The Other Grandparents
Barbara Graham writes the Grandparent Confidential blog and was the editor of the 2009 New York Times bestseller Eye of My Heart, a collection that includes her own heart-breaking story, along with pieces by 26 other women, among them Anne Roiphe, Judith Viorst, Sallie Tisdale, Ellen Gilchrist, Susan Shreve. Graham describes her fellow contributors as “smart, gutsy writers…[who] tell the whole crazy, wonderful, complicated truth about being a grandmother in today’s world.” We love Barbara’s writing and are thrilled to have her voice on the The Buzz. Here, she takes on a dirty secret that many grandmas share.
Ever since my first granddaughter Isabelle was born in 2006, I have tried to take the high road when it comes to the other grandparents. In our family this group includes my daughter-in-law’s mother and my son’s father and stepmother, in addition to my husband. We are all kind and sensitive toward one another—most of the time.
But the day my ex-husband mentioned over the phone that our son had told him that the holiday dinner they’d shared had been his happiest family gathering ever, I wanted to strangle my ex. Even if our son and his family had preferred the celebration with his father’s brood to the one at my home two days earlier, why was the man telling me this?
It’s not always easy taking the high road. I used to think something was wrong with me. I was sure that the fizzy feeling I got in my gut when I heard about all the fun the girls were having with their other grandparents was yet one more sign of my deeply flawed character. But now, four years into this grandparent business, I’ve come to the conclusion that feelings of rivalry and jealousy—of an intensity that most of us haven’t experienced since junior high school—simply go with the territory.
This makes sense when you consider that when we we become grandparents, we suddenly go from being the mother or the father to one of a pack—especially these days, when so many extended families include multiple grandmothers and grandfathers. Love for our grandkids may unite us, but, like members of any pack, we sniff out the competition and jockey for position in the new order.
Inevitably, the playing field is uneven. One set of grandparents may live close to the grandchildren and babysit regularly, another set may be able to afford lavish gifts and trips to Disney World, yet another grandparent may have the zip (and balance) to rollerblade alongside the kids. And so we worry and stew and compare ourselves to the competition.
In “The Rivals,” her hilarious essay in Eye of My Heart, Judith Viorst writes: “Competition for Most Adored Grandmother seriously heats up when the mother-in-law of our daughter or son, our grandchildren’s other granny, stakes her legitimate claim on their affections. Yes, fond though we may be of this other woman, and glad though we may be that she loves our grandchildren, and resigned though we may be to the fact that our grandchildren love her back, we are hoping that our grandchildren love us more. A whole lot more.”
If there is any grandparent out there who has never felt the slightest trace of rivalry toward your grandchildren’s other grandparents, I would like to hear from you. I would like to know your secret, which I promise to reveal in a future blog.
The good news for the rest of us is that although we may not be proud of our anxious, competitive feelings, we don’t need to act on them. In fact, I’m convinced that admitting them—if only to ourselves—makes us much less likely to behave like self-centered teenagers out to win a popularity contest.
Awareness confers power—the power to behave like a grownup.
The other good news is that kids are naturally wise, impervious to gimmicks to win their affections, and they can never get enough love. Remember that old Leonard Cohen lyric about children: They are leaning out for love and they will lean that way forever. They are not keeping score or rating their grandparents.
Still, next time I get that old fizzy feeling in my gut—as I’m bound to on occasion—I’ll just put on Leonard and remind myself that not only are we all leaning out for love forever, there’s plenty to go around.
This blog originally appeared on Grandparents.com