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The Wicked Step…Grandmother?

By Amalah

Hi Amy-

My husband and I recently welcomed a beautiful baby boy into our family! Everything is going fairly well, thanks to your advice on breastfeeding and other postpartum…experiences. We’re even using cloth diapers now, which I’m pretty sure I would never had had the guts to try if it weren’t for your writings on the subject. So lots of thanks, and keep up the great work!

Advice Smackdown ArchivesWe are having a bit of a grandparent issue. My husband’s parents divorced when he was young, and his mom never remarried. His dad, however, remarried only a few years ago, after my husband was out on his own. After our son (the first grandchild) was born, my father-in-law asked my husband if his wife could be called “Grandma” by the baby. While my husband likes his step-mom, he is not completely comfortable with the idea of her being “Grandma” to our child[ren]. His point is that he did not grow up with her, and in no way does he consider her his mother. He never responded to his dad’s question (posed via email), but they are coming out to visit soon, and I know the issue will arise.

I definitely see my husband’s point – she was never his mother, and is not quite in the same “league” as the other two grandmothers. However, I feel like this could be a major insult to her and my father-in-law if we completely reject the idea. While they live across the country, I do not want to spoil the relationship our son will have with them in the future. But as this is my husband’s family, I hesitate to try to push for anything if he is not in support of the idea. I’m just trying to avoid bitterness and hurt feelings on all sides! As an added complication, I’ve let the other grandparents choose what they would like to be called, and have not brought up the topic with my husband’s father…but if we aren’t going to let her be called anything special, should I even ask? Or just stick with grandpa?

Anyway, I’d love to get your opinion on this, as an objective observer. Family dynamics are always complicated, especially when divorce and grandchildren are involved!

Thanks for all your help,

I’m not sure if this little factoid is widely known by my readers — I’m sure I’ve mentioned it at some point, now long buried in my tedious archives — but my parents each have three children from their first marriages. My six siblings are all technically half-siblings, but since they were the only siblings I had (and even though there’s quite an age difference), I never really think or refer to them that way. And for the most part, I’m just the “baby sister” and not the half-sister to them as well.

NOT that I grew up with the Brady Bunch, or anything. Oh, no. Even though their divorces happened long before they met and had me, I certainly grew up seeing the very real fall-out and consequences of divorce and children and blended family. It was…very bad and very ugly at times. My parents married when my father’s children were in their late teens. My mother’s children were slightly younger. The step-parent relationship was rocky on both sides for many, MANY years.

But all of my nieces and nephews — on both sides of the family — call my parents the same thing: Nana and PopPop. My mom’s first husband remarried as well and his wife is also given a grandparent title. The way I observed the situation and decision-making from my siblings was that 1) it was simply a good time to work on putting crap from the divorces behind them and move forward, and 2) it would complicate things for the grandchild down the line, forcing a discussion about divorce and remarriage probably before they were really old enough to grasp it. (I can easily picture a four-year-old asking why he calls a grandmother-like figure “Susan,” even though at that age the concepts of marriage and divorce and biological relationships would be WAY too much for him. Kids are tricky like that.)

From my own perspective, I could also see problems with a young child interpreting the name difference as step-parents being “not equal” or “not real” — and while that’s probably true for your husband, as the remarriage happened so recently, during his adulthood — your son is likely going to encounter other divorced and/or blended families sooner than you realize. Disney already does enough damage with their countless Wicked Stepmothers, you know?

I totally get why it’s probably pretty jarring for your husband to think about handing over the honored grandparent title to a woman who is possibly a stranger to him. But she won’t be a stranger to your son. The fact that she’d like to be called Grandma (and thus, I assume, BE a Grandma) seems like…a nice thing, and probably a tough thing for her to ask, since I’m SURE she’s aware of her awkward position in your husband’s world. Unless she’s done things that would justify a wariness or a need to keep her at arms’ length — or your husband’s mother would lose her MIND at the idea of the new wife getting called Grandma — I’m probably going to come down on the side of burying the family drama for the sake of your new family. Yes, the divorce happened and the splitting and blending and remarriage is still part of the tapestry, but I really think it’s a good thing if your son grows up with the impression that none of that really matters — this is his family, and everyone in it loves him very, very much.

If your husband decides he feels really, really strongly about the no-Grandma thing, perhaps come up with another special term of endearment for his stepmother. Kids call their grandparents ALL KINDS of things, like names from other cultures or sometimes just toddler-speak nicknames of their first names. (Commenters with step-grandparent limbs on the family tree? Any personal suggestions?) That way you can still make her feel included, keep the hurt feelings to a minimum…and not make the family boundaries so distinct to your son as he gets older and starts trying to figure everyone out and where he fits in.

Published October 25, 2010. Last updated July 21, 2017.
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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