Advice for Stepgrandparents

Become an Important Part of the Blend in Blended Families

Grandfather and stepgranddaughter beginning a relationship.
Welcoming stepgrandchildren into the family is the first step in being a great stepgrandparent. Photo © Caiaimage/Sam Edwards / Getty Images

If you are a grandparent, there's a good chance that you are also a stepgrandparent. If you don't have stepgrandchildren, there's a fairly good chance that you'll have at least one before your grandparenting career is over.

Stepfamilies, sometimes known as blended families, are very common in modern life. Researchers estimate that about 43% of all marriages involve at least one adult who has been married previously, also estimating that around two-thirds of those remarriages involve children from the prior marriage, forming stepfamilies or blended families.

An important but often overlooked ingredient in these modern blended families is the stepgrandparent.

Step relationships in general are more complex than primary marital and parenting relationships. They can be difficult to navigate. Still, millions of people will testify to the important roles that various steps have played in their lives. Stepgrandparents are often included in this testimony.

A 1989 study reports that most stepgrandchildren consider the stepgrandparent relationship important, are eager for more contact with stepgrandparents and maintain the relationship past high school.

A person can become a stepgrandparent through several different routes. The most common is being the parent of a child who marries someone who already has children. Another route is by marrying someone who has grandchildren. In both cases, the following strategies may ease any tensions that exist and should promote bonding.

Advice for Stepgrandparents

  • Don't push it. Don't expect to develop a relationship overnight. Don't blame yourself if you don't immediately bond with stepgrands. Give yourself and them plenty of time. On the other hand, a relationship can't be put off indefinitely or it will become less and less likely. Research indicates that the older the grandchild, the less likely he or she is to develop a close relationship with the stepgrandparent.
  • Don't try to buy their love. Do include your stepgrandchildren in gift-giving occasions and sometimes buy them gifts spontaneously if that is your practice. But do not be extravagant and do not have gift in hand each time you see the stepgrandchildren, unless you see them very rarely.
  • Stay out of family conflict. Obviously there are circumstances where neutrality is difficult, but giving your opinion when it is not asked for is almost certain to offend. No matter how warmly you are accepted during tranquil times, during times of stress you may become an outsider again, especially if you offer an unsolicited opinion.
  • Treat stepgrandchildren fairly. If you have biological grandchildren, it is unlikely that you will immediately treasure your stepgrandchildren as much as the grandchildren with whom you have already bonded. You should, however, have a relationship with all of your grandchildren and strive to hide any differences in the way you feel about them. Sometimes it helps to take grandchildren on outings individually so they do not have to compete for attention.
  • Let the child choose your grandparent name. Don't force them to call you one of the traditional names. First names are acceptable in some families. If they are not acceptable in your family, using a grandparent name with a first name, such as Papa Jim, is a good solution.
  • Don't force displays of affection. Don't cajole stepgrandchildren to hand out kisses or hugs. It's okay to ask, "Do you want to give me a hug?" or "Do you have a kiss for me?" but the child should be able to accept or decline physical signs of affection. Actually, children should never be expected to kiss relatives against their wishes. 
  • Don't compete with the other grandparents. Grandparent competition is never an pretty sight, but it can also work against your establishing a good relationship with a stepgrandchild. Forcing children to choose between relationships is seldom a good idea.

Even if stepgrandparents follow these guidelines, conflicts may still arise because of differences in how the generations perceive the grandparenting role. But these should be conflicts that arise in all grandparenting situations, not ones that are unique to stepgrandparents.