I attended a beautiful wedding last weekend. No, it wasn't the bride's dress that was outstanding, although she looked lovely; there were no attendants, so that wasn't what made it special; the church was small and ordinary, no stained glass windows or Roman architecture; the decorations were simple, fall-colored leaves. What made the event outstanding was the blending of two young families. When the pastor had the four children (three young sons of the bride and the groom's three-year-old daughter) come forward, lay their hands on the bride and groom, and commit to loving and supporting the new family they would become, I knew this was one of the most touching ceremonies I had attended. As I continued to reflect on challenges ahead of this family, I thought of all the others who were being brought into this union, willingly or not. Beth's parents and her family, Michael's parents and his family, Isaiah's father and his father's family, Peyton's father and his father's family, Ethan's father and his father's family, and Jade's mother and her mother's family. Wow, that gives a blended family new meaning! Yet, here is an opportunity for these children to be so loved by many different people. I didn't try to figure out how many grandparents these kids now have.
More and more the blended family is becoming the family of America. In fact, according to the American Blended Family Association, more than 20 million blended families currently reside in the United States. Further, that number is growing as approximately 2,100 new blended families are formed every day. Grandparents play into each of those scenarios in one way or another. Across the United States, almost 7.8 million children are living in homes where grandparents or other relatives are the householders, with more than 5.8 million children living in grandparents' homes. In Illinois, over 200,000 children under the age of 18 are living in a grandparent-headed home.
Since many blended families come about as a result of a past loss such as a death or divorce, it may be difficult for family members to adjust to a new family. Children may feel angry, hurt and confused when faced with a new setting, different expectations and unfamiliar rules. Aggression, defiance, depression, and withdrawal may be present for up to a year or more. Grandparents may find that becoming a disciplinarian is one of their most difficult new roles. According to Trinity Recovery Center at Trinity Regional Hospital, Ft. Dodge, IA, the following suggestions may help blended families adjust and establish discipline.
Remember that blended families are differing from traditional nuclear families in that nuclear families grew into knowing one another and establishing rules. A blended family's environment is new, unnatural and can be scary feeling for all involved. Creating a blended family is a gradual process, involving many changes and adjustments. There may be feelings of loss, anger, or hurt. Give family members time and space to adjust.Evaluate your parenting skills and define what you feel are good parenting skills. You may find that you want to parent differently than you have in the past. Be sure that you are setting reasonable rules and consequences, make sure children understand the rules, what is expected, the reasons for the rules, and then follow through consistently with consequences.If you are not the only person in a parental role in the household, discuss and agree on expectations. Present a "united front" to children and work together to support and reinforce each other.Allow children to have as much input as possible in setting rules, and consequences. Discuss issues such as chores, schedules and planned activities. Putting rules and expectations in writing may help avoid arguments later.Be open-minded. You may find ways you have parented in the past can be improved. Don't insist on one "right" way to discipline. Be willing to try new things.Respect differences. Children need to know that their feelings and opinions are important.Good relationships are built on trust and take time to develop. Don't expect instant "respect" or love.Remember you are not the "original" parent, and children may remind you of this. Be an additional parent rather than a replacement.Don't discipline when angry. There is nothing wrong in saying, "We will figure this out when we both cool off."Don't take children's behavior personally. They are trying to figure out where they fit in to this new environment, and their frustration and confusion has little to do with you.
If you are one of these grandparents who has given up your retirement or your own plans in order to take on the diapers, daycare, teacher conferences, driver's education, and everything else that comes along with raising children, you are making numerous sacrifices in order to provide a better life for your grandchildren. The blending may not be easy, but it will be worthwhile. Try checking out the following sources where you can find other information on how to include grandparents in blended families.
The Foundation for Grandparenting has innovative ideas for grandparents as parents and a large selection of books: www.grandparenting.org
Grandparents as Parents helps individuals network with other grandparents: http://home1.gte.net/res02wo7
Grandparent Foundation is involved in education, research, programming, and networking around grandparenting: www.grandparenting.org
Being a grandparent in a blended family will have its challenges no matter what your role may be, but it will also be an opportunity to give another child a sense of being loved and cared for in a way that only you can do.
Blogger: Mabel Hayes