At my sixtieth birthday party I had no grandchildren, but I hugged the secret knowledge of my daughter Anna’s just-pregnant condition to myself like a wonderful extra gift. I had been longing for a grandchild for some time, but, as in all matters of grand-parenting, it was something over which I had absolutely no control. Once the babies started to come, they appeared every year for four years in a row and then a short gap before Matilda arrived as my fifth and final grandchild. Three girls in one family and two boys in the other, all of whom have brought such joy into my life. Yes, India’s first year of life was traumatic, but it also inspired me to start Look Fabulous Forever, which I doubt I would have done under any other circumstances.
Great joy for me as each baby was born to love and cuddle, but this is not necessarily true for every grandparent, a reality that was brought home to me recently in a post on Super Troopers.
The Super Trooper was asking advice from the other grandmothers about something that she was finding upsetting and difficult to navigate. It concerned access to her first baby grandchild when the ‘gate-keeper’ of that access was a daughter-in-law who favoured her own mother over her mother-in-law, so that contact was more irregular and sporadic than the Super Trooper would have liked. Oh, how I ached for her! All of my grandchildren live in close proximity to me, which is unusual in London, and when they were little, my exhausted daughters needed me to lend a hand, especially when they went back to work. Their mothers-in-law were geographically distant so there was no rivalry between us; I just happened to be available and besotted and therefore more than ready and able to help.
In so many ways being a grandparent is more pleasurable than being a parent. All the best bits with none of the boring stuff. However the price you pay for that is the fact that the parents have all the rights and you have none. If for some reason your daughter, son, daughter-in-law or son-in-law makes it difficult for you to see your beloved grandchild, there is absolutely nothing you can do about it. So I thought I’d suggest some of the things to consider in building a mutually satisfying relationship with your grandchildren.
With my eldest grandson Patrick when he was very young
1. What's Your Ideal?
Ask yourself questions like ‘How much time would I like to spend with my grandchild?’ What am I prepared to give to the relationship?’ ‘How involved would I like to be in their young lives?’ Some grandparents become substitute parents for several days a week in order to save on exorbitant childcare costs. Others have no desire or capacity for such demands. I looked after my granddaughter Freya for two days a week when my daughter Suzy went back to work and was happy to do so, but it was both demanding, time consuming and tiring. I also looked after Freya when her mum was needed at India’s bedside in hospital for months on end, but that was an emergency. It occurs to me that a perfect balance between desire for contact and the nature of that contact is very hard to achieve, however all contact is controlled by the parents and this will need to be discussed and agreed upon.
2. What Are Your Circumstances?
How old are you? How physically able are you? Where do you live in relation to the child/children? Can you drive? How much time can you afford to spend? Nowadays our children have their babies much later in life than we did. My mother was only 52 when she became a grandmother for the first time and was fit and healthy. But she lived a hundred miles away and wouldn’t drive herself that distance, so we always visited her. If you are already into your 70s when your grandchildren arrive, then the challenges are much greater, not least in terms of stamina and capacity to cope with the demands of young boisterous children. Add geographical distance and ill-health and suddenly it’s very much harder to have sustained and meaningful contact.
3. How Strong Are Your Relationships?
How well do you get on with your son, daughter or their spouses? Are you a close and loving family that enjoys spending time together or are there any frictions, recent or long past?
The relationship that you ultimately build with your grandchildren is always going to be mediated by their parents. This may be easier with daughters than with sons. That saying ‘a daughter is a daughter for all of her life, a son is a son till he gets him a wife’ may be all too true in this regard. There was a brief prospect that one of my daughters might marry someone of whom I really disapproved. She saw sense (!) thank goodness, but I often wonder how close I would have been to any children that they might have had. I have a friend with two sons for whom I have such admiration. She has assiduously and with great generosity cultivated close relationships with both her daughters-in-law, so that she has been able to build strong and close relationships with her three grandchildren.
4. Autre Temps, Autre Moeurs
By which I mean we did things differently in our day. What’s your attitude to modern parenting? Are you shocked or horrified by what your grandchild is allowed to do or say? Do you cringe at their clothes, hair, speech, attitudes or (lack of) manners or the amount of screen time they are allowed? Too bad! Say nothing, suggest no remedies (unless expressly asked), and never ever say the words ‘in my day…..’ Remember that your own children will not see you as the fount of all wisdom as may have been the case in days of yore (if that ever actually happened), but as an interfering and out-of-touch old bat! I tell myself that these grandchildren of ours will live in a world almost unrecognisable to us. They may never need to write with a pen or learn to drive a car. They will need different ways of thinking and learning about which I know nothing. Best to keep my mouth shut!
From this week! My daughter, son-in-law and two grandsons have joined me on my holiday in sunny Lerici, Italy
And what would I counsel the Super Trooper in her dilemma? The solution has to be in talking it through with either her son, her daughter-in-law or both together. This needs to be done sensitively and without demands because she is entirely at their mercy whilst the child is a baby. They may have absolutely no idea of the resentment being engendered by the preferential treatment given to the rival grandparents. Could a regular visit be arranged and how might that work, where would it happen and for how long? Later, when the child gets older, you might be able to arrange special treats, and sleepovers so that you can build your own relationship directly with that grandchild. I’ve recently done this with 5 year old Matilda, because I felt that she was a stranger to me because of lockdowns and the demands of Look Fabulous Forever. We now go regularly on Saturday afternoons to our local Polka Childrens’ Theatre and I was rewarded recently at her house when she, spontaneously and very unusually, came to me for a cuddle and told me that she loved me.
