The impact of grandchildren on other relationships

When grandmothers think about their various relationships, their attention is principally focused on the grandchild or grandchildren. But in fact the presence of grandchildren affects many different relationships within the family. This chapter explores how these might change.


The son-in-law or daughter-in law (or partner)

Turn the word ‘grandmother’ around to a different vantage point and she becomes a mother-in-law. This has never had a good ring to it, but in fact the relationships of grandmothers to the partners or spouses of their children vary enormously.

The good stories

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Some mothers-in-law get on very well with their son’s or daughter’s partner:

One son’s wife fits within our whole family very well – we’ve been very fortunate. We are welcome to pop in if we are visiting our daughter, because they live near each other. I have a nice relationship with her, which I think is to do with her, really.

One of my friends has a very unpleasant daughter-in-law and for quite a few years she wasn’t allowed to see the children. Now, she can, but they don’t live very near, so it’s only once or twice a year. It’s very painful.

– grandmother of eleven

I’m another mum to my daughter-in-law – she hasn’t had her mum since she was 18 months old. Her mum walked out and left the four children with the father. She was brought up by her nan and granddad in the house she’s living in now. She is very affectionate and very giving to me.

– grandmother of eight

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My son-in-law and I are great mates. He’s quite a character and great fun. He and my daughter were great friends before they got together and we were friends, too, back then. We’re all very open – not your normal family. My daughter doesn’t go in for dancing much and he’ll say to me, ‘Come on, let’s you and I go and dance.’ We have a great friendship. We used to go on cruises, all five of us. The first night at the table, there would be other people there and when I came in all dressed to kill, my son-in-law would say, ‘Oh, the old tart’s here now!’ The people at the table looked shocked, but they got used to us.

– grandmother of two

One even refuses to use the term ‘daughter-in-law’:

I treat my daughter-in-law as a daughter. I told her parents ‘I’m not her mother-in-law, I’m her mother-in-love.’ I give her love, she is my daughter. I’m not an in-law. When they introduced me first time, they kept calling me ‘mother-in-law’ and I kept correcting them. I said, ‘Please don’t call me that.’ So, they understood, and then they said, ‘Her second Mum’.

– grandmother of two

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Some continue to get on with their child’s partner or spouse even when the marriage (or relationship) has come to an end:

My daughter’s partner is really good with the baby. He gives my daughter money each month for whatever she needs. You can get some that don’t – they just get a girl pregnant, then leave her to manage on her own. He has stuck by her. We still see him. He’s said that we’re really good and thanks us for what we do.

– grandmother of one

My son’s partner is Dutch. They had a love affair and she got pregnant, but they weren’t living together. She told me later that it wasn’t an accident, she had wanted him to be the father of her child. And then they learned that it was twins. The relationship wasn’t established and suddenly it was two! That relationship broke down quite early.

I’d met her twice. That was fine, I’ve always got on very well with my two sons’ girlfriends. And I could relate to her in so many ways, because I lived in Holland as a child but I hadn’t been for years. So, it was like this huge surge of history for me, which was incredibly emotional for me. She reminded me of a younger me. I related to her a lot. It was quite extraordinary.

– grandmother of three 

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Strained relationships

On the other hand, there are many very strained relationships:

She really values my grandmothering. She doesn’t always value me, but she values me as a grandmother. I sometimes think she doesn’t much like me as a person, which is probably about rivalry – mother-in-law, daughter-in-law stuff. Perhaps she felt that her husband was closer to me than to her when she was first with him. If I was someone else, she probably would like who I am.

I can feel quite shut-out at times. I’m welcomed as a baby-sitter, but they will go off on holidays with her parents, and we don’t have anything equivalent. And there’s loads of photos of the children around their house, some with the other grandparents, but there are none of us. When I realised it, I felt a bit pushed out.

I can remember arriving to be with the children and my daughter-in-law putting the baby down near me and looking at her face and saying, ‘She’s suspicious of you.’ I thought, oh, thanks very much! It does help to say that.

– grandmother of three

She went back to work and I went down there and babysat. When you’re babysitting for a new born, you clean up. They were both working, I thought I’ll cook their dinner, wash their clothes, I’d do little things and she would come home to a clean house. But it made her feel a bit uncomfortable and it became a competition: ‘Does your mum think I’m dirty?’ or ‘Your mum’s washing is better than mine.’ It wasn’t done like that.

She thinks I don’t like her, but I’d give her a medal, gladly, for putting up with my son. I want to praise her and say, ‘Oh, my God, no one would love him as much as you.’

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– grandmother of two

When the baby was eight months old, my husband and I treated them all to a holiday. The second night, I could hear them shouting. Shortly after, my son-in-law said to me, ‘Your daughter’s absolutely unbearable. Whatever I do is not good enough for her.’ And I said, ‘Do you realise that she’s just had a baby? Maybe she needs a little bit more help?’ He threatened to leave the next day, but he didn’t, but he complained about everything – the table was wrong, the chair, the sun was too strong.

At the end of the fourth day, we had a real argument – he banged on the table and asked why did I have to offend people all the time. I said, ‘I’m glad if have I offended you, because this might actually keep us even, after all the offences that you have given me and us during these eight months.’

– grandmother of two


What are your relationships like now you have grandchildren? Can you relate to these stories? 

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cover Grandmothers

This is an excerpt from Celebrating Grandmothers by Ann Richardson, available here or Kindle version via Amazon.