I think I was nine, or possibly ten when it hit me. That year I had Christmas at my mom’s house, at my dad’s house, at my Nana and Granddad’s house, at my Nanny and Pop-Pop’s house, and at my Gramma and Grampa’s house. Reflecting on all this Christmas fun (and all that loot!), I thought “having divorced parents sure has some benefits!” Of course, having an extra set of grandparents from my stepmother helped my jubilant outlook, as I had gotten some particularly cool ‘80s action toys at their house.
Now, I am the adult and my children have a similar setup. They have Thanksgiving, Christmas, and every other holiday with me and my folks as well as their mother and her folks. Since both of my parents have re-married, they have a third set of grandparents as well (neither I nor their mother has prospects for expanding the roster of grandparents at present).
My father and stepmother (Pop-Pop and GrandMary) live several states away, so they are not as regularly involved as the other two sets, but recently they came for a visit. This summer we will visit them. They live in a nice suburban neighborhood in New Jersey, near the beach and apple orchards and a ton of other cool stuff. I also have lots of other family up there to visit.
My mother and stepfather (Grandmother and Pappy) have 111 acres of God’s country in Culpeper County. They have horses, trails through the woods, a stocked lake to fish, a shooting range, a pool and a million other “country” distractions. We spend a lot of our time on the farm. Naturally, I don’t spend any time with the ex-in-laws although my children certainly do.
What stands out to me as an adult is not all the loot from Christmas – to be sure, that all goes to the kids – but the differing standards, expectations and behavior patterns of the various groups. Some are more dialed in to pop-culture, some are completely removed from it. Some are decidedly not animal people, some live on a horse farm. The two sets of grandparents from my family are Roman Catholic, my ex-wife’s family are all Church of Christ.
Make no mistake, there is plenty of common ground. It is mostly differences of emphasis more than anything else. For example, when I was younger I always noticed how one of my parents’ houses was always neater than the other (names withheld to protect the guilty!). My mom had a TV and a VCR; my dad had that stuff and cable (that difference persists). The grandparents all share generally similar political views, but have different “pet causes” within the broader spectrum.
There are times, though, that the differences seem to fill my whole vision. I don’t want my kids to ask awkward questions, I don’t want them to have trouble deciding who is right when they are exposed to conflicting ideas and I don’t want them – ever – to feel like they need to choose sides. It’s hard sometimes to see the forest for the trees.
Generally I am able to realize that these fears on my part are foolish. The important thing is all three sets of grandparents show love and affection towards my children. My motley collection of step-, -in-law and blood brothers and sisters do the same. The kids in return have genuine affection for all of them, and are always excited to see them. Regardless of what set of names they go by, “grandparents” means “good times.” That is as it should be.