In the book, Doing Life With Your Adult Children: Keep Your Mouth Shut and The Welcome Mat Out, I spend an entire chapter dealing with in-laws, stepfamilies and the blended family. Here is some advice I share to parents of adult children on how they can negotiate the somewhat challenging world of step and blended family.
Negotiating Your Stepfamily and Blended Family: As you do life with your Adult Children
With the divorce rate still near the 50 percent range, stepfamilies and blended families are becoming more and more the norm. One of your tasks as a parent is to find your place in the complexity of a blended family. When things don’t go perfectly, you can’t take it personally. Blending a family, dealing with an ex, and navigating others’ family traditions as well as dysfunctions are all part of the mix.
It goes without saying that the blending of families is a difficult undertaking. First, a couple gets a divorce or experiences the death of a spouse. After the divorce or death, there is a time of grief and loneliness. Then a new person comes along and two people fall in love. At the same time, there are existing relationships from the previous marriage. Falling in love is easy, but blending all those complex relationships is difficult. Don’t expect immediate compatibility with everyone. Perhaps you have also been through a divorce or death. If that is the case, you may have a better handle on how to deal with a stepfamily and blended family. Here are a few dos of step-grandparenting.
- Win over the step-grandchildren by offering kindness and support. Work on your likability factor. Offer warmth and positivity.
- Be aware that there are always loyalty issues in a blended family, so steer clear of controversy with other family members.
Doing Life with Your Adult Children
- Build up a great relationship with the biological parent. It’s the key to access to the step-grandkids.
- Be present in their lives whenever you can. If they live in the area, be present at their Little League games and dance recitals. Be the one to bring the flowers or buy the burgers.
- Accept your step-grandchildren as fully your own. The sooner they feel your love and acceptance, the better.
- Be generous with fun and thoughtful gifts.
- Take your cues from the biological parent.
- Allow the biological parent to discipline the kids. You are not the one to discipline.
- Assume that they might not call you Grandma or Grandpa. If they do, great; but if they don’t, does it really matter? Not really. Over time, you can come up with a unique name together.
- Set boundaries, be honest, demonstrate compassion, and if you are married, remain as united as possible.
- Be sensitive to the fact that step-grandkids may need space to figure out their role in the new family culture.
I love the somewhat corny story of the visiting pastor who attended a men’s breakfast in the middle of a rural farming area of the country. The group had asked an older farmer decked out in ancient overalls to say grace for the morning breakfast. “Lord, I hate buttermilk,” the farmer began. The visiting pastor opened one eye to glance at the farmer and wondered where this was going. The farmer loudly proclaimed, “Lord, I hate lard.” Now the pastor was growing concerned. Without missing a beat, the farmer continued, “And Lord, you know I don’t care much for raw white flour.” The pastor once again opened an eye to glance around the room and saw that he wasn’t the only one who was beginning to feel uncomfortable. Then the farmer added, “But Lord, when you mix ’em all together and bake ’em, I do love warm, fresh biscuits. So Lord, when things come up we don’t like, when life gets hard, when we just don’t understand what you are sayin’ to us, help us to just relax and wait till you’re done mixin’. And probably it will be somethin’ even better than biscuits. Amen.”
Within that silly prayer there is great wisdom for all when it comes to adult children and our often complicated family situations. To adapt a few words from the wonderful Disney movie Lilo and Stitch, “This is my family. It’s little and sometimes broken, but still good. Yeah, still good.”