En­cour­age step-grand­chil­dren to in­ter­act

Tom and Dee Hardie with Key Kid­der

The Daily Herald - - SHORT TAKES -

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.

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