Whether you like it or not, when an adult son or daughter remarries, you are going to inherit a bunch of new relatives -- and their problems. Remarriage is difficult for the couple. What many people don't realize is how tough it is on grandparents who have the daunting and gratifying job of establishing relationships with step-grandchildren.
It is pretty common to hear the term blended families, which is a misnomer. You cannot put people in a blender and expect them to homogenize -- especially when it comes to adding kids to the family soup.
Many grandparents talk about the difficulties of being accepted. If a grandchild or step-grandchild resents the remarriage, you are automatically the target of that anger. My suggestion to grandparents is to keep trying without going overboard. Use some humor. If everything fails, try backing off until the child has sorted out his issues. It may take some time for him to figure out that you are part of the game plan and not so horrible, after all.
It's possible your step-grandchild is unhappy because the kid has had to make all kinds of sacrifices. It might help to acknowledge how hard he's trying by saying something like, "I'm very proud of you for sharing your room with Mike," or "I know it's not easy moving to a new middle school but I think it's great you made the swim team."
As for being empathetic, I wouldn't advise buddying-up a step-grandchild too soon if your role is not yet assured. You are like an invited guest. To be successful, first earn the respect of the parent and the rest may follow.
Some kids do better accepting the new grandparent(s) than others. Children between ten and fourteen years old usually have the most difficulty adjusting to their parent's remarriage. Younger children might be more flexible. Older kids look forward to leaving home and have their peers for support. If an older child is really unhappy with the situation, he may have the option of choosing to live with the other biological parent.
Let's face it: some kids are lovable and some are not. More than one grandparent has inherited a grandkid acting out with purple hair and body piercing. The wise grandparent looks beyond the tattoos and remembers that beauty is only skin-deep. Certainly, there has got to be some common ground. Be tolerant; most kids want to be accepted. If it is too difficult to get past obnoxious behavior, keep in mind your son or daughter is more than likely struggling with the same problem. The last thing anyone needs is a critical grandparent to wreck a marriage.
Up until now I've focused on the difficulties grandchildren have reshuffling the family. Fortunately, there are many situations when children are thrilled to have the security of a stable unit. New grandparents to indulge them -- what's bad about that? I've talked to grandparents who wouldn't think of calling their inherited grandkids step-grandkids. To them, blood is not thicker than water.
Case in point: I will never forget the grandparent who talked about her pain when she learned her son's second marriage was falling apart. "The worst was when my five-year-old step-grandson, overhearing my son and his mother talk about getting divorced, took me aside and asked, 'Does that mean I can't have you for my grandma anymore?'"
Today the roots of the family seem to be growing further and further away from the tree trunk. There are millions of households containing at least one stepchild and that makes for millions of step-grandparents. Seniors can help cement their son or daughter's remarriage by accepting the new constellation and doing what they can by making children who are trying to adjust to the changes feel accepted and loved.