Blurring the lines of a relationship with stepchildren

I’ve always been a firm believer in not blurring the lines of relationships. My cousin developed a fondness for her husbands grandchildren. She would refer to them as her grandchidren. I would refer to them as “John’s” grandchildren. My cousin divorced “John”, it was a nasty divorce. My cousin was devastated because it ended her relationship with “John’s” grandchildren. They live in a different state and don’t contact my cousin. I reminded her that they weren’t ever her grandchildren. The children have natural grandparents on both sides.

I have a friend who married a man who had two children from two different women before her. She had his third child, but they are divorced now, and he lives in a different state. His second daughter has three children. She had a relationship with my friend only because her father was married to my friend. My friend feels like the three children are her stepgrandchildren, and should spend time with her. My friend’s feelings are very hurt as the second daughter makes excuses, and seldom lets her children visit my friend. My friend got a bit upset with me because I pointed out that they aren’t and were never her grandchidren. I reminded her that they are the grandchildren of her ex and are no relationship to her at all. She feels she should be able to see them when she wants. That’s when I talked to her about the dangers and hurt that comes when we blur the lines of a relationship.

Any thoughts or opinions or experience?

It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.

Children generally need as many loving adults in their lives as they can get.

Any grandparent - by blood or by marriage - should recognize that time with grandchildren is a gift - parent don’t always have time to bring their kids visiting and are more likely to do so when there is something in it for them. i.e. the grandparents are pleasant to the parent and don’t treat them as a provider of grandchildren, and the grandparents do favors like “can the kids come for an overnight Saturday, its your anniversary and you could probably use a date night.”

In my experience, my children are far closer to my mother in law’s second husband than to their father’s father, because he makes an effort. The great grandparent they knew best was his mother, because she liked kids (I had one grandmother in a nursing home in bad shape when they were little and one who didn’t like kids - his mother was their surviving great grandparent who could and did make an effort).

Too much concern about actual bloodlines, not enough concern for real relationships, which are not necessarily based on genetic ties.

Some of the most influential adults in my early life were of no blood kin to me, but my life was enriched by their involvement with me.

Parting from them was painful, but worth the price.

In the situations you describe, the problem isn’t the "step"ness but the impermenance of the relationships.

My dad’s mother died, and his father remarried, long before I was born. So my dad’s stepmother was always “Grandma” to me, and I didn’t think of her any differently than any of my other grandparents whom I was biologically related to.

This. The step-grandmother has all the time and luxury in the world to adopt her step family and incorporate them into her life. The steps, however, must adjust and move on, expecting Dad/Granddad to find love again, and start the whole process over. Step kids can’t always afford to go all-in, to embrace the new wife, because the new wife may or may not be a permanent addition to the family. Got to prepare for the next step-mom.

Might be better for all if both sides of the step equation rely on chemistry and things in common alone to base the relationship on. If you’d be fast friends and develop a close relationship if you were neighbors, then the relationship has legs and might survive a divorce. If the entire step relationship is based on a sense of duty and roles, no one should be surprised if they drift apart after a divorce.

I see the pragmatic point that if there is a divorce, logistics and feelings on the part of the parents may mean, in many cases, that the relationship with stepgrandchildren may change drastically, up to and including becoming non-existent. Obviously, that does happen. It might be good for people to be mindful of that possibility. I think it’s always good to remember that the only side of ANY relationship you can control is your own side – this is true for family, friends, and vague acquaintances.

But I don’t think it’s necessarily a good approach for all relationships with stepfamily. What if there isn’t a divorce? You could have had a good twenty years of a close and rewarding relationship with your spouse’s grandchildren! Should people maintain more of a cordial-yet-distant relationship with those children based only on the possibility of a divorce happening years down the road?

Not everyone forges close relationships with grandparents regardless of blood relationships. Some blood relatives have crappy or even harmful family relationships. If you get lucky, and naturally develop a close and loving bond with your partner’s children and grandchildren, why not enjoy it?

It’s also possible (I know of people where this has happened) that once the children are older, they have reached out to people in this position to express their appreciation of the relationship. Let’s face it, little kids can’t really maintain their own relationships in the same way that adults do – they can’t exactly take the car to meet for a cup of coffee, so if their parents aren’t continuing a relationship with a former stepparent, the kids don’t have much choice. But when they are young adults, they can, and sometimes do, rekindle a relationship they valued from childhood.

