Blended families and changing family relationships
Relationships with grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins often change after separation and divorce.
For example, you might not continue to have contact with your former partner’s family. And if you do have contact, it’s natural for it to gradually reduce over the years. If you repartner, there’ll be more changes. You’ll gain some new in-laws and your child will meet a new extended family and step-grandparents.
Children usually benefit from contact with extended families, as long as the relationships are positive. They like knowing they belong, and that there are lots of people out there who care about them. And grandparents can play important roles in supporting children during their parents’ separation or repartnering.
Maintaining existing extended family relationships
Most families find it easier when each parent keeps in contact with their own families. This means that a child sees her dad’s extended family when she’s with her dad, and her mum’s extended family when she’s with her mum.
Some families all get together for important occasions like birthdays, graduations and weddings. If both families can cooperate, these occasions usually go well.
Sometimes situations are more challenging. If your former partner has died, doesn’t live nearby, is estranged from family, or doesn’t have much contact with your child, contact with your child’s other grandparents and relatives might depend on you.
You might want to think about whether your former partner’s parents and relatives are important to your child, and whether your child wants to see them. If he feels happy after seeing them, and if your former partner is OK with you being in contact with them, it’s probably a good thing.
Developing relationships with new extended family
When you repartner, your children will probably gain new step-grandparents. Some step-grandparents are keener to be involved than others. But if everyone is open to it, children can develop friendly, supportive and sometimes close relationships with step-grandparents over time.
How close this relationship becomes can depend on:
- your child’s age when she meets step-grandparents – young children can become closer more easily
- step-grandparents’ interest in and ability to relate to your child
- the amount of time your child spends with step-grandparents
- how open you and your child are to getting to know step-grandparents.
You can support your child in developing relationships with step-grandparents and other extended family members by accepting invitations from step-relations when you can. If you feel comfortable, you could think about arranging get-togethers with the new extended family.
It has made me realise it’s not about biology. It’s about family and shared experiences. It has been wonderful to gain two noisy little kids at our big family functions. It’s changed the dynamic and we are very happy for all of them.
– Mario, 66, step-grandfather to two children
Tips for step-grandparents in blended families
You can help develop a good relationship with your step-grandchildren and help them feel comfortable in their new family by:
- being welcoming towards them and showing an interest in getting to know them – for example, by making some time to talk with them at family get-togethers
- being available sometimes to help out with the step-grandchildren if you’re asked
- treating your step-grandchildren in a similar way to your other grandchildren – for example, by giving your step-grandchildren presents on their birthdays.
My grandson Milo is five years old, but he is new to us because my son has a blended family. He was very shy when we first met. But now we kick the soccer ball and get a hot chocolate or have a walk when the family comes over. We have some really great chats. He asked me the other day if I was around in cave man times … Ha ha!
– Lindsey, 60, step-grandparent to one child