Ask Dr. Gramma Karen: Don’t Call Me Grandma

I have no children from my first marriage, but my second husband has two grown children from his first marriage. They are nice kids and I get along just fine with both of them.

The daughter is expecting her first child in a few months, and she is very excited, as are we all. My problem is that she has said that she wants the baby to call me Grandma. The truth of the matter is that I don’t want to be called Grandma. I am several years younger than my husband and I don’t think of myself as a grandmother. I want the baby to just call me by my first name, Charlotte (fictitious first name), but everyone in the family is putting pressure on me to be called Grandma.

I’m interested in how you would help me convince them that it’s okay for the new baby to call me by my first name.


It can be difficult to switch roles from parent to grandparent, and in your case from stepmother to step grandmother. The reality is that if a grandparent wants to be a persona grata, they have to make concessions and be willing to acquiesce and accommodate a lot, always mindful that they are not in the driver’s seat anymore: their kids and their kids’ spouses are when it comes to the grandchildren.

However, when it comes to what the grandparent is called by the grandchildren, this is one area where the grandparent may want to compromise, but he/she definitely should not accept a name that is not comfortable. It’s wonderful that your step family wants to confer true grandmother status on you by calling you Grandma, but that’s not going to work for you. You may find family members want you to explain why you don’t want to be called Grandma, but you don’t have to explain yourself in any detail, unless you want to. You can simply say you’d rather be called something else.

You stated a preference that the grandchildren simply call you by your first name, and this is an option, but I can see where this might seem a bit aloof and impersonal by other family members, even in this day and age of great informality, because it in no way calls out any specialness in the your relationship with your step grandchild. The check-out gal at K-Mart calls you by your first name, as does the receptionist in your doctor’s office, whether you want them to or not!

Some families use traditional nomenclature for grandmother in foreign languages, often based on ethnic backgrounds, e.g., “Oma” (Dutch, German), “Yia-Yia” (Greek), “Nona” (Italian), “Abuela” (Spanish), “Bubbe” (Yiddish). For an extensive list of What People Around the World Call Their Grandparents, go here. This may give you some ideas.

Sometimes the kids themselves come up with a name, either deliberately or through mispronunciation. For example, there is Aunt Janet, who was called Nana (Nah-nah) by the first born grandson in the family who couldn’t say Janet. That was 50 years ago, and Janet is still called Nana by everyone in this large family. Another example is the grandmother who decided she wanted to be called Mim, based on a dream shared with her by her best friend. Her husband decided he wanted the grandsons to call him GP for Grand Poppa.

In my family I elected to be called Gramma Karen because I felt it only right that my son-in-law’s mother be Grandma because her daughter had the first grandchild and she wanted to be Grandma. Her husband went with Papa, and my husband chose to be called Peps.

Then there is my grandson Nicholas who calls me Mimi, even though all the other many children in my life, biological and non-biological, call me Gramma Karen. He knows I am Gramma Karen, but he calls me Mimi. Fine by me.

And that really is the point: whatever you decide to be called, it does need to be fine by you, and being called Grandma is not. With a little creativity perhaps you can find a comfortable moniker that acknowledges both the uniqueness of your status as a step grandparent and the desire of your family for you to be included in a special way.

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