What should they call me? I’m not the grandmother by blood but the grandmother by love.
When I was growing up in St. Louis, we used to have play-cousins, play-auntees (pronounced “ain-tees”), and play mamas. This was the designation for someone who was like family but not actually a relation.
My granddaughter’s father also has a son, who lives with them half-time. I love him. Initially, I loved him as I love any child who comes within my orb – a general, all-encompassing love. To me, children are ‘sposed to be loved.
Then that love grew to be specifically for him, as I came to know him on visits, calls and “skypes.” I love the little boy-ness of him. I love the warm, Southern twang to his voice. I love the gap between his two front teeth similar to mine, making his smile familiar.
There are also a pair of siblings, Dar and Dia, who are friends to my granddaughter and step-grandson, with whom my relationship is clear: I am their play-grandmother. Their parents are friends with my daughter and my son-in-love (not yet in-law). They stay at my daughter and son-in-love’s home many weekends and always when I am in town.
All of the kids call me Grandi, a play on my nickname, Candi, and my role, grandmother.
The children get it. They understand. You give them love. You make them welcome in your arms and lap. You listen to them. You play games, draw pictures, and make cookies with them to say nothing of the countless books you perform/read to them.
Adults don’t always get it. Adults think: motive, angles, proportions and turf. Rather than go with the feelings, they think:
Motive – What motivates this stranger to love my child when she doesn’t have to? There is no blood or contract binding us.
Angle – What’s her angle? What is she trying to do with her love?
Proportion – Does she give equally to the non-blood grands as she does to the grand that shares her DNA?
Turf – Why is she coming to this event? Who is she to think she can teach my child this? This is a family event, she doesn’t have to be included.
They also, rightly, think about protection – Will she pull her love away based on the ups & downs between her daughter and son-in-love?
I’m trying to ignore the adult stuff and focus on the kids who I love.
Lots of other people have thought more deeply about it than this. There is some sound advice out in the blogosphere.
In An Extra Step: Stepgrandparents, Brette Sember writes:
“When you remarry, your child not only has a stepparent and possibly stepsiblings, but he or she suddenly has stepgrandparents as well. The impact of the stepgrandparent varies, depending on your family situation. But no matter how you slice it, step grandparents add yet another layer to an already complicated family.
It is important that all grandparents have different names and that a child is not asked or required to call a stepgrandparent by the same name as a true grandparent. Some people are comfortable with the use of first names for stepgrandparents. For those who are not, come up with different honorary names (such as Nana, Papa, Bubbe and so on) or attach a title to a first name, such as Grandma Jo."
I don’t agree that all grandparents should have different names/titles but I understand her point.
In another blog, Mona Loeser advises:
“Children need all the loving people in their lives that they can get. There is a place for everyone to be actively involved in the lives of the children. But maneuvering this sea can be treacherous. It's up to you to make it happen.” (Stepgrandparents: How Grandparents Can Help in Family Transitions)
I so agree, children need caring and principled adults in their lives so if you have someone who loves them, like me, don’t block the blessing.
Sometimes sets of grandparents, both blood and step, have issues, including jealousy and the aforementioned turf. In my situation, my son-in-love’s mother lives in the same city. She has physical access to my granddaughter and step-grandson whenever she wants. I see them less frequently. I have felt jealousy about her proximity but am also delighted that at least one grandmother is nearby. (Until I move down there, one day, then I’ll be taking over! Just kidding.)
On the blog, Ask Mama Capps, this wise woman gives sound advice to parents:
“Just remember that you and your fiancé are the parents in charge. It is your responsibility to protect both children from situations that may cause them to feel anything but loved by all in their lives. Set the rules that you two can live with without discord and insist everyone else follow those rules. Your responsibility is to those in your home and the children in your charge. Other’s feelings are not so important that a child should be hurt in any way. A blended family can be successful but everyone needs to be made aware that their actions impact the children in ways they may not realize.”
To the aforementioned children and to any others they may come along the way, I’m your Grandi, offering a grand love, there’s nothing "play" about that.
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