Lots of experience–my grandmother died when Daddy was 2, and he had two step-mothers, two step-sisters, and a half-sister by the time Grandpa died. Several years later, he got a step-step-father who had assorted kids and step-kids from a previous marriage. And I have to say I think you’re full of shit. Family isn’t about who shares a bloodline or who’s got a legal contract with whom. It’s about who loves each other.

I have no memory of the first step-mother, since she died when I was a toddler. (My understanding is that she was crazy as shit and a total bitch in the bargain, but that’s really neither here nor there.) Her daughters are my aunts, and the older one’s children are my cousins. None of this half and step business, just my aunts and cousins, full stop. Of course, that marriage lasted nearly 30 years and they were all raised together.

But Grandpa’s third marriage only lasted 2 years. They got married Valentine’s Day when I was 5, and he died Memorial Day weekend when I was 7. We didn’t cut ties with her or her daughter and grandchildren when Grandpa died. Why would we? We loved them and they loved us. When Grandma eventually found someone else, we loved him, too. And he loved us.

Yes, letting these people into our hearts and families has opened us up to a lot of pain over the years. It hurt when Grandma was diagnosed with lymphoma and we thought we would lose her. It hurt worse when we lost Bob to colon cancer a few years ago. It hurts even worse than that to watch Grandma slip slowly away from us into dementia. But it’s also opened us to a lot of laughter and joy that we would never have experienced otherwise.

Which is after all what love does, no matter who are what the object of that love is.

Corny as it sounds, I believe love makes a family. My stepmother and her family are my family. She is my children’s grandmother. My cousin married a recently widowed man with a daughter about 3 years old. When they married the little girl became a part of our family. Even after my cousin divorced, that little girl was still her daughter, and her parents granddaughter. She is living with my cousin’s parents now, because her father’s home is somewhat unstable. They’ve never treated her different from any other granddaughter, and I respect the hell out of them for it.

Personally, when I see parents who cut off contact from step-grandparents and the like after a divorce, I think very poorly of the parents (unless there are extenuating circumstances, such as abuse). Sometimes people were never that close, or they drift apart, and that’s ok. But when an adult occupies an important role in your kid’s life, you don’t cut them out unless you have a REAL good reason, and “we were never actually related by blood” is a very very stupid reason.

Anyway, I don’t see it as blurring lines at all. I see it as love creating a family, and I think it’s wonderful. How anyone could want their kids to have less supportive loving adults in their life is beyond me.

All of my brothers are, in fact, my half-brothers. But constantly delineating lines and sticking to what a person really is has a way of causing friction in families where there doesn’t need to be any. We’ve had a small share of that with things like “he’s YOUR son” and so forth, when nobody really meant it.

And then, when you get into people that are adopted? It’s awful whenever someone adopted has to live in an emotional upheaval caused by picking out who are “real parents” and “adopted parents”.

People create connections over their lives, be it through birth, marriage, friendship, adoption, or what have you. People grow together and grow apart. Just because you are or used to be family doesn’t give you special privileges to enter someone’s home or be around their children. However, a person who suddenly cuts off contact because someone is, “no longer my so-and-so” strikes me as someone who never liked the other person to begin with and only felt forced to because “they’re family”. I don’t see why anyone would (or should) have to cut off contact with anybody they liked simply because they’re not “family” anymore. The only reason to stop seeing somebody else that does or used to have a relationship with you is because you don’t like them (or never did). So, all you can do is accept that other people do or don’t like you, and that denotes what you do or don’t get to do with them. Take the family part of the equation out.

The question I’D be asking people is, “is ‘family’ really a good enough reason to keep letting this person in your life when you detest them and/or they abuse you?” People give a lot of allowance to “family” when perhaps they should not.

I knew a girl whose father was dead and mother had remarried when the girl was quite young. She spent summers staying with the step-grandparents several states away, called them grandma and grandpa, a lifetime of birthdays and Christmases, etc. As soon as her mother divorced her stepfather, the grandparents never contacted the former step-granddaughter again. I think that hurt her far more than the divorce did.


I have to go with the majority.

Loving someone who can be taken from you is a scary proposition, but still worth it. I couldn’t love someone less in case I get divorced.

I know I’m not the norm but when I married my ex wife, she had a 3yo son.

My ex and I have been divorced 12 years now and at 18, he still calls me Dad and I still love him as much as I do my bio child.

Sammy is technically my nephew only by marriage. I have made it very clear to him over the years that he is my REAL nephew and that I am his REAL unckunck.

I remember last year I left him alone with the snap circuit electronics set (he’s ten and the set is powered by AA batteries so there’s no danger) for a second. He ran out and told me that he had put something together and it had started smoking. I told him “That just means you’re doing real science!”

