Although precise statistics about divorce are difficult to acquire, divorce is prevalent enough that a parent of several children is likely to have at least one divorce among them. It is quite common for that divorced child to remarry someone with children, creating a stepfamily and often creating stepgrandparents. Although stepgrandparents are created when grandparents remarry, having a child who becomes a stepparent is definitely the most common way of becoming a stepgrandparent. Although there millions of happy, functional blended families, stepfamily relationships can be complicated for several reasons.
- The children have lived through the death of one relationship. They have seen firsthand that not all relationships survive. The resulting sense of insecurity can cause them to be either overly needy in relationships or very distant.
- Marital relationships in blended families can be complex. The relationship between the parent and the child is older than that between the married couple, so the parent’s loyalties are likely to be divided between the parental role and the marital bond.
- The grandchild is a member of more than one household. Some children have difficulty navigating the differing environments, which may have different rules and expectations.
- Custody may have gone to the other parent. If your child marries someone who has children but does not have custody, the non-custodial parent may have to struggle to spend adequate time with the children.
What do these circumstances mean for the stepgrandparent? A more tumultuous family relationship is likely to result in a less secure position in the family for the stepgrandparent. Children may resist bonding with a stepgrandparent, feeling that it's just another relationship for them to lose. In the case of your child marrying a non-custodial parent, it is likely to be difficult to build a relationship with the children because of lack of time with them. None of these circumstances are under the control of the stepgrandparent, who is forced to do the best that he or she can in a difficult situation.
One thing that is under a stepgrandparent's control is avoiding playing favorites. Having favorites is sometimes unavoidable, especially when some of your grandchildren have been in your life since Day One, and others are newly acquired. Still, a grandparent must fight against allowing any biases to show.
Grandparents may also experience the role of stepgrandparent differently than they do the role of biological grandparent. Lyn Purpura, a stepgrandmother to six children and a biological grandmother to eight, says that the stepgrandparent role is definitely different.
At times I feel I have to prove myself with the stepgrandchildren, as if my stepson or son-in-law is "watching." My daughters know without a doubt that I love their children unconditionally, and they trust me completely. I don’t get that same feeling with the stepgrandchildren’s parents. Still, grandparenting is one of the best things that has ever happened to me. I am blessed to have so many grandchildren in my life – biological and step. They all bring me joy.
Lyn Purpura CEC/ACC, is a Mindful Living Coach.