Sometimes, when you marry someone with children, their parents have taken an extremely active role in your partner and stepchildren's lives. As your spouse was living as a single parent, his/her parents may have been helping with the children. In fact, the grandparents may have been quasi-parents and giving financial assistance. When stepparents come into the picture, we disrupt the equilibrium between the grandparents and their child, as well as the grandparents and their grandchildren. Next thing you know, you could be facing a power struggle. Yes, even Grandmom and Grandpop have read those fairy tales. You could become the evil stepmother.
Here are three tips to help you with the grandparent transition.
1. Go Back to Basics
As the grandparents infiltrate your new life, it is a great time for you and your partner to get on the same page regarding the children and your family. Be clear about your end game. Your end game defines the kind of people you want to raise. An end game may read something like this: "raising children who are self-sufficient, kind and give back to the world." Once you know your end game, make decisions that support that vision.
Here are some common issues. Do you want your children to receive toys at every visit? What is your policy regarding expensive gifts? Do you want the grandparents to have veto power over your house rules? Do you want input from grandparents into your family's policies? Is it in the best interest of the children to reduce the time with the grandparents?
2. Be Prepared for the Loss of Perks and the Pain of Transition
Adjust your expectations. If the grandparents have been taking an active role in the children's lives, yanking them away from each other will be jarring. Zero in on the times that you may want to cut back and replace them with core family time. Ease into it. Be kind, compassionate and patient. Adjust the time frame depending on how long your partner has been parenting with his parents. Remember that this is a restructure, not a completely new organization. Take baby steps and be creative on new ways that Grandmom and Grandpop can help and keep their connection to their grandchildren. Do not present time with the stepparent as an alternative to time with the grandparents.
If the grandparents have been helping financially, you may be living with a partner who does not want to give up the financial perks. They may not admit this, but it is a normal feeling. As a result, your partner may not want to change anything to make room for the new family. They are afraid to lose their parents' support. If this is the case, get assistance from a professional who can guide you through this transition. Remember, if the children see financial support from the grandparents, they may expect the same from you.
3. Present a United Front
Always present a united front in front of the children and the grandparents when issues arise. The biological parent of the grandparents must be the one to present and state policies. If there are issues, they must address them with the grandparents. Do not put the stepparent in the position of being the bad guy. Realistically, the stepparent will be blamed anyway, but, as a matter of procedure, the parents should communicate with his own parents. This may also be a good opportunity for a family meeting where all of the adults sit down and discuss new procedures.
Overall, if there are arguments about everyone's roles and responsibilities, stay focused on your family's vision. Continue to let the grandparents know how much they are loved and appreciated. As relationships adjust and the family weans itself into a more independent structure, allow the grandparents ample time to enjoy their grandchildren and have fun. Let them know that grandparents are the greatest gift your children can receive.