Blended families, grandparents, and how to effectively handle holidays and birthdays

When a child divorces, grandparents are often left swinging in the breeze, especially if their child is the non-custodial parent. They often miss out on traditional family celebrations such as birthdays, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukah, and others. Will they be welcome and included when a former in-law takes their grandchildren into a remarriage? What if their former son or daughter in-law marries someone with children of their own? What role does a step grandparent play in a step family?

The role of step grandparents in a blended family

As a grandparent, your role in the new step family remains the same as before, except that it has expanded if your child’s remarriage includes children of his or her new spouse. Your life experience, wisdom and capacity to love, which have improved the lives of your biological grandchildren, can be a useful tool in creating a wonderful relationship with your step grandchildren. The benefits children gain from loving grandparents is immeasurable, one comforting characteristic being constancy. You can help your grandchildren adjust to a new step family by supporting their roles as step siblings; you do this by accepting their step siblings – and their step parent – with open arms and an open heart.

Make yourself welcome

How can you make yourself welcome in the new blended family? Treat everyone like what they are- family. Every child should be treated as if they are equal in your heart and in your mind. This means equal gifts, equal time, equal love, and equal interest. Many grandparents feel conflicted in this effort, feeling it may mean taking something away from their bio grandchildren, but doing otherwise can put them in an uncomfortable position with their step siblings; it can also work against the goals of the blended family. Your wisdom and life experience will be a big help if you do not actually feel equal love for your step grandchildren, at first. This is perfectly natural, and you can at least act as if you do until it becomes reality.

A fresh start

Put aside your feelings about your grandchildren’s parents. Your grandkids love and need them both, and if you want to be part of their lives, you must accept both their parents, and their step parents, as well. Remember, kids are innocent bystanders in adult decisions. Even if you feel animosity toward your former in-law, or your new step in-law, you can still focus on having a wonderful, respectful relationship with your new step grandchildren.

Be open

Let your step grandkids call you Grandma, or Grandpa, or whatever pet name the rest of your grandchildren call you. These terms of endearment will personalize your relationship and encourage a feeling of equality, which is the goal of a blended family. Get to know each new grandchild individually. It can be a challenge to figure out the best way to get to know them, bond with them and to truly love them, but the effort is well worth it. Make time in your life to spend time alone with each child, sharing things you love to do and learning about things the child loves to do. Attend school plays, sporting events, and band performances. Talk about your history with each child and ask to hear their own histories. When you spend a little time at the onset, you show them they are an interest and a priority in your life.

If you don’t have anything nice to say…

Never, ever speak negatively about any of your grandchildren’s parents or step parents, step siblings, step aunts or uncles, or anyone else in their blended family or extended step family. The quickest way to be dis-invited to family celebrations is to engage in the kind of talk that can cause dissent, disruption, or hurt feelings. If you want to be part of the happy and supportive blended family your son or daughter is attempting to build with their new spouse and their children, you must not do or say anything that is at cross purposes with their goals. Put your own emotional needs and fears aside and focus on what is best for the grandchildren in your life. Their interests lie in a successful blended family. So do yours.

The bottom line is, all new relationships take effort and a learning curve. You do not get to choose the step grandparent relationships thrust on you by choices your children make. Likewise, your new grandchildren are also thrust into new relationships without a choice. You have that in common! You can help each other by accepting and loving each other, and add value to your lives in the process!