Facts for Living: You’re a new step-grandparent! Now what?

By Rebecca McFarland, Frontier Extension Agent

Stepfamilies are becoming one of the most common family forms in the United States. When stepfamilies are formed, many new relationships are created and you may become an instant grandparent with step-grandchildren. You may have both grandchildren and step-grandchildren in the same family. Grandparenting can offer some challenges, uncertainties, conflicts and rewards that exist in other relationships within a stepfamily.

080714-facts-for-living1It’s important to understand the differences between stepfamilies and biological families. Understanding the differences may help you in your new role as a step-grandparent.

There is no such thing as instant love. Relationships build over time. To expect step-grandparents and step-grandchildren to instantly love each other is unrealistic.

Stepfamilies are not like first-time married families. First-time married families grow up together, while stepfamilies do not. Stepfamilies are confronted instantly with different traditions and values in everyday living.

Stepfamilies are born of loss (divorce, death or separation). The feelings that come with that loss have to be taken into consideration.

Conflict and change are normal. Recognizing this reality can help stepfamilies understand that it takes several years for stepfamilies to become a solid family unit.

Personal histories of individuals in stepfamilies are different. The parent and children have lived together longer than the new step-parent. The new step-parent can feel like an outsider, but the children also can feel like outsiders as they see their parent with a new mate.

If you are a new step-grandparent, here are some tips to help you navigate your new role:

Remember that relationships are built over time. Your relationship and role as a step-grandparent will take time to develop. The important first steps in building a meaningful relationship with your step-grandchildren are communication and spending time together, to get to know each other.

Recognize the vital role of grandparents and step-grandparents in today’s families. Today, most families with children are busier than ever before. You can offer children in these busy families companionship, time, and a listening ear. Grandparents are significant others who have a great deal to do with one’s view of life. Grandchildren who are exposed to such contact are less fearful of old age and the elderly and they feel more connected to their family.

Create the grandparenting role that is comfortable to you and rewarding for your stepfamily. Step-grandparenting, like other stepfamily roles, is challenging and undefined. It is up to you to carve a role for yourself that fits your son or daughter’s new family. Here are some things to consider:

  • What are the ages of the step-grandchildren?
  • How available are the biological grandparents to the grandchildren? You may have more free time or easier access than others.
  • Does a strong relationship exist between the biological grandparents and the grandchildren? You do not want to be a competitor for time and attention, but want to give support that fits the needs of the stepfamily.
  • How do you and your step-grandchildren feel about your role as a grandparent? Step-grandchildren tend to have less contact with their step-grandparents, and consider this relationship less important than grandchildren do with grandparents. However, research has shown that children indicate a desire for more contact with step-grandparents.

Talk with your step-grandchildren. You may find that all of you want the same things, but have been afraid to communicate.


McFarland_RebeccaRebecca McFarland is the Frontier Extension District family and child development agent. For more information, she can be contacted at Frontier Extension’s Ottawa office, 1418 S. Main, Suite 2, Ottawa, KS 66067, or call 785-229-3520, or email [email protected].

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