For over a year now, when asked where he’d most like to go in the whole world for vacation, his answer is “Unckunck’s apartment in Philadelphia!”

If that isn’t an aunthentic uncle/nephew relationship I don’t know what is.

You can protect yourself from hurt, or you can love everyone in your household as much as possible. Hard to do both, and I bet you can guess what my choice would be.

However much love you heap on (and feel for) anyone, you can’t expect them to feel reciprocal. It’s a gift you give, and you hope it’s returned, but when it’s not, nobody is at fault.

No divorce in my family, but I had four sets of grandparents: my mother’s parents, my father’s parents, and the two kindly elderly couples who lived on our block when I was growing up. (Oddly, Mom’s parents were the only ones we called “Grandma Firstname” and “Grandpa Firstname”; the rest were all “Grandma/Grandpa Lastname.” We didn’t do Nana/Papa or any of that stuff.) The “blood” grandparents lived farther away, so we saw the “pseudo” grandparents more often obviously. Grandma Next-Door was the only grandparent at my wedding (Grandpa Next-Door was too ill to travel – so we visited him that morning in our wedding clothes – and the others were either senile in nursing homes or dead). I remember them all equally fondly.

I may as well mention here that my “blood” sister and I rarely talk, and quite frankly when we do interact she drives me nuts, and not in a good way. But people regularly ask whether a particular friend and I are sisters. I suppose we are, in a way – we’ve had far more “sisterly” talks than i have with my “real” sister – and that suits me just fine.

My mom’s stepdad (my maternal grandmother’s second husband, they got married when my mom was 13 or 14) was my only grandparent worthy of the title. And they remained together until he died–I was 16 when he went. All my grandparents are dead, but he’s the only one I miss. Love my Papa Dave <3

Of course you can never know how long a marriage will last. That doesn’t mean step-relatives can’t be family.

Your friend had every right to be upset, as this (my bold) was a shitty thing to say.
(you are of course entitled to your opinion but did you really thing this would help? or that she would say “Gee, you’re right. That does make me feel better. Thanks!”?)

Parent, child, sibling, cousin, friend, co-worker, grandparent, neighbor etc. are just special names for the roles that we play in society (and most of us play multiple ones). When we adopt that role, that role defines us, whether or not a traditional relationship exists. We can adopt these roles (or they can be thrust upon us) irregardless of the existence of a traditional relationship (or lack of). Likewise, simply having a traditional relationship does not mean that the parties involved will adopt the associated roles. (I choose to use the word “traditional relationship” rather than “real relationship” because I believe the real relationship is the one whose role you play)

I am a step-father to two children, with 3 more of my own as well. My kids never used the terms “half-brother” or “half-sister” even though it is technically true. When people asked me how many kids I had, I would not hesitate to say “Five”. Even though I am now divorced, I still consider my step-kids (though technically they are not that anymore) my own, because I filled that role for 12 years.
If you were to walk up to me and say that my feelings toward them are “wrong” because we no longer have a technical relationship… we would have words.

I think that people’s relationships are always pretty complicated. I think that mostly families that fall out of touch after a divorce - no matter what the genetics are - are families where the people didn’t really have a strong bond to begin with.

I also think that I’m really really glad my family/ies growing up didn’t give much of a shit about who was “step” and who was “real”.

My ex’s parents send my daughter, their biological granddaughter, cards and gifts on Birthdays and Christmas and Easter. My son (not their biological grandson) hasn’t gotten a thing since I divorced their son. This is despite the fact that their son and I get along quite well and even socialize together; it wasn’t an ugly divorce by a long shot. It really drives home to me the selfish, self-centered, superficial nature of their so-called “love” for the person they used to refer to as their “grandson.”

And yes, it hurts, me if not him. (He’s never liked them, but I’m guessing it has to sting nonetheless.) ETA: And you know what? It hurts my ex, too. He’s mentioned how much it bothers him and that he’s ashamed of his parents. Not surprised, but ashamed.

Heh, even the Dad in Clueless doesn’t turn his back on step children! (I have no idea how I manage to remember that. )
MEL: Oh, Josh is in town. He’s coming for dinner.
CHER: Why?
MEL: Because he’s your step-brother!
CHER: But you were hardly even married to his mother and that was five years ago. Why do I have to see Josh?
MEL: You divorce wives, not children.

My stepdaughter was 22 and just gottem married when I got divorced from her mother. She now has two almost grown children who call me grandpa, I raised her from the age of 5 and see her as my daughter and her kids as my grandchildren.