Ex-etiquette: Tips to negotiate a grand(parent) experiment
Question: My son has just remarried a woman with four children, and I am having trouble accepting this new family. I’d like to be close to her children, but I hardly know them. I adore the grandchildren I have, and I don’t want them to think I don’t love them best. What’s good ex-etiquette for bonus grandparents?
Answer: Begin by initiating a conversation with your child and his or her new spouse. Ask them how you can support their endeavor to positively combine their families.
Ex-Etiquette rule No. 8 is “Be honest and straightforward,” so ask any questions you can think of that will help to set clear expectations for all involved.
Good examples are:
“Will I be presented as just Annie’s grandma, or am I now Grandma (or Grandpa) to every child in the family?”
“What is expected of me in terms of gift-giving or setting up Christmas funds?
Many grandparents have special relationships with their grandkids and hesitate to form similar relationships with children to whom they are not biologically related. Kids can be just as hesitant about forming new relationships with new adults. Plus, children of divorce are often coping with feelings of rejection on one level or another. The introduction of new grandparents who favor bio-grandkids reinforces this feeling of rejection.
How can you maintain that close relationship with your bio-grandchild and nurture a new relationship with a new grandchild?
• No two children are alike. Make an effort to get to know your new grandchildren so you have more to talk about than, “Hi, honey, how’s school?”
• Let them get to know you. Tell them special stories about your past, just as you would a bio-grand.
• If their bio-grandparents are in the picture, get to know them so that they don’t feel like you are invading their territory.
• Go slowly into your new grandchildren’s lives. Don’t push yourself on them or force them to kiss or hug you.
• If you feel uncomfortable verbally expressing affection for your new grandchildren, start with things like “Aren’t you a smart girl!” “Great choice, Billy!” or “How handsome you look today!” Positive reinforcement makes everyone feel more accepted.
• It’s hard not to play favorites, but when giving presents, try to give all children presents of equal value. Don’t sneak extra money for that little something special to the bio-grands — it will promote division within the ranks.
• Children do not choose to get a divorce. It was their parents’ idea. Any anger or resentment you may harbor because of the divorce should be discussed with the divorced parents, not directed toward children.
• In your effort to do everything right, try not to overcompensate by being overly nice to the new grandchild, therefore causing jealousy in your bio-grand. Just be yourself. The goal is to help stepfamilies become bonusfamilies.
• Don’t be afraid to check in with your bonus grandchildren’s biological grandparents. You might be able to coordinate efforts and present things as a united front for the children you both love. That’s a perfect example of putting Good Ex-Etiquette for Parents rule No. 2, “Ask for help if you need it” into action.
Dr. Jann Blackstone is the author of “Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation,” and the founder of Bonus Families, www.bonusfamilies.com. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.