I am conscious that some reading this will be thinking ‘I wish’ or ‘If only’ because there are few prospects of any grandchildren in their lives. If you yearn for them as I did, then my heart goes out to you. However the arrival of grandchildren may not bring the unalloyed joy you anticipated. The best you can do is to be loving, kind, giving, available, undemanding, understanding and uncritical . That way you may be able to enjoy a close and special relationship with your grandchildren as they morph from cute babies into lively children and then to gangly teenagers. They are undoubtedly one of the greatest consolations of old age, but we must accept as grandparents that we enjoy time in their company as a gift, bestowed or withheld, by their parents.
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Tuesday 26th July
Teatime with Tricia - Lorne Blyth, Flavours Holidays
Flavours Holidays is a specialist ATOL bonded tour operator – offering quality cooking, painting, Pilates, language and photography holidays in Italy since 1998. Set in idyllic and unspoilt regions of Italy, guests have the opportunity to learn from local chefs and passionate, experienced tutors
I so agree. My daughter has 2 children who we are very close to. Looked after as babies and picked them up from School. Took them to various after school clubs etc. My husband's son had a a son with a partner and they split when baby was 1 week old! I have had to really work at building a relationship with her. As luck would have it she moved to the village where our daughter lives. Both boys are in the same class at school so we see them all . So you do need to watch yourself and you get a great relationship with your child and your grand kids.
Hi Tricia - such lovely photos! I agree being a grandparent is such a wonderful privilege. I feel very lucky to be one - after I nearly had given up hope my granddaughter Beatrice (Bea) was born in my 70th year 2016 weighing only just over 1lb and 25 weeks. Now nearly finishing a year at a brilliant mainstream school - wearing a hearing headband Peppa pig glasses and just starting to say words - she has brought such joy and happiness - fortunately I have a lovely daughter in law which certainly helps x
What a great blog Tricia! I often think how lucky grandparents are to have had daughters (not that I would change my sons for the world) because naturally, assuming there are no problems with their relationship, they are closer and more likely to see more of their grandchildren. We are very lucky that we have a pretty wonderful daughter-in-law who we get on with very well, but they live in Dubai and therefore we don't see them as often as we would like. They are very mindful of this fact and try to arrange trips back when they can; they always welcome us to stay for as long as we want to over there, and this year they arranged a villa for us all to meet up (halfway) in Cyprus which they very kindly paid for (despite our protestations). Her parents went for a week, we went for a week, and we all met up in the middle for about 3 overlapping days. It was fab. There is no rivalry between her parents and us, we all get on very well and are just about to go and stay with them for a few days whilst our daughter-in-law & grandchildren are there which was again very thoughtful of them to ask and we are most grateful. However due to the closeness between her and her parents it is perfectly understandable that she and the children go to stay with them for a few weeks in the school holidays and therefore see a good deal more of the grandchildren than us. We console ourselves with the fact that, as somebody else has said, we are so very lucky to have grandchildren at all as there are plenty of people who aren't so fortunate, and it does have its upsides with them being so far away insofar as we're not being asked to babysit umpteen times a week! ???? Your blog was brilliant though Tricia and brought up some very good points indeed. Thank you.
I’ve often thought about this. We are so lucky with 5 grandchildren. Two are 100 miles away (our daughter & son-in-law) but we have always managed to see them regularly & helped out a lot when they were younger. I think we hav3 a good relationship with them now, they’re 16 and 14. Our other 3 grandchildren are about 20 minutes drive from us. We have always been very involved with them, now aged 18, 16 and 14 and see them regularly. We have always been there when either family needed help, but didn’t do any child care on a specific basis (eg on the same day every week), but I don’t ever remember having to say no to helping out. We have also done loads of cleaning, washing and ironing and still chauffeur very often. We are retired and, selfishly maybe, we did like to travel when possible.
I was, as ever, interested to read this week's blog, and even more so as the role of grandmother to daughters'/daughter-in-laws' childen is a recurring theme amongst my friends. I noted particularly : "Their mothers-in-law were geographically distant so there was no rivalry between us; I just happened to be available and besotted and therefore more than ready and able to help." I do wonder if in fact the other grandmother was ever asked if she could help, or whether it was assumed that she wouldn't be able to. Both my daughters-in-law have parents living closer than me. One has her mother about a mile away, I'm about ten miles away. I am 'more than ready and able to help' and although I offer, I'm seldom asked. From the time my grandson was about nine months old and my daughter-in-law returned to work, he was brought to me on a Thursday evening and I returned him on a Friday evening, but since he started school I've seldom been asked to have him at all. I've always said I'm happ to pick up and take him home, and every holiday/half-term I say that I'd enjoy an opportunity to have him. My other daughter-in-law is further away, and I know it's much easier for the other grandmother to help out, but again I'm usually asked once it's proved impossible for the other grandmother to help. I do hope there really isn't any rivalry between you and your daughter-in-law's mother, but the circumstances you describe do seem to be very common and perhaps not as perfect as you describe..