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When Stepmom Becomes Grandma…or Not

Courtesy of: www.lifeofpix.com

Courtesy of: www.lifeofpix.com

Stepmoms are typically on a first-name basis with their stepkids–but should their “step” grandkids follow suit? 

When I adopted my son five years ago, there was no question he would call my stepdad “Grandpa.” Even though I call my stepfather by his first name and he married my mother when I was 23-years-old, I wanted to invite my stepfather into a “baggage-free” grandparenting relationship with my son. While I realize most children feel more comfortable honoring just one person in their lives as “mom” and another “dad,” I feel that a child can have multiple grandparents without any sense of competition with the other grandparents. This move was one of the best parenting decisions I ever made. My son and my stepdad enjoy a special, emotionally connected relationship. Case in point: When my stepdad flew into Chicago to visit me in the middle of a snowstorm and discovered his connecting flight to my city of residence was canceled, he phoned seven rental car companies at 2am to secure a crazy expensive van and drove three hours through the pitch black morning hours in ice and snow just to see his grandson. He simply could not wait another day to hug his boy!

I shared this on a Facebook forum recently and was lambasted with the following comments:

“It’s confusing for kids to have multiple grandparents!” 
“It’s disrespectful to the ‘real’ grandparents to give ‘steps’ the same name of honor. They didn’t earn it.” 

“It’s selfish of my husband’s new wife to be called ‘Grandma’ when she just waltzed into the family.” 


Whoa. My heart raced as I engaged in a fiery dialogue. My first thought was: Is it any wonder stepmoms (and stepdads) often feel like strangers in their own homes? 

I can’t tell you how many good-hearted stepmoms I know who can’t climb out of a pit of depression. They feel so “other” in their own home. They’re stuck in a loop of mind-twisting messages: You’re not the mom. But you must treat them like you’re the mom. You won’t be called mom. But you’ll take care of everything like you’re the mom. Over time, a stepmom learns to toe this trickster tightrope at all times. It’s exhausting. It’s confusing. And it’s unspoken…because you don’t want the struggle to vilify the kids. It’s not their fault. Truly, it isn’t.

But must we continue this craziness into subsequent generations? Why can’t we teach children that love extends deeper than blood? Can stepfamilies use grandparenting as a chance to wipe the slate clean? 

The titles we give each other carry weight. They communicate terms of endearment and honor that informs the bonds and expectations we have. In your family is there a “Step” Grandma or just Grandma? And what factored into your decision to make it a certain way?


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