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Step-Grandchildren

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Dear Rachel,

My son recently remarried and his new wife has three children from her previous marriage. Her three children are close in age with my son's three children. In addition to us being a bit overwhelmed and trying to adapt to this new Brady Bunch situation, I am not sure how to really integrate my new grandchildren into our lives.

As a step-child myself, I never really felt like a family member in my step-mother's family, and I do not want these children to feel that way at all. It is very important to me that these children eventually feel like full-fledged family members. I want them to call me Grandma and I want to relate to them as my grandchildren. Yet I am not sure how to make this happen. We are very close with our three grandchildren, and it is impossible to act like these children, who are complete strangers to me, have the same relationship. At the same time, I very much want them to feel included and welcomed. Any suggestions?

Doting Grandmother

Dear Doting Grandmother,

Firstly, it is amazing to hear that it is important to you to include and welcome your new grandchildren. Unfortunately, all too often there is resentment in second marriages and it is the children, the innocent victims in all of this, who suffer. Secondly, you must accept from the get go that this is going to be a process and take time. Yet, love is a powerful emotion, and especially with children, it can make up for lost time very quickly.

Invest the time and effort in getting to know these children as individuals In many ways, the fact that these children are close in age to your grandchildren should actually make things easier, because you are already accustomed to doing things and buying things that you know these ages enjoy. But I think more than anything else, the first thing you want to do is invest the time and effort in getting to know these children as individuals, and connecting with them on a personal level.

You love your son and you know how hard a divorce and second marriage have been for him and his children. Take that same empathy, and try to have it for your new daughter-in-law and her children. As I am sure you are aware, divorce can often leave children feeling unwanted and abandoned. So if you can focus on giving them love and care, not even immediately because you feel they are family, but because you feel their pain, that is going to be a great start.

There is the very well known concept that the root in Hebrew for the word "love," ahavah is that of havah, which means "to give." As a doting grandmother you clearly know how much you express your love through giving to your grandchildren. Apply that to these children as well and I have no doubt you will have a warm response in return.

Practically, I think it is important that you do spend individual time with your new grandchildren and not always together as a group. It is inevitable that when with your grandchildren there will be shared memories, inside jokes and an overall closeness that will make the other children feel left out and emphasize how they are not really family in the same way. Rather, I would specifically arrange special outings or time to spend with the new grandchildren, and during that time, try to get to know their background.

Let them in on family history as well For example, depending on the age, spend a few hours with each child and ask them to bring some of their favorite toys or books, as well as their baby pictures, a baby book or things from their early childhood. Look through their pictures, have them discuss certain memories with you, ask them for funny stories or incidents that happened to them and share things about yourself as well. You want to show an interest in them and their lives and let them in on family history and customs as well. Invite them to help you cook your famous foods that your other grandchildren love. And of course, small and personalized gifts can go a long way. Even a framed picture of you and each one of them with a "welcome to the family" note can make a huge difference.

As all these new siblings get more accustomed to being a family as well, it also would be nice to spend time with your biological grandchildren and new grandchildren in pairs by age. If you have older girls, take them out for a special day of pampering. Make it a girl's day out and treat them to a manicure and lunch. Let each age group feel special and enjoy their time together with you. It will be a good way for the kids to bond and for you to find things that you can share together.

You are in a unique position of being able to offer love and support without needing to deal with discipline or actual parenting. Your son and his new wife have quite a challenge in integrating and blending their new family. As a grandmother, however, you can be the buffer and help smooth the ride for everyone involved. It is quite likely that there will be resistance from both sets of children and there are always growing pains. But you can help make this difficult adjustment that much easier by letting all these children feel that you are there for them. Grandma's are most famous for their ability to spoil children, and now is the time to put that to the test! And just remember, the amazing thing about love, is you can't possibly run out of it for the more you give, the more you generate!

Rachel

"Dear Rachel" is a bi-weekly column that is answered by a rotating group of experts. This question was answered by Sara Esther Crispe.

Sara Esther Crispe, a writer, inspirational speaker and mother of four, is the Co-Director of Interinclusion, a non-profit multi-layered educational initiative celebrating the convergence between contemporary arts and sciences and timeless Jewish wisdom. Prior to that she was the editor of TheJewishWoman.org and wrote the popular weekly blog, Musing for Meaning. To book Sara Esther for a speaking engagement, please click here.
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Lisa Providence, RI July 8, 2017

Combining families is never easy, and I called my stepmother by her first name, because I already had a mother.

