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Early in my relationship with my husband, Bob, one of the first extended family issues we had concerned his parents. They wanted to be involved with my daughters, but were unsure of their roles. I wanted them to be as active in the girls’ lives as they wanted to be, but I also did not want to push either them or my girls.
Being a step-anything is a tough role. In most cases you are walking into a child’s life who is already a bit older. For a child who has already grown up with biological grandparents, the new relationship can be intimidating. Kids aren’t the only ones who are intimidated: step-grandparents are treading on uncharted territory and have a lot to figure out.
Whose In Charge?
Given that they have the advantage of maturity and experience, step-grandparents can help guide the relationship in a steady and pressure-free way. However the kids react at first or during their various stages of development, it’s up to the step-grandparents to set the tone by being kind and interested yet relaxed.
What About Bio-Grandkids?
The relationship can be more complicated when the step-grandparents’ biological grandchildren are also part of the blended family. It’s so easy to love the bio-grandkids, and when the step-grandkids com along, it’s taxing on the grandparents. They get less one-on-one time with their biological grandchildren because time-sharing plus the presence of the step-grandkids cut into that time. It takes a big heart to accept these changes.
The feelings of love that grandparents instantly have for their grandchildren are not always matched by their feelings for step-grandchildren, and that’s totally natural. Deeper feelings can grow over time, or the relationship can remain a labor of love–a demonstration of commitment to the blended family. Having meaningful experiences together is the key to growing the relationship.
Then There’s “Real” Grandparents
Last summer, my daughters’ step-grandparents requested to take the girls for five days, and they asked way in advance for permission from both sets of co-parents. The week before they were scheduled to take the girls, one of the bio-grandparents asked if they could have them during that same time-frame. When the bio-parent explained that this would not work, the bio-grandparent insisted that they should have first right. They said they were the “real” grandparent. Despite the tension, we stuck to our “first request in advance” rule, and the girls went to the step-grandparents. Here’s my tip for bio-grandparents: Remember that there is no one who can take your place as the biological grandparent. The step-grandparents are not trying to replace you, and they only want to embrace the blended family and be a part of their step-grandchildren’s lives.
Are There Rules?
In our family, both sets of co-parents agree on common ground rules for making decisions about my daughters. Our extended family relatives all know our rules, and it is within that framework that we can coordinate. The advance planning rule was frustrating to the grandparents who wanted to see their grandchildren that one particular week, but big picture it works because all the sets of grandparents are able to spend plenty of time with the kids.
In some divorce situations, the bio-parents are not able to agree on a common set of rules, and this limits step- and bio-grandparent visitation to the court-ordered time-sharing schedule. I strongly believe that imposing such limitations does not benefit the children, and that an across-the-board policy of openness to all step- and bio-grandparents cultivates the best support system for kids.
The bottom line is that everyone in the family only wants the freedom to love the kids, and the kids NEED the same.
Trish Eklund is taking a nontraditional approach to parenting children after divorce and remarriage. Raising her two daughters of ten and fourteen with her husband, ex-husband, and his wife, they consult one another on all parenting decisions. Trish has been featured on www.playground-magazine.com, and www.bigblendedfamily.com. She is a regular writer on www.herviewfromhome.com, writer and co-editor for Her View From Omaha. Follow her on Twitter: @trishiewriter, Google +, and Pinterest.