Sara B., whose mother-in-law treats her son differently than she does his step siblings, says it's painful for kids when step-grandparents favor their biological grandchildren.
By the same token, Patricia D. wonder whether being a step-grandmother is really the same as being "a real grand-mom.”
Sara and Patricia are among the many Circle of Moms members who are grappling not only with the challenge of blending two families but with incorporating step-grandparents into their family trees.
When there is no biological bond obligating a step-grandparent to be involved in the lives of their step-heirs, the rules of engagement tend to be confusing. Chrissy D., for instance, worries about names. What should kids call their step-grandmother? she asks. Other moms wonder about a step-grandparent's rights and roles in their children's lives.
How can blended families avoid these awkward or hurtful dynamics and build strong bonds? To help, Circle of Moms members share the tips below on navigating the challenging world of step-grandparent relationships.
Defining the Role of a Step-Grandparent
Deborah V. has noticed how easy it is for disparities between step-siblings to emerge when grandparents lavish gifts and attention on their biological grandchildren while ignoring their step-grandchildren. "What is the role of the step grandparents in a blended family?" she wonders.
She feels strongly that step-grandparents should take a back seat; that a step-grandmother just isn't the same as a true grandmother: "I believe that all step-grandmothers should back off and let the biological grandmother enjoy her grandbabies without any interference from the step."
While Martina V. agrees that the issue is tricky and that parents should "not interfere" with the relationship a biological grandparent has with his or her grandchildren, she cautions against taking such a hard line. She suggests that step moms and moms in blended families allow their children to be loved by all the grandparents, even the step-grandparents, as "all children need to feel loved and wanted by all their family members."
Indeed, many moms feel strongly that all grandparents, step and biological have important roles to play. "Grandmas are all the same, we love the kids," says Bernie R. "There are no ‘steps’ in loving grandchildren."
Rather than trying to compete with existing grandparents, adds Margaret G., who is a step grandparent herself, step-grandparents should allow their relationships with step grandchildren to develop slowly, without pushing. She also suggests that families work hard to eliminate any real or perceived competition between step-grandparents and biological grandparents:
"There doesn't have to be any competition between you and the ‘natural’ grandma; all you have to do is love the grand kids and be a part of their lives," she says.
Kim S. and a member named Heather, both step-moms, agree: "Treat your step-grandchildren no differently from your real grandchildren and there will be no problems, says Heather, while Kim recounts the success that has resulted from her own mother's open-hearted embrace of the step kids in her blended family. Her mother welcomed her three step children as if she had always known them and continues to always remember their birthdays as well as those of her biological grandchildren. This bridge building, says Kim, has helped strengthen her family's bonds.
Choosing a Step Grandparent Name That Fits
In addition to cultivating a role and relationship that's both comfortable and positive for step grandparents, moms struggle with what to have their children call them, but many find that the two challenges are related. Chrissy D., for instance, is trying to decide what her 18-month-old should call her father’s wife, whom he married after Chrissy was already grown. "It doesn't seem right for my son to call her ‘Grandma’ as he already has two of those," she says, adding that she doesn't consider her dad's wife to be her own step-mother.
In response, Shalaina V. suggests simply having a child call a step-grandma by her first name. Jeramie I. suggests adding "Grandma" or "Grandpa" before the first name, almost like a title:
"I say 'Grandma Nancy' and 'Grandpa George,'" she explains, to give step grandparents grandparent status while distinguishing them from the biological grandparents. "We feel they're a part of the family, so they're 'Grandmas' and "Grandpas' to the children."
Another way to express that bond is to come up with an affectionate-sounding moniker, as Maureen M. did for her kids' step-grandma: "We call her 'Sandy-Gram,'" she says. "I think as long as it's a different name than your mother and mother-in- law are called, anything is fine," she adds. Circle of Moms member Sue H. suggests being creative as well; her family calls their step-grandma "GiGi."
Another way to select a name for the step-grandparents is to sit back and observe what the kids call them and see what surfaces, suggests Vicki T.: "Don't call her anything and see what your son makes up."
But many moms insist that step-grandparents should be called "Grandma" or "Grandpa," just like biological grandparents. "When in doubt about what to call a step-grandmother, consider 'Grandma.' You can’t have too many grandmas," stresses Circle of Moms member Theresa J.
What role do your children's step-grandparents play in your family?
Image Source: jaaron via Flickr/Creative Commons
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