Statistics suggest that children of divorce exhibit more troubled behavior than their peers with married parents. As 40 to 50 percent of married couples divorce, the number of children at-risk rises. That can be frightening.
What if that behavior could be curtailed?
If anyone can make a difference, grandparents can. That includes step-grandparents. A 2009 study published by the American Psychological Association found that spending time with a grandparent is linked with better social skills and fewer behavior problems among adolescents, especially for children in single-parent or stepfamily households.
Children and adolescents whose parents have separated or divorced see their grandparents as confidants and sources of comfort, according to the report.
Like it or not, that puts a mantle of responsibility on grandparents. And why not? The family has always been the first unit of societal organization. Strong families build strong societies. And stepfamilies should be a respected part of that infrastructure.
Sometimes step-grandchildren arrive as new babies and sometimes as unanticipated teens. Sometimes they come in through remarriage or through an offspring’s subsequent marriage. Whatever the case, however unexpected, the step relationship is not a child’s “fault.” Their need for support is real.
It’s not always love at first sight for either adult or child, and that’s expected. Still, while growing in each others’ hearts, these children should get equal treatment with biological grandchildren – even if they’re difficult.
As reasonable as that sounds, plenty of “Cinderella” tales exist where the step-grandchildren know they’re treated unequally. For example, they may not get holiday gifts. The reasoning may be that they have other grandparents, but the child won’t see that. They’ll simply feel rejected.
For Sarah DiFranco of Concord Township, her step-grandparents were a bonus gained when she was 4 years old. She spent time with them just as she might any biological grandparents who lived nearby. She has happy memories of tea parties, shopping and playing in the yard. “Helen (she always used their first names) is now 90 years young. I still spend time with her,” she says fondly of her step-grandmother.
Laurie Bell, of Lakewood, became a step-grandmother when her stepsons had children. “I honestly can’t imagine treating them differently than I would if they were biologically related to me,” she says.
Ditto for Carolyn Watkins of North Olmsted. “My heart melts every time 2-year-old Annie asks where grandma is,” she says. “She truly has been such a joy in our lives.”
Perhaps the most obvious discussion point, she says, is what the grandchildren call the step-grandparent. Watkins is “grandma.” Bell is “Meemaw.” Meanwhile, DiFranco called her step-grandparents by their first names, Helen and Paul.
While the name decision is personal, some of the grandparenting advice is universal. Experts suggest:
- Learn to accept and treat your step-grandchild as your own, no matter your feelings.
- Realize each situation is different and learn as you go.
- Don’t force a connection. Follow a child’s lead on spending time together, hugs, etc.
- Stay out of family conflicts and don’t talk about the “other” parent
- Avoid competing with other grandparents.
Paris Wolfe has fallen in love with her partner’s 14 grandchildren.