Grandchildren can be one of life’s great delights. When you find a partner late in life, you may become a step-grandparent, which can bring great joy and also some challenges. If you have a good relationship with the child’s parents and you have been around since the child’s birth, your relationship with your step-grandchild may be very much like any grandparenting relationship. Sometimes, however, things are more complicated.
Your stepchild is the “gatekeeper” for your relationship with your step-grandchild, so focus on enhancing that relationship first. Be sure your stepkids know you respect them as parents, and tread lightly with any advice. Offer to help but don’t push. Not every parent wants to leave a one-week-old baby to go out, regardless of who is offering to babysit. In our situation, Charles pitched in to help prepare the nursery for Jennifer’s grandson, and has been his beloved “Grandpa Charles” ever since. Jennifer fell in love with each of her step-grandchildren the first day she met them (ranging from 2 hours after birth to age 14), and feels deeply connected to each child. Fortunately, our stepchildren have welcomed the additional grandparent into their children’s lives.
Grandparenting shouldn’t be a competitive activity. Children benefit from a circle of loving adults, and while an occasional pang of jealousy may be normal, don’t ever try to demean the biological grandparent or get into a gift-giving competition. The best gift you can give any grandchild is your undivided attention and love. If there are negative feelings between your partner and the “ex,” walk gently during family celebrations and try to defuse the tension if you can. Grandchildren can sometimes be a bridge to a less conflicted relationship.
Just as parents need to be on the same page in terms of how they handle their kids, so do grandparents. You and your partner will benefit from talking through how you plan to handle holidays, visits, gifts, and contact with all grandchildren in the family. If your partner already has grandchildren when you meet, pay close attention to the nature of that relationship. If you think your partner is overindulgent or too strict, for example, it is unlikely that you can change these behaviors, so consider carefully whether these differing viewpoints will drive you nuts. It’s one thing if your partner goes a little overboard for the holidays; it’s another if a grandchild with serious problems is living in the home and your partner is in denial about any difficulties.
When differences of opinion arise, the key, as always, is honest and tactful communication. The good news is that co-grandparenting can create a special bond with your partner. You may not have had children together, but each of you can bask in the pleasure of seeing your partner establish a loving relationship with your grandchildren. Together, you can develop creative ways to stay in touch with grandchildren who live far away. You can build new family traditions and wonderful memories as you spend time with all your grandchildren.
Northwest authors Jennifer Y. Levy-Peck, PhD, a psychologist and her husband Charles Peck, have a total of five well-loved grandchildren. You can participate in the creation of their book "Magic at Midlife: Your Relationship Roadmap for Romance After 40" (and enter to win a $100 Amazon gift card) by sharing your experiences in a survey: www.surveymonkey.com/s/MidlifeRelationships2
Previous Magic at Midlife Columns:
Enjoy Life Together
Online Dating for the Older Set
Enjoying the Single Life
Sex in Midlife Relationships: Complicated but Wonderful!
Upgrade Your Communication Skills
Tending Your Relationship as You Tend to Aging Parents
Learning from Your Relationship History
When Extrovert Meets Introvert
What Do You Want in the Long Run?
Creating Holidays for Changing Families