Stepfamilies: Trouble in Grandparent Land
Sometimes the going isn't so blissful, the wrinkled faces aren't as crinkled with smile lines as they are with frowns, and the kids are little monsters.
Grandparents and grandchildren may form a tight unit and exclude everybody else. This often happens with the Other Grands; most parents will side with their own child in a divorce, and some have been known to encourage their grandkids to look at the new stepparent as the wicked impostor. But it can also happen with the Grands. If your stepkids are having a hard time with the situation or with you, the doting Grands (your loving partner's parents) may well side with the kids against you. Of course, by doing this they're siding against their own child's choice of a mate, but hey, people don't always act rationally now, do they?
Measuring Up Against the Ex
It's never a clean slate with your in-laws, the Grands. They've dealt with your forerunner(s), and they usually have an opinion about how you measure up. In the best of circumstances, they will politely keep that opinion to themselves. In the worst of circumstances…well, in that case, it's up to you to enlist your partner's help and support to say (and mean) “Knock it off, Pa, this is the love of my life. Now be nice!”
Being measured against the ex doesn't always mean you'll come out looking lousy. But any kind of measuring isn't fair. Jeanette married Bob, the dad of three teenagers. Bob's dad, Jeanette's father-in-law, was ecstatic that Bob had married Jeanette, not just because they were great together, but because Jeanette and Bob were from the same cultural background and Bob's first wife had not been. Jeanette basked in the glow of her father-in-law's acceptance. Sounds great, doesn't it?
Guess again. Just think about how Bob's kids felt. Their mother had never been fully accepted, and then after the divorce and her former husband's remarriage she felt like a nonentity to the family. People were polite to her but made no special effort toward her. The children's loyalty was with their poor, put-upon mother (as well it should have been), and Jeanette had a much harder row to hoe with them—all because her father-in-law thought she was fantastic!
Morality and Judgment
Values and morality can sometimes get between the older and younger generations. It's very painful when your parents, the Step-Grands, disown you and ignore your stepkids because you married a divorced person, or when the Grands take the side of the ex (particularly ex-wives) and disown their own child. It does happen. Sometimes people cannot be convinced of the validity and importance of your stepfamily. When this happens, it's a tremendous loss to all.
When Partners Fail Each Other
Sometimes stepparents' complaints fall on deaf ears. You complain about your in-laws and hear, “Oh honey, you've just gotta try harder!” or, “You're too sensitive.”
Perhaps your Sweet Baboo is nervous about making a scene with the parents and so tells you, “Grin and bear it, honey. He's old and we don't see him that often.”
None of this is fair. It's often hard to stand up to your parents (it doesn't matter how old you are), but unity within the partnership is vital. You need your partner to be your ally. Your partnership will not last unless you are on each others' sides.
Grandparents and Biokids/Grandparents and Non-Biokids
Combined families can get complicated. Say Betsy and Brian are married. Betsy has a son, Amos, and Brian has a daughter, Amy. They all live together. What's the relationship between Amos' Other Grands and Amy? Nothing, right? But if Amos' Other Grands or his Grands (who are Amy's Step-Grands) bring attention and gifts only to Amos and ignore Amy, is that fair? Amos is their grandson, but is it okay to play favorites in front of Amy? Is it okay for them to say they love their grandkids more than the other kids?
Then there's your parents and the stepkids, their stepgrandchildren. Your parents may be reluctant to accept your partner's kids. Hey, many can't even accept the new partner!
All these complications can lead to some real resentment and misery. While you can't expect Step-Grands to care as much about their stepgrandchildren and the stepsiblings of their grandchildren, they do need to show courtesy and respect to your family unit. It's up to you and your partner to assert yourself on these matters and to request equal treatment. “Ma, cool it and be nice to the kids—all of them!”
More on: Nontraditional Families
Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Stepparenting © 1998 by Ericka Lutz. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
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