Extended Family Problems in Blended Families

Updated on September 28, 2019
PAINTDRIPS profile image

With 2 of her own, Denise remarried and brought 2 children from her husband together to explore what it means to be a blended family.


Grandparents and Step-grandparents

I never would have thought of it. I get married, I have children, ergo my parents are grandparents to those children. Seems elementary to me. Who would have thought that my parents may not want to be grandparents to my husband’s children as well? It never occurred to me. And apparently it is more wide-spread of a problem than I even knew. My parents weren’t all alone in their offense at being made step-grandparents. Lots of parents feel that it shouldn’t be automatically presumed that they will “grandparent” their child’s step-children. It is something I should have asked them about.

Family means putting your arms around each other and being there.

— Barbara Bush

Extended Family Dynamics

You have no control over how your parents or your new spouse’s parent accept or receive the new stepchildren. Some people are wonderful and accepting of these new additions to their grandchildren, remembering birthdays and Christmas gifts. However not all extended families are like that. I was unaware of this dynamic and upon bringing my new stepchildren to my parents for the first time, the sweet innocents called my parents “grandma and grandpa.” My parents were not ready for this and were offended as if I had instructed the children to call them that. If I had it to do all over again and had the presence of mind, I would have told my new children to ask my parents what they would like to be called. This would have put the ball in their court and allowed them the freedom to decide what their role would be. My sweet stepchildren were very mystified at my parent’s rejection toward them. How do you explain something like that to a 6 and 7-year-old? There really isn’t anyway. This one incident kept my parents from getting to know two sweet and lovable children. Wasted years. Don’t let this happen.


Don’t let you ex-inlaws criticize you in front of the children.

The same goes for the reverse. Don’t criticize your ex or ex-in-laws to your children. They can’t help but feel loyalty to their parent’s parents even if you don’t.

One time soon after the divorce, my ex-husband took my girls and his mother to the lake. It seemed an unusual place for him to take them seeing that neither he nor his mother could swim and my girls were 2 and 3 years old at the time. What is more, they didn’t feel it was enough to walk along the water’s edge; my ex and his mother went out on the semi-circular pier with my toddlers. It was there in the deepest point, of course, that the 2-year-old walked to the edge and fell off the boardwalk. If it had not been for a stranger who happened to see my ex and his mother waving their arms about in a panicked way, she would have drowned. The stranger dove into the February cold water to save her. I had the worst time keeping my opinion of my ex and my ex-mother-in-law to myself on that occasion. Neither of them used their heads about childcare that day. Still, my children loved their father and their grandmother and I couldn’t really express how stupid I thought they had been without making the girls feel bad.

I guess the rule of thumb is not to think about how you feel or think about a situation, but how will the children feel about it.

If a country is to be corruption free and become a nation of beautiful minds, I strongly feel there are three key societal members who can make a difference. They are the father, the mother and the teacher.

— A. P. J. Abdul Kalam

Extended Aunts and Uncles

The next ticklish situation is the extended aunts and uncles. In my situation, the girls and I had been alone for 7 years and my sisters became very close to my girls. Every birthday one of my sisters took the girls out one-on-one to get them whatever they wanted and treat them to ice-cream or a take-out of their choice. When we were alone I thought this was very sweet of her. She was doing for them when I didn’t really have the funds to do myself. It was a wonderful gesture. When I remarried I thought maybe my sister would continue this trend with the step-children as well. But she didn’t. She had the idea that she was even more needed to make the girls feel special because, from her point of view, they were now lost in a big family. That wasn’t true, of course, but it was hard to explain to my sister.

Only an aunt can give hugs like a mother, keep secrets like a sister and share love like a friend.

— Unknown

Prison Ministry

My new husband and I began a ministry of helping the poor and visiting people in jail to give them hope. One badly timed visitation happened to land on one of the girl’s birthdays. When my sister called and said she wanted to take her out for the usual shopping trip, I thought it was perfect timing. And so it would have been if we had not been in lock-down at the jail for an extra couple of hours. These were the days before cell phones so I had no way of calling my sister. I thought she would keep my daughter until I got home. Little did I know that she didn’t give a thought that I might not even be home for a while. She drove by and just dropped my daughter at the door without even coming in. My 9-year-old was there alone for an hour before my sister came back by and finding her alone, picked her up again. Needless to say, she was mad at me for having to “babysit” a little longer than she planned. When I got home she read me the riot act and swore she’d never take my daughters out again. The girls never forgot this rather public chewing out I received and blamed me for causing the end of a pleasant treat with their aunt. The truth was that she was feeling guilty for not offering the same special treatment for the step-kids and was looking for a way out where she wouldn’t look like the bad guy.

I want to be the coolest aunt in the entire world.

— Bailee Madison
Mad girl
Mad girl | Source

Final Thoughts

All of this story is to say that what seems like a little thing blew up into a huge thing and I should have saved myself a lot of grief right up front by stopping the problem before it began privately. What should have happened was a rather private discussion with her letting her know that it wasn’t a practical habit to continue. The girls never needed to hear all that.


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    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      9 months ago from Fresno CA

      Deborah Demander,

      You are so right. I didn't even write about all the different sticky situations you can get caught up in with blended families. Thanks for commenting.



    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      9 months ago from Fresno CA

      Linda Lum,

      It is very sad. For many years the children asked why some of my relatives didn't like them. When they graduated from college and my relations changed their attitude, the children didn't readily accept them... and that isn't unusual. Thanks for commenting.



    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      9 months ago from Fresno CA

      Linda Crampton,

      It is sad, isn't it? If we had only known some of these things ahead of time it would have been easier to avoid the fallout. Thanks for commenting.



    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      9 months ago from Fresno CA

      Mary Norton,

      It's so true that the hardest part was coming up against all the surprises. Thanks for commenting.



    • Deborah Demander profile image

      Deborah Demander Reno 

      9 months ago from First Wyoming, then THE WORLD

      This is a great article. I never realized the stickiness of step-parenting and extended family, until I married a man with two children

      Thanks for writing.


    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      9 months ago from Fresno CA

      Eric Dierker,

      I'm so glad you enjoyed my writings. It's good for me to share my memories. Thanks for commenting.



    • Carb Diva profile image

      Linda Lum 

      9 months ago from Washington State, USA

      How very sad that adults can't be "big enough" to place themselves in the shoes of little children. Imagine what goes through those little minds, the rejection. You've brought up some very important points here. I hope those who need to see this and take it to heart.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 

      9 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      The experiences that you describe are very sad. The information in your article is important for other people in blended families to consider.

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 

      9 months ago from Ontario, Canada

      Am sorry that you met some of these problems. Sometimes, people need to be prepared for what to expect but often, we really can't prepare for what's going to happen. Sometimes, surprises are also unexpectedly positive.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      9 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Wonderfully done here. I have never seen anything but love poured out to my son of a different mother than my elder 3. Even my ex-wife dotes over the poor over loved child.

      I think my "backing" off from things helped. We are blended by race and by differences in ages. My youngest is young enough to be all my siblings grandson. Thank you for another great lesson in relationships.


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