Whether you marry a man who already has grandchildren or your stepchildren start having babies, becoming a step-grandmother can be both a joy and a challenge. If the children have blood grandparents, you’ll need to carve out a place for yourself without stepping on anyone’s toes. Putting the children first ensures that their needs are taken care of and they can grow up feeling loved by all the adults in their lives.

Know the boundaries

When you’re walking into a family, especially one that has dealt with divorce or death, there is bound to be some unpleasant family history. Stay out of the past, at least around your grandchildren. If you want to know something about a family fight or the traditions that your step-grandchildren have with their other grandparents, ask your husband these questions in private. Be respectful of the relationship that the children have with their other grandmothers. Don’t badmouth these women or try to take their place in the children’s lives.

Start your own traditions

It is important that you bond with your step-grandchildren in your own way, so start your own traditions that are unique to you and the children. For instance, if they spend Christmas Eve at another grandmother’s house, start a new tradition in which they come to your house for dinner on December 23rd. Invite the children over for dinner on the first Friday of the month, or hold regular sleepovers complete with cartoons and art projects. Create a special place in your home for the children’s belongings. Whenever they come over, pull out games or toys that are just for them.

Be supportive

Your step-grandchildren have parents, aunts and uncles and grandparents, all of whom may offer the children unwanted advice or criticism. Think of your role as a supportive friend and patient listener. Ask the children what’s happening in their lives and encourage them to tell you anything they want. Rather than criticizing their choices or offering unsolicited advice, just listen. Doing a little venting may be all they need, and they can grow comfortable enough with you that they’re able to ask for help when they need it. Don’t push children to confide in you; children need time to adjust to you and learn to trust you.

Find shared interests

Finding an activity that you and your step-grandchildren can enjoy together makes it easy to bond, especially when you’re first joining the family. Doing something together gives you and the children something to talk about. Find an interest that you share with each child; for instance, if one child is in band and you can play an instrument, offer to take her to local concerts or sign up for a community music group together. You might also sign up for classes in a subject neither of you knows about. Learn a new language or take cooking classes together. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to laugh while you learn.

Change the language

The word “step” has gotten a bad reputation through fairy tales in which stepmothers are portrayed as evil characters. Changing your own title and the titles of your family members can help children see you as having a positive role.

Psychologist Jann Blackstone-Ford recommends using the term “bonus” to describe your family, since this has a positive connotation. Refer to yourself as a “bonus grandmother” or to the children as your “bonus grandchildren” can make your relationship sound like a reward rather than a detriment.

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