You can watch your step grandchildren with your own grandchildren to see how they relate to each other. You just have to be yourself and not have any unrealistic expectations. If they don't want to call you "Grandma," don't be insulted. Reply

Rose Victoria August 2, 2016

I married a man who has already for two teenage boys- we have since had a beautiful daughter of our own.. Even though his children don't love with us, we see them each fortnight and have always made them feel special and welcome in our home. Since having our daughter, unfortunately he doesn't seem to give her that special "only child" attention that she deserves as OUR oy child as a couple. It's also sad for me as it's my first time around as a biological mother and want to have all these special moments as a lite family of three as well as an extended family. Very difficult. Reply

Marilyn Texas June 25, 2016

Step GRandkids My son married a woman who already had 4 teenage daughters. I could hardly get used to his wife, much less these 4 strangers and act like their instant Grand Mother. I know some people can jump right into a role of being a Mother, Grand Mother etc. to anybody, but I just think it is weird and makes me uncomfortable. Reply

Anonymous Colorado Springs July 25, 2015

My husband and I have been married for over 18 years. My mother in-law has never treated my 2 children from a previous marriage like they are grandchildren. Now she is treating my grandchildren like they are not a part of her family. I am fed up with her making comments that blatantly show she leaves my children and grandchildren out of her family equation. My husband refuses to address this issue and I feel as if I want nothing to do with her until she acknowledges her behavior. What should I do?? Reply

Nene Sc June 28, 2015

Step grandchildren We have a step granddaughter that we don't like to take anywhere with us, because she doesn't know how to act in public. And her mother doesn't try to teach her any better. We've taken our grand daughter on vacation with us for the last three years and now the new daughter in law is upset because we won't take her daughter. Her daughter goes to get dad's for a week and our g daughter doesn't go anywhere. We don't think we should be forced to take her. We've practically raised our gdaughter the first 6 yrs of her life. Now we feel pushed out of her life. It's a long complicated story. And we are really close with our gdaughter. What should we do? Reply

Anonymous December 30, 2013

STEP Grandmother takes credit for your grandchildren and great grandchildren in family photo. When we have family get-together (not too often), it us usually the new wif'e's family with a small amount of our family. When it comes time to make photos, new step grandmother pushes our other grandchildren from another son out of the family photo and puts herself in with our grandchildren which are not hers. This makes the other grandchildren left out. She is not their real grandmother but yet she claims them as her own. She also claims our great grandchildren as her own which have none of her blood. How many grandparents are considered normal? Aren't their supposed to be only 2 sets and not 3 sets? How do we settle this of is it possible? Reply

Jamie August 25, 2013

Step grandchild My son has been in a relationship, not married, to his girlfriend for 4 years, living together. She has a son from a previous relationship, and she has been in bad relationships prior. We have a granddaughter the same age as her son who we helped raise because our daughter was a single parent for a very long time. Needless to say we do a lot for our granddaughter because she is actually more like a child to us. Now we get ridiculed for not spending as much on her son, she always tries to push him on us, she knew from the beginning our relationship with this granddaughter was different because of the circumstances. We never show partiality when they are all together, but her son always puts our granddaughter down, calls her names and just tries to get attention from us, his mother does the same thing, by saying oh she is a girl, girls act like that...I am at my wits end, I do not know how to handle this situation any longer. I feel guilty now if I buy our granddaughter something. Reply

Laura Lynn Blackstock Rockport August 19, 2013

Step grandchildren and new daughter in law My son has custody of my eldest g/dgtr, he and his wife have my grandson together. She has 2 children from other men. This relationship has been rocky so here goes, I have taken her dgtr and my g/dgtr for a week off and on since they married. Her son is shy and won't come, they have relationships w/ their bio g/parents. They go and leave my gdgtr at home and she cries wanting to go..but if We take my bio /g/dgtr alone we are ridulculed and told we are showing favortism. This is putting a wedge between my son and I. I do not think it's fair for them to have bonding time w their gparents and me not able to have bonding time with mine alone also. I am new at this..how are we supposed to love her children as our own gchildren when it looks like this marriage isn't going to work anyway and they will be yanked out of our lives...What to do? Reply

Anonymous June 20, 2013

Soon to be Step Grandmother My son is divorced and has a son, age 6. My husband and I also have 4 other grandchildren, ages ranging 1-6. We are very close to all of our grandchildren and they are all close in age and enjoy being with one another. My son is about to marry a young women with 2 children who are older (9 & 12). The problem is, my soon to be daughter-in-law has made it clear (in words, behavior and attitude) that she has no desire to be a part of our family. She is rude, has a miserable attitude every time we're together as a family and makes inappropriate comments about our family and has done this in front of her 2 children. Her oldest daughter demonstrates the same behavior and attitude toward us. We have tried to be loving and friendly but the mother's attitude has yet to change. And yet, she wants us to act like grandparents to her children. I would like nothing more than to be a grandparent to these children, but their mother is making it difficult when she insists on negativity. Reply

Anonymous May 29, 2013

Step Grancildren My Step Daughter has never accepted her Fathet and myself getting together. We are together 13 years married 3 years. Mt Step Daughter does not want me in her childrens lives and this is causing problems with my husband as I want him to keep his good relationship with his Daughter and be a Great Grandad, which he is. But how do I fit into this as she wants to cut me out. He visits her home without me, but now she wants him to spend time on days out with her withouit me. I am finding this very difficult.
I feel my husband cannot bring himself to confront his Daughter. Reply

