Welcoming a Step Grandchild

With more than one-third of all Canadian marriages ending in divorce before the 30th wedding anniversary, many grandparents have become step-grandparents when our grown child remarries someone who already has children.

For Marie, of Perth, Ontario, becoming a step-grandmother was a happy event. She had neither married nor had children of her own when, at the age of 59, she married Wesley. Wesley was divorced, with four children and six grandchildren. “I know I’m not their biological grandmother,” Marie says, “but I am delighted with the experience of having these little people in my life and being able to do activities with them that I’ve never done before.”

For other grandparents, the complexities of new blended families are not as straightforward. It’s often a difficult transition, especially for children whose world has completely changed, with new members of an extended family, often all strangers. The transition can be almost as disconcerting for Zoomers who thought their children and grandchildren would live happily ever after.

While some divorces may be quite civilized and amicable, there is still a period of adjustment and acceptance for everyone involved. The next hurdle is to use the same skills to adjust and accept a new blended family when a grown child remarries and brings a new spouse and children to the family gathering. It’s unrealistic to expect there will be no bitterness or anxiety among the major players when a family structure changes. You may have just gotten through supporting a grown daughter in a divorce as well as your own sense of loss at the absence of a son-in-law you really loved when your daughter brings home a new partner with children of his own.

Where do grandparents fit in this new blended family?

The first rule is to realize that a step family is different. A new grandchild who is not part of your biological family knows she is different. She is struggling to be part of a new family, which may include step siblings, a new step mom or dad as well as a new set of step grandparents. She will be looking for acceptance and equality with her new siblings, your natural grandchildren.

Polish up your sensitivity for this new grandchild. You may never love her the way you love the grandkids you already have, but you can respect her and be sensitive to her change in status. She’s not the one who fell in love with someone new and decided to merge with another family.

Be prepared for rejection, even once you’re learned to love a new grandchild. Instant love doesn’t happen in step families, especially with older children. If you enjoy children, it’s a chance to help a new grandchild through a difficult transition.

Being the most supportive grandparent means treating all grandchildren equally. That’s difficult enough with biological families, but with step-grandchildren, it’s challenging for some. Dr. R.C. Dubuc of Ottawa recommends treating step grandchildren with the same consideration as biological grandkids in terms of gifts, praise and time spent together. Of course, each child is an individual and if one grandson loves hockey, while a step grandson is more interested in books, it makes sense to honour those interests with different gifts, not two hockey sticks. But generally, children want to be treated with respect and with the same fairness given to their counterparts in the family. Recognizing their interests will make them feel they are valued.

“We make sure we give all the grandchildren gifts of equal value for birthdays,” says Raymond of Dartmouth, N.S. “but I draw the line at inheritances. My step grandkids have their own grandparents to look after leaving them money in their wills.” Most step grandchildren, once they reach a certain age, will be able to understand estate planning and that they are not being treated unfairly.

Many organizations are offering help to step families. Check out the Vanier Institute for advice on step grand parenting at www.vifamily.ca or try www.stepinstitute.ca.