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The OTHER Grandparents: Competition or Cooperation?

Posted on: October 23rd, 2013 by bubbyjoysandoys 3 Comments

Enjoyed this? Share it, and attribute it. Copyright 2014, Bubby Joys and Oys, M. Hendeles

So many people write books on parenting. But very few have written books on grandparenting – or how to finesse our roles as grandparents .

Everyone seems to think that when we become grandmothers, we just *know* what to do.

Guess what: We do not. We need guidance, support – and perhaps a comprehensive book covering the themes that we experience. Becoming  a grandmother is not a science – it is an art. It is not always a natural transition. It can be filled with joy but also….challenges (and OYs!)

Well, recently, I became acquainted with a woman, Becky Sarah, who has a wonderful website on Grandmothering, and has written a book on this topic which  is close to my heart – a book for grandmothers!  Her book,   Grandmothering: Real Life in Real Families  was released in September 2013 and is available on Amazon.

According to the reviews, Becky’s book “is a unique book for grandmothers with in-depth look at the thoughts, feelings, and experiences of grandmothers today, based on more than 80 interviews….”

After speaking to Becky by phone, (and realizing how much we are on the same page about stuff!), she offered to write a post on my blog. Below she writes about an all-too-common situation where the two sets of grandparents compete with each other.

Competition, while good in sports and music, is not a very healthy thing in relationships- especially grandmother relationships. Becky, who has a degree in Child Development, is a midwife and childbirth educator, holds a Masters in Public Health,  and lectures extensively about women’s issues. Becky is a grandmother of three and lives in Cambridge, MA.

Enjoy her perspective in this post.  Feel free to comment below on your own opinions and thoughts on the matter – and share any stories you may have had when competing with the “other” set of grandparents!

Stay tuned for an upcoming post by yours truly on Becky’s  new book.

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The Other Grandparents

by Becky Sarah

Before, they were just your child’s in-laws, a relationship created by choice and perhaps legal commitments.  You might have liked them very much, or not at all. If you live far apart perhaps you rarely saw them, or you may even have never met them. Yiddish has a wonderful word, the machatunim, meaning your adult child’s in-laws.

Now that there is a grandchild, as one grandmother said,

“We’re sharing a child. We’re relatives, we’re family. Permanently.

The arrival of a new grandbaby is a lovely and exciting time and usually all the grandparents want to rush right over to hold, touch, take photos, give gifts, look for resemblances, lay claim to a precious relationship. This can be a joyful and memorable time but it can also feel competitive between maternal and paternal grandmothers. 

Gifts can add to the rivalry: the nicest stroller, the more expensive crib, the more finely-knit baby sweater, the more meaningful family heirloom. Most powerful of all, which grandparent lives closer, or has the money and opportunity to travel, and so gets to spend the most time with the baby?

The newborn period is over quickly, but competition between grandmothers doesn’t necessarily go away.  Over time it can get worse. Competition can become ferocious, although it’s usually unspoken, or acknowledged only as a joke.

“I was visiting, and me and the other grandmother were in the backseat with Carly in the car seat between us. She lives nearby. And it was like she couldn’t let go of that even for a second. She was competing with me even as we rode in the car, to get Carly to look at her, not me. She had brought snacks, juice, books, toys, she was madly entertaining her over there, keeping her attention.”

But a wise grandmother can find ways to reverse the tendency to competition. And everyone involved will be happier if the grandparents on both sides can become friends and allies … Or at least treat each other with genuine respect.

A grandmother I interviewed advises:

“Don’t preempt traditions, holidays, gifts, or names that might be important to the other grandparents also. One set of grandparents can’t have every special holiday meal, or nickname like Nana or Pops, or give every gift that is special. Compromise, alternate, or do things together.”

Two grandmothers I know who lived near each other became good friends and partners in giving to the children.  These two women split the cost of music lessons, and had fun shopping together for a big swing set. They both delighted in the day they took a granddaughter shopping for a special occasion dress together.

It’s easier and more fun if there’s a friendly atmosphere between grandparents.  But, just as important, when a grandchild’s family has a hard time of some sort–and most of us encounter hard times sooner or later–grandparents can collaborate to help.  I heard about several families where, in a crisis, the grandparents on both sides all teamed up to care for grandchildren, and help financially.

I also heard some heartbreaking stories about one set of grandparents preventing the other grandparents from seeing the grandchildren. Usually this comes up in a divorce or separation, or when one parent has died. The grandparents of the custodial parent may, in a rush of hurt feelings and anger over a painful situation, exclude the grandparents on the other side.

Or grandparents who have more resources, or live nearby, sometimes do their best to monopolize the children. This sort of thing never ends well. If circumstances have given you the power to do so, and you are tempted to cut the other grandparents out of your grandchild’s life, or make it hard for them to see the children, think carefully about how you are going to explain that to your grandchildren twenty years from now.

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The above post is adapted from the book,  Grandmothering: Real Life in Real Families.

Enjoy! And don’t forget to read all about Becky’s book on her website, Grandmothering.net


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3 Responses

  1. This is a challenge– mostly I complain that the other grandparents get to see the kids for longer periods of time as the kids go there for the major holidays for about 2 weeks and again in the summer. We see the kids more frequently but for shorter time periods. I figure it all works out. I’m glad the grands have so many grandparents and great grandparents, aunts and uncles, etc. that all love them and that’s what’s important. Life is too short to waste on being angry or jealous of the others. We all get along though we don’t see each except for mitzvahs- and that’s fun!

  2. Becky Sarah says:

    I like the way you say “… it all works out.” The time that various grandparents have with children is rarely exactly equal, nor are the things we do with them exactly the same. Your family gives the grandchildren a good example of how to get along with each other, and enjoy the relationships we have, too, which will benefit the children as they grow up.
    Becky Sarah

  3. I hope so! The fact that we’re not observant and the other grandparents are plays in as well.

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