How to Be a Happier Stepgrandmother

An expert shares five tips for helping families come together.

By Rachelle Katz

Being a grandparent, for most people, is pure joy—any time spent with beloved grandchildren is truly a positive experience. But this isn’t always the case when one is a step-grandparent to either a child's stepchildren or a new spouse’s grandchildren.

The lingering trauma of your child’s divorce can dull your enthusiasm for developing close, warm relationships with your new son- or daughter-in-law and his or her children, or you may be indifferent to your new spouse’s grandchildren. Your step-grandchildren may also be at an age at which they are more interested in spending time with friends than getting to know you. These and other factors can get in the way of creating a happy, new stepfamily.

Chances are good that most grandparents will also become step-grandparents, whether they're up for the challenge or not, given the reality that there are more stepfamilies in the United States than original intact families. In fact, half of the country's 60 million children under 13 live with one biological parent and that parent’s current partner.

As mature, responsible adults, you have the job of laying the groundwork for the new family by modeling respect and compassion. Here are a few tips to make your new role as joyful as possible:

1. Modify your expectations.

When remarriage occurs, too many family members believe they must love each other in order to have a happy family. But love is an emotion that can’t be forced. If you love your step-grandchildren, that’s wonderful, but if you don’t, that’s also acceptable, as long as you offer them kindness, compassion, and respect. No more and no less should be expected of you. When you remove expectations that you must love each other, it is easier just to be genuinely nice to each other. This can lead, in time, to love.

2. Be considerate.

There can be real disparities between stepsiblings. Some receive more birthday and holiday gifts from wealthier relatives than others do. Inadvertently, grandparents can exacerbate these differences by favoring their biological grandchildren and lavishing them with expensive gifts while ignoring step-grandchildren. This can cause discord among stepsiblings, and can hurt the feelings of young step-grandchildren who may not understand the difference in the relationship between their various grandparents. You don’t have to buy gifts of equal value for all your grandchildren and step-grandchildren, but you do have to get gifts for all.

3. Don’t take things personally.

If your efforts to build a positive relationship with step-grandchildren are rebuffed, you'll naturally feel hurt. Understand that the children may reject your attention and warmth for reasons that have nothing to do with you as a person. Perhaps they feel that since they already have two sets of grandparents, they don’t need a third one in their lives, no matter how nice they are. Or unconsciously they may feel a need to maintain emotional distance from you to avoid feeling disloyal to their biological relatives. These feelings can take a long time to overcome, and may not change, despite your best efforts. Whatever the case, you need to accept things as they are for your own emotional welfare, and not take a child's initial rejection as a personal attack.

4. Create new holiday traditions.

Holidays can be particularly painful for stepfamily members who mourn the distance of certain relatives and the traditions they created for the family. So start new traditions by inviting family members to a holiday they’ve never celebrated before, or consider hosting a Thanksgiving celebration, for example, on a day when everyone in the stepfamily can attend. This will give you more freedom and limit stress.

5. Choose to be hopeful.

Many members of stepfamilies wonder if it’s possible to ever be a happy, cohesive group. It most certainly is. Some stepfamilies are very fortunate; everyone cooperates and gets along nicely. For others, achieving this goal is harder. Members must work hard to set aside feelings of anger, bitterness, and resentment in order to be kind and considerate to each other. Just do the best you can, and take comfort in knowing that is all anyone can expect of you. It is more than enough.


Rachelle Katz, Ed.D. is a psychotherapist in private practice in New York City. Author of The Happy Stepmother: Stay Sane, Empower Yourself, Thrive in Your New Family, she leads monthly stepmother support groups, and is a stepmother coach. She has one stepdaughter.

Comments

I have two grandsons from my DIL previous relationships, but my relationship is great. They are my grandsons.

thbear59@hotmail.com on 2013-12-17 07:40:14

There not such word as step-grandmom. I am my grandson's grandmother. The word step makes me angry, as if he less because he was born before i knew him. He was chosen by my son. I tell him every time I see him that I am glad he is "Chosen One" one in the family. You cannot tell who was chosen and who was born into our family. That is the way it should be. Steps are for carpets, stairways and a place to sit on a hot summer day. NOT as a suffix for a child or grandparent.

ginnie526@comcast.net on 2013-05-28 21:39:30

FMV, I so commend your desire to "build relationships" with your step-grandchildren. And I understand your frustration at not getting the opportunity to do so. But I'm sorry to say that I have a feeling that this isn't going to change. Nor do I think that the stepgrands are interested, no slight meant to you or your husband. It's just that they are grown already, probably very busy with their own lives and, most likely, not even all that into spending time with their bio grandparents. As long as everyone else seems to find the situation "acceptable," I think you should just continue as you are and also focus more on developing your relationship with your little bio grands.

Briarhaven, I'm so sorry that you and your husband have been cut off from the stepgrands, especially the one with whom you seem to have had such a close and delightful relationship. And simply, it seems, for standing by your husband, as one is "supposed to" do.

If the argument had to do with your husband's attitudes about the SGC (step - grandchildren) and how they should or shouldn't be raised, or anything like that, though, it's possible that your SD (stepdaughter) doesn't feel they should be around him. And, unfortunately, that means that they can't be involved with you, either. Also, since you say your own relationship with SD was "'strained,'" anyhow, she may have, sadly, misinterpreted your stance as an expression of some disapproval of her, on your part. If she just grabbed onto this incident as an "excuse" to cut off contact, due to the underlying strain, that, no doubt, is cruel. And if she's just being vindictive, then, yes, she using those kids "as a weapon" against you and your husband and that is, in my opinion, even crueler.

Ladies, these are just the kinds of subjects that we talk about in the group, Mothers-in-Law Anonymous. Despite the title, we discuss other kinds of family and in-law problems, not just those of mother-in-law and daughter-in-law. Why not come and talk with us? Just click on the word "Community," at the VERY TOP of the page and you'll see us! And IF you're new to this site or to the Community section, why not join us in Club Newcomer, as well?

rosered135 on 2012-11-14 16:33:45

For ten years I was Grandma to my stepdaughter's 3 children. I never treated them differently from my daughter's two children. My stepdaughter and I had a "strained" relationship to say the least. But we always had the one granddaughter stay with us for the summer. My granddaughter and I had the most wonderful times exploring our area, hiking, shopping, you name it we did it. She is the oldest of all the granddaughters. The Spring of 2011 there was an agrument between my stepdaughter and my husband. I stood by my husband's side and now I am no longer a Grandma. I am not allowed any contact with my grandchildren. The worse thing an adult child can do is use the grandchildren as a weapon against her parents and stepparents.

briarhaven@gmail.com on 2012-10-18 13:46:41