More than 2,100 blended families are formed in the United States every day (according to thebondedfamily.com). That means a large percentage of the 70 million grandparents in this country are or will become step-grands. Some of us may find that role to be not only unfamiliar but also uncomfortable, at least at first.
For our new book, New Age Nanas: Being a Grandmother in the 21st Century, we interviewed some wonderful step-grandmothers for the chapter on step-grandparenting. Here is a sampling of what we learned from their stories.
Take your time. Bonding tends to be easier when you know the step-grandchild from an early age. If the child and her or his parent are new to your family, it may take time and tact to forge relationships.
Try to have regular access, even if it’s difficult. “Being there” is so important, but only if it can be managed with good will on all sides.
Negotiate your role. Make sure to consider your step-grandchild’s wishes. While you may be a hugger, your step-grandchild may your hugs as a physical intrusion. Ask your step-grandchild what he or she wants to call you; don’t insist on Grandma or Grandpa.
Treat step-grandchildren fairly. You may not feel as close to a step-grandchild as you do to your biological grandchildren (if you have any), but try to make step grandchildren feel included in your family life. Attentions, presents, and praise all round.
Don’t get involved in family conflicts. It is sometimes hard to be neutral, but there is no positive payoff in taking sides when step-grandchildren are involved.
Have realistic expectations. Try to engage your step-grandchild, but don’t be hurt if some of your efforts are rejected. Show an interest, but don’t force yourself on the child. Graciously accept and enjoy the friendship that develops.
With patience, persistence, and an open heart, step-grandchildren can be a wonderful gift.
Doreen Rosenthal and Susan Moore are semi-retired social scientists, long-time friends and colleagues, and thoroughly modern grandmothers.