Written by Deb del Villar, Director of Communications
When you think of make-believe stories, what are the first words that come to mind? Maybe it’s “once upon a time” ending with “they lived happily ever after.”
Fairy tales often begin and end that way, yet our lives rarely do. We live in the real world where life can be hard. Allow me to share two stories with you.
Boy meets girl, falls in love, and marries. Sounds familiar doesn’t it. Yet this story has a twist from the very beginning – the girl had fallen in love before, bringing to this new marriage five children. Then enters grandparents from the boy’s family – where do they belong in this new family photo, or do they?
Within a year, a new bundle of joy, a bouncing baby boy, enters the picture. Now, surely, the grandparents can take on their grandparenting role. They eagerly wait for the invitations to come, but they are few and far between. Gifts seem to be the only thing required or desired of them.
After a few short years, the boy and girl’s marriage ceases to exist along with the strained grandparent relationship that really never got off the ground.
The next story rings of some of the same elements, yet it is unique. Boy meets girl, falls in love, and marries girl. From the beginning, boy is a dad to the three young people brought into the marriage by a previous relationship. Two of the children are almost teens, while the third is an adult.
Within the first month of marriage, the boy also becomes a grandfather. Still navigating the tricky adjustment as dad, he must also now be grandfather as well. Add to this complicated scenario, grandparents who have not yet met the new step-grandchildren and now also have their first great-grandchild.
But God – In the second story, the relationship between these three young people and the great-grandchild started off well and is continually growing. What made the difference from the first story? Did the grandparents act differently?
Let’s look at a few lessons learned since these stories are based on the personal experiences of my husband and me.
First and foremost, be yourself. We desired the same relationship with our step-grandchildren that we had with our other grandchildren. We acted the same way because, in our eyes, they became our grandchildren.
We did not see them as secondary grandchildren who were less valued than our biological grandchildren. Yet we did try to give the step-grandchildren time and space to get to know us, allowing them to dictate the direction and speed that the relationship would develop.
Building a relationship from scratch with a newborn is very different than coming into their life later. Even with biological grandchildren, some warm up quicker and easier than others. Take your cue from the individual grandchild. Be ready to respond however best meets the need of the step-grandchild.
While we have a good growing relationship with our new step-grandchildren, they do not call us by our traditional grandparent names. We have decided to not get hung up on that! Our chief desire is to make a lasting impact on them for God’s glory and their good.
In the first story, our relationship was never able to develop with the step-grandchildren as numerous barriers were present. Fortunately, in the second story, both parents were open, supportive, and desirous of a strong bond between us, the new step-grandparents.
From the very beginning, we never felt like step-grandparents. We treated the new grandchildren like all our other grandchildren because that is who they are to us and we love them dearly!
Welcome Them Into Your Family
Take time to get to know them, their interests, likes, and dislikes. When they come for a visit, make sure to have snacks and drinks they like. Until they feel comfortable, give them permission to help themselves when they are at your house.
At mealtimes, use the Legacy Coalition Let’s Talk cards to ask questions and get conversations started. Try not to push, but gently enter into their world.
Think of it like going to a vast ocean for the first time. There are waves crashing on the shore, the depth, current, and temperature of the water is not known until you slowly make your way in. As you ease into the water from the shoreline, you take one step at a time until you are comfortable. Even then, sometimes you get knocked over by an unexpected wave. Be ready to roll with the ups and downs.
Even when you do your best to welcome step-grandchildren into your family, it may be difficult. While the first story did not end well and we have no contact with our first step-grandchildren or grandchild from that relationship, we continue to pray for each and every one of them. God may one day allow us the opportunity to build into their lives.
I have heard the term “bonus” used in connection with step-grandchildren. We would certainly agree in regards to the second story! They are indeed an added bonus and blessing to our family. They are above and beyond what we expected, a bonus, that came along with a wonderful daughter-in-law.
Remember Each Situation Is Unique
As you are well aware, no two families are alike. Each one comes with its own story filled with hurts as well as blessings. While being a step-grandparent can be a difficult road to travel and navigate, it can bring many rewards along the way.
Trust and acceptance must be earned which can take considerable amounts of time depending on the previous circumstances and relationships experienced by your step-grandchildren. Put in the effort to build up the level of trust they will develop in you.
Seek to understand your role within the family. This is critical so you do not overstep any boundaries. Have open conversations to make sure that lines of communication are always flowing.
Let them know that you desire to be involved in their lives, but allow them to show you what that looks like moving forward. Ask how you can help support them in becoming a strong family.
It may be easier to build and grow a relationship with a younger stepgrandchild than entering their life when they are older. Do not give up though, the effort is well worth it! Remember to consistently be building your relationship with your adult child and their spouse too.
Have a Strategy
Accept your step-grandchild as your own. Remember we are the adopted sons and daughters of God.
Be present – Be around whenever you can, supporting them at sporting, school, or other events. If you’re unable to attend, send them a text or short video using an app like Marco Polo to let them know you are thinking of and praying for them.
Consider the values you would like to teach and share with your step-grandchildren. How can you show the unconditional love of Jesus? How can you share the gospel with them? What will you do to make them feel part of your family story?
Demonstrate unity and peace as much as it is up to you. Stay out of family dynamics that do not involve you. Instead focus on building a strong healthy relationship with your adult child, spouse, and step-grandchildren.
Exhibit balance, allowing space and time for the relationship to grow. Do not be overly zealous or involved if your bonus grandkids are not ready yet. Don’t distance yourself either, but stay available and accessible.
They may be trying to figure out where you fit in as they have other grandparents who are already established in their lives. Follow their lead and be grateful for progress forward. Above all, maintain hope and faith in God who loves to reconcile, redeem, and restore.
If you have step-grandchildren in your life, it’s a bonus! God has given you an additional amazing opportunity to impact their lives for Him.
“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” – Galatians 6:9
Editor’s Note: Legacy Coalition’s Let’s Talk cards can be purchased here!