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?
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!