It’s a feeling no-one wants to admit to, but is surprisingly common; jealousy towards the other grandparents in a grandchild’s life.
Spending time with your grandchildren is a highlight of many people’s lives, and as a result, they want to see them as much as possible and play a big role in their childhood. But while some are able to split that time equally with other grandparents, others may feel resentment and upset because another grandparent is able to spend more time with or more money on the beloved children.
Whatever the reason, it can have a huge negative effect on the parents themselves, who often feel caught in the middle. And if the feelings are strong enough, they may be perceived by the grandchildren themselves, creating an uncomfortable family atmosphere.
One grandparent admitted feeling envious in a post on grandparents.com‘s online forum, writing: “The thought of my daughter and almost-two-month-old grandson even going over [to the other grandmother’s house] turns me into a green monster.” It was echoed by several more on community forums, each apparently unable to see a way out of it.
There is, though. If you sometimes feel a little envious of the time or expense another grandparent can lavish on the little ones, here’s some suggestions for dealing with it.
Living far away from your children often can’t be helped, especially if they have chosen to move away before starting a family. But if the other grandparents live closer, it can be much easier for them to see more of the grandkids once they’re born. Watching this happen from a distance is, of course, very difficult.
As modern technology develops the possibilities of keeping in touch are huge – though Skype, Facetime and other video calling services – but nothing beats face-to-face contact. As one user on Gransnet.com wrote of living far away: “It’s hard, but in these days of instant communication and quick travel, not as hard as it once was.”
Making the effort to see them when possible goes a long way, and it’s not necessarily about quantity, but quality time. Spending a few days or taking slightly longer visits to bond with the grandkids is key, so they know you’re making the effort – and effort it may well be, particularly if you have health issues, pets or simply don’t enjoy leaving the comforts of home. By doing so, it then becomes a treat for them to travel to see you, rather than a chore that they feel they have to do.
On the flip-side, grandparents living close by may also feel jealous if the family is spending longer periods of time with the other grandparents, to make up for the distance.
Being able to drop in at short notice is great, but that can sometimes mean they don’t get as long to bond with the kids as they would if they were living for a few days full-time with them. And it can lead to feelings of resentment if you’re the ‘nearby grandparent’ who often gets called upon for a quick bit of babysitting but doesn’t get thought of when it comes to just sitting back and enjoying each other’s company.
One way to combat the problem is offering to take the grandkids for a night or two to give the parents a break, ensuring you’re getting that quality time too.
A recent Australian-Dutch study, published in the Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology, found parents and grandparents who engaged in simple play and quality time with their kids provided the children with big benefits, including reducing the chances of them suffering from anxiety.
It would be very rare for both sides of the family to find themselves in the same financial situation, and while this shouldn’t be an issue, it can trigger feelings of jealousy once grandchildren are born.
At Christmases and birthdays, if one set of grandparents splashes out a huge amount of money on a present, and the other side is unable to, the small-spenders may worry the grandchild will see it as differing levels of love. In reality, it’s very unlikely – a child is more likely to remember a happy day out, or a fun stay with their grandparents, than they are a new toy or present.
To combat the issue, spend some time buying or making a more thoughtful gift that you know they will enjoy – children love to look at scrapbooks of pictures of themselves or of favourite objects or topics, all of which can be cut from old photo albums or magazines. Again, spending quality time with them is key, showing them you love them equally, despite the material differences.
Every family have their own ways of bringing up children, and your parenting skills are likely different to your child’s in-laws’.
These differences are bound to be highlighted when grandkids are young, and you both play a part in parenting again, albeit from a distance. In this case, both grandparents should take into account the parents’ wishes, and stick to them to ensure the child is getting similar treatment wherever they stay.
Communicating with parents is essential to ensure the same rules are applied at each house., even if they have minor variations. Clinical psychologist Amanda Gordon, an adjunct associate professor at the University of Canberra, told Starts at 60: “It’s important for grandparents not to undermine parents’ authority completely. If they’re deliberately ignoring the parents’ wishes, and the child is aware of that happening, then that can be very damaging”.
Feeling annoyed at the other grandparents will only cause upset and tension within the wider family, and it unlikely to solve the issues. Having a simple conversation with your child, or even directly with the other grandparents, can help solve any worry and create some parallels between your treatment and discipline.
If feelings of jealousy, hurt or even anger develop, they can have an immediate and hugely negative effect on the whole family, particularly your adult children who become caught in the middle.
One parent shared their experience of warring grandparents on babycenter.com’s online forum, admitting they felt “overwhelmed” with how bad it had become.
“My husband and I are so stressed and overwhelmed with the jealousy issues,” she wrote. “We cannot go see [one] set of grandparents without visiting the other. My parents live about two hours away, and the in-laws live about four. They actually act like children and throw fits about us visiting the other set of grandparents.”
Members shared advice for the worried mum, with one writing: “You need to talk to your parents and dear husband needs to talk to his. Let them know that you’ll try to be as fair as possible but that life isn’t always fair and you can’t promise each one will get the exact same time as the other.”
As another commenter said: “A baby is a blessing, not a score sheet.”
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