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With stepfamilies rapidly increasing in number, grand-parents are seeing their roles changed within the family structure. After a divorce, a grandparent frequently becomes more important as care-giver, support person, or trusted adult. Many grandparents relish this role and become fearful of the impact of a new stepfamily on their relationship with their adult child and grandchildren.

We know that children from divorced families especially value their experiences with grandparents. Grandparents provide a sense of on-going family. They care and are fun to be with for children. They have a special interest in their grand-kids, provide encouragement and a sympathetic ear.

We recommend including all biological grandparents in the lives of their children. This is frequently more difficult to do than to say, especially when divorce has been acrimonious and there has been a biological split between families.

Contact with the parents of a former spouse when the parent is blamed for the separation increases the stressors.

In this situation, as in good co-parenting, we recommend putting the interests and wishes of the children first:

1. Try not to allow any anger or resentment towards former in-laws to overshadow the grandparent-grandchild relationship. It is confusing to children to be exposed to the negative emotions adults may feel towards former family members, even though we understand they exist and may be extremely painful.

2. It is important for parents to communicate to both their children and to the grandparents that inclusion is the plan. Reassuring all family members can be a powerful tool for allaying fears that both the children and grandparents have about the future of their relationship.

3. Although the role of the grandparent will usually change when a new stepfamily is formed, it is important for the new stepparent to understand the role of the grandparents with their new stepchildren. Taking a few minutes to reassure the grandparents of their continued involvement in the lives of their grandchildren will smooth potential hurt feelings. Communication of the changes in family style with the formation of the new stepfamily unit, with understanding of the grandparent role, is crucial to a better transition for the children.

We want to create the experience of there being room for everyone. The new stepparent becomes involved in the family without challenging existing relationships, making it a process of addition and not displacement.

For more information about grand parenting in stepfamilies attend Jill Blaney's workshop to be offered Winter 2000.