Grandparenting today can look very different from one family to the next. Some children grow up having relationships with their grandparents, great grandparents and even great-great grandparents. To other families who started later in life, this may sound impossible as their parents are much older and their grandparents are in their 80’s by the time they are five years old. The diversity among families in regards to age groups and structure styles can often lead to struggles between sides of grand-families.
Grandparents are all unique, however, the one thing most have in common is the desire to be the ‘favourite.’ This longing to be the best frequently induces a sense of competition and rivalry. It can happen to anyone and may occur naturally or in some cases the tension may be intentional. It is important to recognize the sources of struggle then find and implement solutions to demonstrate healthy relationships for both the grandchildren and children of the family.
One cause of rivalry between grandparents is unequal proximity. In 2017, 268,000 children in the USA, under the age of one, lived in a household where both a grandmother and grandfather were present. That’s a whole lot of babies getting extra hugs and kisses from a grandparent. But what about the other grandparent; the one who doesn’t live close at all? Sarah, a grandmother of three, lives two hours away from her grandchildren. Her daughter lives with her in-laws so the other grandparents get one on one, hands on, daily communication and interaction with Sarah’s grandchildren. Sarah shared, “The other grandparents get to go to all their concerts and games. I think it’s just jealously on my part that they get to be part of those milestones and I don’t. I do make sure that when they spend time at my house it’s like a vacation for them. I try to do as many fun things with them as possible and build great memories with them but it feels like not enough.” It is very natural for Sarah to feel left out. This is a situation that many grandparents face as we can’t all live close to our grandchildren. Grandparents who don’t live close should focus on ways to intentionally build stronger relationships with their grandchildren. Tools such as skype, facetime, video chats all make it possible to have face to face communication more frequently. If you want to strengthen your relationships over a distance, set times to connect with your grandchildren. Ask to be on video calls for important events or to have videos made of the children’s special events. There are also more traditional ways to strengthen ties such as cards, letters and gifts in the mail. The best thing you can do if you are struggling with feelings of jealousy is pray over it. Ask God to help you cope and start praying for peace and a joy that your grandchildren are able to be close to others who love them even if that’s not you.
People are People
People don’t always get along. Grandparents may have different ideas and may not see eye to eye causing family distress. Dealing with grandparents can be difficult if one set is estranged, has issues such as addictions, mental illness, poverty or other difficulties. It can be hard to not to compare and feel like a better grandparent in those scenarios. Flora is a grandmother of four who babysits her granddaughters frequently, buys the girls what they need and takes each girl on special outings to build their self-esteem. Unfortunately, the girls other grandmother is an angry, bitter woman who drinks too often and smokes around the girls. Flora says, “it’s hard not to judge and easy to feel like a better grandmother. I try to remember that the girls needs come first. I will never say a negative thing about her because the girls still love her and she is a part of them. One day they will know who they can trust when they need something.” The important thing to remember is that all the parents and grandparents that have passed on genes or have been part of the child’s life are important to the child. If someone says something negative about a parent or grandparent, the child can take that to heart and wonder if those same negative things apply to them. Unfortunately, we live in a sinful world and people are not perfect; allow for grace. Help out where you can. Listen to the struggles your own child and son or daughter in law are having with the other grandparent but don’t allow them to speak poorly in front of your grandchildren. Teach respect and show compassion.
Different Talents & Skills
Sandra tells of the time her mother came to take professional photos of her two kids and her mother in law showed up and brought her own camera to take photos too. On another occasion, her mother baked cookies with her daughter and the next week her mother in-law felt she needed to invite her daughter to bake cookies as well. It is nonsense to think we all have the same gifts and talents. It is useless to be jealous because the other grandparent has a talent you don’t possess because you have talents that they don’t possess. Everyone is different and we need to worry about our own giftings and how we can use those to bless our grandchildren. Focus on being the best grandparent you can be. Use your skills and talents to teach your grandchild new things that you are good at. If you can knit, offer to teach your grandkids. If you can fish, invite one of your grandchildren the next time you go. Spend time with each grandchild individually if possible. Parents (especially single parents) of multiple children don’t always have the ability or the time to lavish one child with extra quality time. This is the perfect role for a grandparent to swoop in and treat each child to a special outing, sleepover, shopping trip, etc. If outings or lessons are not possible what about turning the video camera around and create a video tutorial for your grandchild. There are so many great ways grandparents can enjoy their grandchild.
The onus is not just on the grandparents but also on the parents to show love and respect equally to both sides. This will help their children see that both sets of grandparents deserve equal treatment. Linda spent her whole married life complaining about her in-laws and all the little things they did wrong. Her children watched and learned. Twenty years later none of her children have a relationship with the one set of their grandparents because of their mother’s negativity. Parents, if you want your children to have the benefits of more love from others, then you must create a loving environment and welcome others with their strengths and weaknesses into your life. Parents can encourage their children to create artwork, cards, and gifts for grandparents. Invite grandparents to events and have your child make time to call or visit. Teach your children that everyone is important and we love them equally.
Setting the tone for the relationship between both grandparents early on in your child’s relationship is important. Let your children know when they start dating that you respect the in-laws for creating a wonderful partner for your child. As the romance moves along, make time to get together with the parents of your son or daughter in-law so that their wedding day isn’t the first time you meet. Don’t wait for occasions where everyone is together but invite the other parents over to get to know them as individuals. Treat them like family.
Two sets of grandparents can be a blessing. Some people grow up with no grandparents at all. The focus should be on allowing as many people to pour love onto the child as possible. The more the merrier!
Thanks to all of those wonderful people who sent me their thoughts on grandparenting. All names have been changed for privacy. I wrote this article for a magazine submission but missed the deadline. I didn’t want the messages and quotes to be wasted so I’m posting it here for my readers. If you enjoyed it please click the like button!
 Statistica. (2018). Children living with grandparents U.S. 2017 | Statistic. Retrieved December 06, 2018, from https://www.statista.com/statistics/769741/us-children-living-with-grandparents-by-age-of-child/