the same intensity that I have grieved each of my grandparents. Why? Because I loved them all.