Image | @mammaogfillip
When we think of grandparents, most of us have a very sweet idea of older people with a penchant for giving out handfuls of hard candy, lunches out, maybe teaching the simple pleasures of a low-key hobby like gardening or fishing.
The reality is that introducing grandparents into your blended family is often wrought with stresses. While you can certainly have to the rosy relationship that you’re dreaming about for your family, it might take a little bit of work to get there. Here are a couple tips for setting the stage right.
Make a great first impression.
Don’t try to arrange an introduction before everybody is ready. Take your time and figure out a plan that takes everyone’s feelings, especially the stepkids’, into account.
A trip to the beach, an amusement park, even a mall, can provide a positive first experience and gives kids enough possibilities for distraction if they need a little bit of space. If your folks are coming in from out of town, take a minute to have a good hard look about how the kids’ space will be affected. Are they being displaced for these new people? Will they have a place to escape to if they need to decompress and process their feelings? If there is any way that the kids might feel resentful of your parents, consider springing for a hotel for them.
Have the name talk beforehand.
Don’t put the kids in the weird position of having to figure out what to call their new set of grandparents. Have the first conversation with your partner; they should have some feedback about what names the kids already call their biological grandparents and whether or not the family has any emotions about it. In some families, a kid announcing that she has “a new Grandma” might be totally fine or even celebrated; in others, that’s stepping on an emotional mine with your partner’s ex and their family.
Your local culture and the culture of your parents’ area plays a big role in this too. For example, in California, it’s common for kids of any age to call adults by their first name, whereas in many places in the American South, it’s considered disrespectful to not address an older person without Mr. or Mrs. The last think you want is to embarrass step kids by not warning them of these expectations ahead of time.
Give your parents time to air their feelings ahead of time.
Your own parents might have some conflicting emotions about meeting your step kids. Are they seeing this as the kiss of death about you having biological children? Are they disappointed that they are becoming grandparents to older children rather than your biological newborn? Are they anxious about being called Grandma and Grandpa?
While these aren’t always easy conversations, it’s important to give your parents time and space to let their feelings out into the open if they need to. The last thing you want is a weird vibe when they meet the step kids because they are processing their own emotions for the first time.
Take biological kids’ feelings into account.
Be very mindful of biological kids’ feelings when you introduce step kids to grandparents. Are they feeling like their turf is being encroached on? Are they expecting to feel jealous of seeing grandmotherly love shared with their new step siblings?
Ask them what you and your partner can do to ease them into it and mitigate any jealousy. They might have ideas like going out fishing with Grandpa one-on-one or having a small lunch with just your own family before they meet the step kids. If your kids are older, they might do well with taking a lead role of introducing their step siblings. Let them know that you’re there for them and if they need to talk, you’re happy to answer any questions. Remind them that love isn’t a limited resource and they won’t be getting any less love from their grandparents.
Give kids the time and space to open up about their concerns.
Just like with your parents, partner, and biological kids, give step kids the space and time to express what they’re thinking. Make it clear that they won’t get in trouble for asking you questions ahead of time and you won’t hold it against them if they have conflicting feelings.
This should give you a great blueprint for how to move forward. They might be nervous about making a good impression, resentful of their family changes, fearful of stepping on your biological kids’ toes, really stoked about getting an extra set of grandparents, or a combination of all of the above. Let them help you guide the way.
Don’t feel too much pressure to make it absolutely perfect.
No matter how much prep work you do, family feelings can be unpredictable and you can’t control the outcome. Lots of stepkids and non-biological grandparents have a rocky start and go on to grow into a healthy, happy relationship.