Grandparents in step-families can offer kids stability

Many people feel unsure of the role
grandparents and step-grandparents play in step-families. During divorce,
separation or remarriage, grandparents, like the children, do not have much of
a say in the changes which take place. Yet they may be involved in providing
considerable support. Grandparents and step-grandparents can be advocates for
their grandchildren – understanding their challenging behaviour, helping them
to understand decisions made on their behalf by their parents, and helping
parents to see their children’s point of view.

What are the issues?

Grandparents can provide practical
support at times of family change and upheaval but they may find this hard.
Many may have thought that they had reached a stage in their lives where they
no longer had to care directly for children. Being a step-grandparent is not
the same as being a grandparent – there is no biological connection. It takes
time to develop affection, responsibility and loyalty. It is a complicated role
and has to be negotiated with all the other family members. For all the adults
involved, the welfare of the children should be the priority.

Offering support without
interfering

This is the classic grandparent
dilemma, and there are no easy answers. Grandparents and step-grandparents may
have very strong views about how their children are behaving in relation to
their grandchildren and step-grandchildren, so attempts at support can be
charged with emotion for all concerned. Try to focus on the needs of all the
children, and try to provide help that is wanted, rather than help that you
want to give. If you are unsure of what to offer, or hurt because your offers
are rejected, you may want to talk to someone neutral.

Retaining contact with grandchildren

If at all possible contact should
be maintained. Children need the reassurance that not all the adults in their
lives are changing their roles and relationships with them. Children need to
know that their grandparents still love them. Contact may be especially
important if a parent or stepparent has died. This can be difficult for all the
adults to recognise as they struggle with their own grief. Research shows that
children do need reminders of their dead parent, especially of their positive
qualities, and do need to be allowed to talk about that parent. Research suggests
that children’s adjustment to family upheaval can be helped by the presence of
a loving, fair and supportive adult in their lives. Grandparents and
step-grandparents are well placed to take this role.

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