Anonymous Louisiana May 10, 2013

What should I do? My husban & I married 5 yrs ago. He has 2 daughters & a step son from a previous marriage & relationship. I have a son & daughter. My family since day one has never treated any of the kids differ. They do for 1-They do for all. My husbands family on the other hand total opposite. They call wanting my step kids for the weekend & holiday breaks, special trips and gifts for birthdays. Even my husbands step son gets this special treatment. My two kids on the other hand never get asked to stay, no special birthday treats not even a phone call to check on them. This makes me furious!! I often wonder why they think my kids aren't good enough. Last thing, if they don't except my kids then doesn't that mean they don't except me? Nothing has changed in 5 years. It is putting a strain on my marriage. Reply

Anonymous Woodstock December 25, 2012

Daughter-in-law with stepchildren My son divorced after 14 years of marriage and married a girl with four kids. It has been a nightmare for me as a grandparent. I still communicate with his x wife because of my grandchildren and he gets very mad. One of my grandchildren just got sick at Christmas and asked me to sit with her when she laid down in the bedroom, and I called her mom to see what to do for her, as she lives with her and he was outraged. It isn't the first time. I just feel like disappearing. Reply

Anonymous Far Rockaway, NY August 7, 2011

Reply to Not Her Fault The best solution may be for you and your husband and the children (his daughter from the prior marriage and your son together) to move out and rent your own apartment nearby. Grandpa's anger may be caused by having a "full nest" at a time when he would prefer an "empty nest." It may really improve things if Grandpa is someone who comes to visit occasionally rather than living with him 24/7. Frankly, he just may be fed up with the whole situation and he is taking it out on the three year old because she is the most vulnerable target (also, knowing most three year olds, probably she gets him too angry too much of the time).

I sympathize with the financial realities but for everyone's sake it would be far better for you and your husband and your children to not live with Grandpa anymore. Visit him, let him visit you, keep a healthy family relationship, but don't live together. Everyone is just getting on each other's nerves, and the only way to solve it is to move out.
Reply

Worried Step Mother Eureka, CA June 16, 2011

Not Her Fault I am a step mother & My step daughter lives with us. My Husband only has one child from a former relation & we have a 1 yr old son. My Father loves his grandson but I dont think he feels he loves my step daughter. My father does help & live with us so I Think the resentment has to do with having to deal with financial aspects of the "new" family. He always tells her to go to her room & raises his voice at her. He also drinks which doesnt help. What can I do to show him she is just an innocent little 3yr old girl & its NOT HER FAULT!

Additional Info:

- Grandpa isnt violent physically
-Grandpa makes alot of $
-Were going through a custody battle.
-Father of child doesnt love her as much as he does our son. Reply

Lisa Providence, RI January 9, 2011

Step-Grandchildren You can't force your step-grandchildren to call you Grandma - it can be considered an insult to their biological grandparents. You can, however, try to be their friend. Blending families is not easy. Would you be insulted if they called you by your first name, since you're not physically theirs?

The best thing you can do is introduce them to other family members, and hope they can make friends with the other children. Reply

Anonymous san juan capistrano, Ca via jewishsc.com November 27, 2009

Old and new grandchildren We are having the same problem in our family. When we got married T. already had a son by a former wife. He then got married to a woman with 1 child. She right away included me in the grandma group. How lucky for me. We added 2 more to our family. Then came the divorce of my husbands son. He remarried a woman with 5 children and he felt that we should become grandparents to the new children. My husband feels that he is not going to do this. What is the right thing to do? I am a step mother and step grandmother , step mother-in-law. and now my stepson wants us to become step grandparents to five new children whom we will not live close to. Too many layers, what am I to do? Reply

Anonymous Tampa, FL, US via chabadbrandon.org November 25, 2009

Blended Family We went through the same situation when my late grandmother married my late step-grandfather when I was 12 years old. There was a lot of resentment and bitterness, but we all got over it and had a wonderful relationship with our step-cousins.

Thank you for sharing this letter - it really hit home for me! Reply

YIsraela Bristol, UK November 17, 2009

Stepgrandchildren Our daughter has a stepdaughter and we have had great pleasure in getting to know this little girl who has a special place in our hearts. She lives with her mother and stepfather and has so much to manage in her life, two homes, two sets of parents, a multiplicity of grandparents and last year my daughter had a baby so there is a sibling to come to terms with to! Its lovely to read this article, question and advice, and to feel the love and compassion flowing around these children. I had a wonderful stepfather and learnt so much of how to be a 'step' adult from him so am very fortunate. I hope that this 'Brady Bunch' find their way forward and wish this grandmother much happiness through her loving endeavours Reply

Lael Chicagoland, IL November 17, 2009

New and Old Grandchildren ...Try having the children take turns spending a special day with Grandma and let them decide what to do. It could be a birthday visit or weekend excursions. Put the necessary parameters on all of the visits, such as time and money limitations. Reply

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