Watching your grandchildren grow up is one of the most enjoyable aspects of growing older. However, if they are your partner’s grandchildren and not yours and you are what we call a “step” grandparent, extra tact and diplomacy is required to slot into the role of grandmother or grandfather without unduly ruffling feathers.
I learned this the hard way, but I am happy to say that many years on I love my partner’s many grandchildren as much as if they were my own, and I know they enjoy spending time with me.
However, it wasn’t easy and I put my foot in it a number of times. “Inheriting” grandchildren through your partner means you do not have the same automatic bond you would if they were your daughter or son’s children.
Your partner’s daughter or son who is the parent of the grandchild will also tend to treat you differently from your partner, and you cannot blame them for this. After all, he or she is their father or mother, and you are just an addition to the family.
In my first marriage my new partner had a daughter who was 15 when we first starting going out. He and his wife had been separated for some time and his daughter was living with her mother.
The teen reacted furiously to the news that we were an item in the same area where he and her mother had lived. “We are known and liked there. Don’t ruin our reputation by running around with some skank,” or words to that effect, she angrily told him.
However, once she met me and we spent some time together during holidays, her attitude softened. In fact, she eventually started coming to me to talk about female issues such as contraception. Years on, her father and I are long divorced, but I still catch up with her occasionally, and enjoy seeing how her now-teenage son is growing up and hearing about how her life is progressing.
I met my current partner five years ago. At the time, he had five grandchildren. That has now grown to seven and one great grandchildren. While they are far flung, we do spend a lot of time with one of his daughters, including most Christmases. We get on reasonably well, and I share interests like horse-riding with their daughters, which helps them accept me.
So, now I’ve let you know where I’m coming from, back to the point of the article, which is to help other step-grandparents who might be having issues, or who are trying to improve their connection with their partner’s children and grandchildren. Here is my cheat sheet of do’s and don’ts. Most of my advice is also applicable to blood relatives. See if you agree with them. I’m sure there will be many more you can add.
- Think about what you say before you say it. If you aren’t sure what to say, say as little as possible until you have worked out the right approach. Just because you are older doesn’t mean you cannot suffer from foot-in-mouth disease. Remember, a step-grandparent can be on a sort of probation until you are fully accepted.
- Common courtesy goes a long way. Make sure you are polite and respect and treat everyone in the family the way you yourself would like to be treated. That means paying attention and showing interest in what is going on around you, including what your step-grandchildren say to you, even if you are busy. Show everyone in the blended family you like them. Genuine warmth will go a long way. Make sure you don’t overdo it though, because most people can spot a phoney a mile off.
- If you see them only very occasionally and there are several who are the same sex and close together in age, memorise who is who and their ages. Nothing is worst than groping for a name to say and getting it wrong. You will get a are-you-for-real look from them and it will set your relationship back years. Believe me – I’ve done it!
- Look to your partner and their parents for guidance. Observe what house “rules” there are and what the children are allowed to do and not do and try not to go against them. However, leave correcting them to their parents or your partner unless you have absolutely no alternative.
- Be fair – or at least be seen to be fair. Just as with our own children, we all have favourites, but you cannot show it. This goes with the way you treat your own grandchildren and your partner’s. Don’t post glowing comments on Facebook about your own grandchildren and then only faint praise when one of his does something wonderful. You may not intend it, but it will be noticed and your partner’s family will resent it.
- Last but by no means least, don’t overstay your welcome. Everyone can keep up a polite face for two or three days, but beyond that it becomes hard, so keep your visits short and sweet.
Do you agree with our step-grandmother’s advice? Do you have any suggestions to add? Share your grandparenting and step-grandparenting experiences, good and bad.