I have two adult children, Emily and Lucas. Emily has two children, Sophia (12) and Olivia (8) and I’m extremely close with them. Sophia and Olivia stay with me at least one weekend a month and the three of us always have a fabulous time.
Lucas got married a year ago and his wife has a son from a previous marriage, Jackson (8). Lucas recently had a serious talk with me. I didn’t realize it but Lucas is hurt and angry because he thinks I’ve done very little to bond with his stepson. He thinks I’m way too distant and formal with Jackson and that it’s obvious how much I favor the other two grandchildren. He says the girls often brag to Jackson that they spend the weekend with me and how I often buy them things. Lucas also pointed out I have pictures of the girls all over Facebook and absolutely none of Jackson and that the whole extended family has noticed.
Lucas also stated that if things don’t change, he wasn’t going to bring his family to Christmas because it wouldn’t be fair to subject Jackson to unhealthy family favoritism. I feel brokenhearted Lucas feels this way. I certainly want to fix things but I’ve had a relationship with Sophia and Olivia for years and I can’t seem to instantly feel that way about Jackson. To be completely honest, Jackson can act bratty, especially toward Olivia. During family gift-giving, Jackson seems only interested in the gifts he gets rather than being a part of the family.
Shouldn’t I be allowed to fuss over my granddaughters and love them without being obligated to do 100 percent equal for a child who thinks of me as not much more than his stepdad’s mother?
It’s understandable for you to not have the same emotional attachment to Jackson as you do with your granddaughters but that’s all the more reason to work on the relationship. The problem isn’t that you love or give too much to Olivia and Sophia but that there’s a lot of catching up to do with your relationship with Jackson. Invest the time and effort in getting to know him as an individual and connect with him on a personal level. Every relationship is different, but take your cues from Lucas and Jackson’s mom. Figure out who Jackson is and what his passions and interests are. Spend time with both Jackson and Lucas until you both feel more comfortable alone. It may be worthwhile to plan outings tailored to Jackson’s special interests.
Close family bonds don’t happen overnight but require time and effort to build. Even if Jackson is initially standoffish, you’re the adult and grandmother and he’s just a child. A blended family is an adjustment for all but imagine how difficult it must be for Jackson to feel like an outsider. Allow your relationship to develop gently, without pushing. Don’t be too hard on yourself or Jackson if things seem a little awkward at first. You may not feel an instant attachment, which is completely normal. The more time you spend with him, though, the closer you’ll become.
Ask Jackson to bring some of his favorite toys or books, as well as his baby pictures or things from his early childhood. Look through his pictures. Have him discuss certain memories with you. Show an interest in him and his life. You may not be in total control of your heart, but you can strive to control your behavior. One key to being a good step-grandparent is to treat your grandchildren equally whether they’re biological or not. If you have the girls over once a month, do something with Jackson once a month, too. If you buy the girls gifts, pick up something for Jackson. If you don’t know what he likes, find out.
You clearly love Lucas. Listen to him. He’s trying to tell you his family is important to him and that Jackson is his responsibility to protect and love. He needs your help in making Jackson feel included and welcomed and wants you to strive to form a bond to ensure a loving, happy family.
“A step-grandparent is someone who steps up when needed, steps back when it causes conflict and steps in to give a child one more person to love.” — Anonymous.
Patti Carmalt-Vener, a faculty member with the Southern California Society for Intensive Short Term Psychotherapy, is a psychotherapist in private practice with offices in Pasadena, Santa Monica and Canoga Park. Contact her at (626) 584-8582 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit her website, patticarmalt-vener.com.