Stepfamily Relationships as a Grandparent: A Case Study
When two people who have grown children get married, it is doubtful that they anticipate the same challenges that they might if their children were still living at home. Some stepfamilies are formed when the children are still young and a certain amount of difficulty is to be expected as everyone gets to know one another and family members learn to live under the same roof. While other couples don’t get together until their kids are out on their own, it is not uncommon for them to find themselves in the midst of similar turmoil.
One Grandmother’s StoryDeb has two grown children and two grown stepchildren, all in their late twenties and early thirties. Between all of the kids, Deb and her husband have nine grandchildren, ranging in age from six years to 18 months. While none of the kids and their families live close to Deb, she and her husband do all that they can to see that each of them understands that they are loved. Because, as you might expect, each of the children has their own unique personality, it is not always an easy feat to blend everyone into a cohesive unit.
Helping to Build Family ConnectionsDeb and her husband have been married for about six years, and in the time that they have been together, they have actively tried to help their separate families meld into one. Because of the geographical distance, as well as resistance on the part of some members, they have yet to see that goal come to fruition, but they remain hopeful.
All of the grown children have been invited to celebrate special occasions, but as of this time, there has yet to be an event at which everyone was in attendance at the same time. Deb feels that her stepchildren have been far less welcoming to her than her children have been to her husband, and this sense of not belonging must certainly make it difficult, at times, to continue to extend herself warmly, yet she does. In talking with her, it is clear that despite any resistance that she has encountered, she will remain steadfast in her effort to make sure that all of the children and grandchildren know that they matter. Asked about the single thing that she believes is key to creating a loving and cohesive stepfamily, Deb says, “Keep an open heart and an open door.”
Establishing BoundariesSeasoned parents understand the value of setting limits, and in stepfamilies, the need to do so may be of even greater importance. Children, even adult ones, are often adept at playing one parent against the other and may not be opposed to resorting to guilt as a tactic to get what they want. In Deb’s family, many of the challenges come from her husband’s daughter, who at 32, is certainly no longer a child. “His daughter just recently tried playing Dave and I against each other. Much to her chagrin, she found out just how strong our relationship is!”
Sometimes, drawing the line is the kindest thing that parents can do for their children, no matter how old they are. Deb’s stepdaughter asks more of them than any of the others do, even expecting that her father provide substantial and continual financial assistance. They have chipped in and will continue to do so, especially when it comes to the woman’s young daughters, but they have had to turn down some of her requests for help, which typically results in an angry backlash.
Loving One and AllWhile Deb’s family life is certainly not always smooth and effortless, the one thing that they have in abundance is love. They adore all of the grandchildren, and never play favourites. “I want them to individually know that they each have something special to offer the world and hopefully we can help them find and nurture it, even across the miles.”
Geographical distance may be an issue. Resentment on the part of stepchildren can come in to play. Time and money might both be sometimes in short supply, but in this family, as in many, the love that exists helps them to keep the difficulties in perspective. One factor that has made a big difference for this particular family is that husband and wife are on the same page, so they don’t find themselves at odds over the children. “Amazingly we see them in the same way. Their strengths and weaknesses are weighed in the same manner and they all know we love them.”
Deb describes herself as lucky, and understands that perfection is an impossible goal, so she and her husband have come to accept that while they, like most grandparents, may not be living in circumstances that inspire corny movies, theirs is a good life. “Do we worry? Of course. As it is, we just deal with situations as they happen and try to do what we think is right. We believe in and love each other so everything else can be overcome.”