Stepgrandmother Should Try To Understand How Stepgrandchildren Feel

By: Lisa Cohn

Dear Lisa,

My mother is always concerned about doing the "appropriate" thing and that is to be commended, but I have a concern about certain actions on her part. I was hoping that you would tell me what would be the "appropriate" thing for her to do in the following situation.

My sister has two children from a previous marriage and an "ours" child plus two stepchildren with her current husband. Since my sister's marriage, close to 10 years ago, my mother has consistently not acknowledged the two stepchildren at birthdays or Christmas. Her feeling is that they already have grandmothers and she is really not related to them.

My sister has tried on many occasions throughout the years to explain how her actions make the children feel. She has told her in so many different ways that whether they are stepchildren or not, they are part of "her" family and that my mother should accept them into the fold of our family.

Help! We are really frustrated and don't know how to help her understand that what she is doing is wrong, but maybe she will listen to you.

Thanks for listening!

Susi B.

Dear Susi: Thanks for writing about this important issue. I agree that your mother's behavior is likely hurting her stepgrandchildren. The kids are absolutely part of your sister's family and your mother should try to treat them as though they are part of the family.

My co-author, William Merkel, a Ph.D. psychologist, addresses this issue in our book.

"Relatives' present-giving can be lethal for kids. With stepfamilies, the children's schedules and boundaries are so complicated that kids often worry, on a primitive level, about whether they're truly members of their family. Getting a gift is often a symbol of being included. Relatives who suggest with words or innocent oversight that kids aren't really part of the family can spur powerful fears and worries in children," he says.

Parents in stepfamilies need to help their relatives try to view the world from the kids' point of view. Keep reminding your parents that their stepgrandchildren really want to feel included.

Often, well-meaning relatives simply don't know how to behave around stepfamily members. Remarried parents can help their relatives by giving them specific advice, he suggests. "Tell the relatives that if they're bringing a Valentine's Day card for one child, they should bring cards for all the children. Ask the relatives to send holiday money or gifts to all the children."

Your sister can also help your mom connect with her stepkids by telling her about their interests and suggesting activities that she can do with them. With your help and your sister's help, hopefully she'll begin to view the world from her stepchildren's point of view.

Again, thanks for bringing up this important issue.



Lisa Cohn is co-author of One Family, Two Family, New Family: Stories and Advice for Stepfamilies and co-host of Stepfamily Talk Radio, an internet radio show. You can also visit her at

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