As a grandparent it’s time to relax and enjoy your grandchildren without all the pressures of parenting. But what happens when competition with other grandparents starts to creep in – can you navigate it without ruining any relationships?
As parents, we often feel the familiar pinch of competition with other parents. Questions about whose child is sleeping through the night start as soon as they are born and quickly advance to walking, talking, swimming, qualifications and university places.
“It was bad enough playing that game as parents – let’s forget it now we are grandparents,” says Rob Parsons, author of The Sixty Minute Grandparent and founder of Care for the Family, a national charity committed to strengthening family life. “But now, we also find that a new game rears its head: ‘Who is the best/most loved/trendy/fun grandparent?’”
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When friendships become fractured
Ann has three young grandchildren and says that conversations with her friends regularly revolve around their families and what they are doing. “I often notice that I am listening about their grandchildren more than talking about my own! It’s a very subtle kind of competition but it’s definitely there,” she says.
It’s tempting to relay every moment of grandparenting joy to our friends, but think carefully before you do. “Be aware that we don’t all have the same experience as grandparents. We need to be sensitive to friends who may not be having quite as much of a ball as we are,” advises Rob.
It may be that their children or grandchildren are experiencing special challenges, or perhaps they are struggling to find their role as a grandparent. “It has been said, ‘If you want acquaintances tell them your successes, but if you want friends tell them your fears’,” says Rob. “That doesn’t mean we can’t share any of the joys – but it does mean we have to think twice: for the sake of friendship.”
If it’s you who is struggling, try to open up the conversation to include the difficulties you are facing. Broach the subject by asking your friend a question that mirrors your concerns, such as “do you ever worry about how your daughter is coping with motherhood?” Even if their answer is no, they’re likely to reflect on why you asked, giving you an opportunity to open up.
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Conflict with your grandchild’s ‘other’ grandparents
You can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family – and that certainly goes for extended family. The arrival of grandchildren often means more contact with your child’s in-laws, which can bring about a whole new set of emotions.
If relations with the ‘other’ set of grandparents is far from cosy, try following these do’s and don’ts:
- Give your children the benefit of the doubt. “Normally our children will be doing their best to make everybody happy, but we won’t help that process if we are not sensitive,” says Rob.
- Be yourself. Debbie has five grandsons and six other step-grandchildren. “What my partner and I offer is very different to the other grandparents - which the children like,” she says.
- Insist on any ‘rights’ or put pressure on your children to see your grandchildren as much as the other set of grandparents. Stipulations like: ‘If you go to them on Christmas Day, then you must come to us on Boxing day’ can lead to a rocky ride.
- Get competitive with money and gifts. “If you are better off than the other grandparents, it’s probably not wise to buy more expensive presents for the grandchildren than the other grandparents can afford,” says Rob.
- Stress yourself out trying to give the kids a better time with you. “Remember that your grandchildren will probably forget expensive presents and trips,” advises Rob. “But they will look back and remember the times of fun and the feeling that you made them feel special.”
Related: how and when to discipline grandchildren
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