Bonus Grandparents

I married a man five years ago who has no children. I have two. Their bio father is not in the picture, so they have no extended family. I was hoping my husband's parents could fill in as grandparents, but they are having trouble adjusting. They are very stiff around the kids and refer to them as "your children" rather than their grand kids. It hurts my children's feelings. What can I do to help the situation?


Jann Blackstone-Ford

Author of Ex-Etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation, and Director of Bonus Families, a non-profit organization... Read more

When we remarry, we often forget that it’s not just us marrying, but our extended family comes along for the ride. Your new in-laws may not have been as emotionally prepared for your new union as you were, and therefore have some problems adjusting. To make the transition easier for everyone, I would suggest a frank discussion before the wedding. With the help of your then-fiancé, talk about your expectations and simply ask the new in-laws for their support. Ask them for their opinions, and together set up a plan to slowly work them into the lives of your children. Of course, you are already married, so I wouldn’t waste time. You, your husband and your new in-laws need to have a frank discussion about their relationship with your kids.

Sometimes it’s difficult for older people to accept change, so don’t be surprised if, at first, they balk at the assumption that they are now grandparents. They have not built a bond with your children, so they may look at this new responsibility as purely financial and resent the implication. For this reason, during your initial conversation, I would reinforce the desire for emotional ties. Explain that you value their opinions and position in your life, and that you want that for your children. When they realize that your desires are honorable, that you respect them so much that you think that they are good role models for your kids, they will come around.

Find out about how to get "comfortable"

And remember, feeling comfortable with someone takes time. The reason your in-laws refer to your kids as “your kids” is because, to them, that’s exactly what they are. They don’t know them and have not yet built a rapport. The best way to build a rapport is to spend time together, so I would suggest that they start planning short outings that don’t include you or your husband. Go fishing, bowling, something that requires interaction - don’t go to the movies where you sit quietly for two hours.

For example, at my house, “the grandparents” as they are called, take all the kids, no matter their origin, to the Halloween Pumpkin Patch each year. There is a huge age difference between my children -- the youngest is nine, the oldest is 20. I found it amusing last year when, my then 19-year-old automatically appeared at my front door a week before Halloween right as my youngest got out of school. “Today’s Pumpkin Patch Day, isn’t it?” she asked. Yes, it was, but no one thought she would be still interested in participating at her age. But, she explained, Pumpkin Patch Day was a family tradition. She was there to participate. And, the grandparents that take the kids to the Pumpkin Patch are not her biological grandparents.

Read these quick tops to pass on

Here are some quick tips to pass on to help Bonus Grandparents build a rapport with new grandchildren:

• Make an effort to get to know each grandchild individually so you understand his or her personal likes and dislikes. That way when birthdays come around you can actually buy them something that they like.

• Talk to each other about what you like to do, your friends, etc. Bonus Grands should make a special effort to tell new grandchildren their family stories, the same stories you would tell bio grandkids, so that family traditions are still carried on.

• Go slow. Don’t push. There’s lots of time and time is what helps to build a relationship.

• If Bonus Grands feel uncomfortable displaying physical affection towards new grandchildren that are not biologically their own, don’t forget the positive words of praise. “Aren’t you a smart girl!” goes a long way when you are trying to get close to someone.

• Don’t let little things become a problem. Nip things in the bud so a rapport can build naturally. Discuss your approach to problems with the parents first to make sure everyone is on the same page, and then talk to the grandchild. Always do your own talking. Don’t depend on the bio parent as an intermediary.

Good Luck

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