Encourage step-grandchildren to interact
Tom and Dee Hardie with Key Kidder
Dear Grandparenting: My wife, Beth, lost her will to travel after nerves got the best of her. Since then we have hosted a weekend family extravaganza where everybody gets together at our house. Three generations for two nights. A few bring their campers. Some book rooms nearby. We can sleep eight or nine comfortably. We had 28 show up two years ago. It’s a big production.
Beth always fights what she describes as “anticipatory anxiety” because she wants everything to go smoothly. This year she’s a nut case because two of our children are who remarried are bringing their step-grandkids along. So besides our usual six grandchildren, we’ll have a bunch of new ones, too.
This puts poor Beth on needles and pins. She walks around our house worrying out loud about what can go wrong. The thing bothering her most is how the step-grandkids and other grandkids will get along, because she can’t control what happens. All this change is a big adjustment for the family. Got any words of wisdom to help us get through this with a minimum of nervous breakdowns? Roger Navarro, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Dear Roger: Stepfamilies are nothing if not normal. According to U.S. Census numbers, half of all marriages and 67 percent of second marriages fail. But these reconstituted or “blended” families can pose problems for the best of them. Stepfamilies are born of emotional hardship and loss — separation and divorce, death or dereliction of parental duty. It’s an especially heavy burden for little ones to bear.
Many a well-meaning stepgrandparent will rush in to smother their new family members with love. Not so fast, at least to our way of thinking. Each step-grandchild will have a different response upon meeting their step-grandparents for the first time. Don’t assume you know their comfort zone. After everyone has arrived and had a look around, gather all the kids in a separate room and lay down the ground rules you expect them all to follow. When rules seem arbitrary, the younger generation is more inclined to act out and test the limits. So besides making your step-grandchildren feel safer and more settled, you’ve also allayed their fears you play favorites by treating your biological grandchildren differently.
While you can’t demand they all get along, you can encourage their interaction, insist they treat each other respectfully and reinforce positive behavior with praise. Should trouble arise, don’t overreact. We advise your wife to set realistic expectations. The family is transitioning. There will be bumps and free-floating anxiety. And it is only through a shared experience like a family weekend that new and old family members find common ground. It’s a good start. Now give it time. Grand remark of the week Deuce Casper, of Lady Lake, Florida, has “absolutely no problem giving my grandkids a compliment when they deserve it. Some would say it gives them a fat head. I think it rewards their good behavior. They’ll hear plenty of negatives down the road.”
Dee and Tom, married more than 50 years, have eight grandchildren. Together with Key, they welcome questions, suggestions and Grand Remarks of the Week. Send to P.O. Box 27454, Towson, MD, 21285. Call 410-963-4426.