Just Say No to Grandparent Competition

  • 01 of 04

    Grandparenting Is Not a Contest

    Grandparents should not engage in grandparenting competitions.
    Grandparents should enjoy the love of grandchildren, but shouldn't try to score points in a grandparenting competition. Morsa Images / Getty Images

    Visit any parenting chat room, and you'll see complaints about dueling grandparents, or grandparents who think they are the parents. Grandparents who feel the need to compete with the other grandparents, or even with the parents, can wreck family harmony.

    A different dynamic governs grandparents who can't resist the temptation to demonstrate that their grandchildren are the best. It's a sure way to turn off, or turn away, your friends. 

    Becoming a grandparent is a life-changing...MORE experience for many, and we're not taught how best to handle it. Also, most of us are unprepared for the strength of our attachment to our grandchildren. This attachment sometimes leads us into making bad decisions. 

    Grandchildren should be enjoyed. They should not be used as pawns in a grandparenting competition. 

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  • 02 of 04

    Don't Compete With the 'Other' Grandparents

    Becoming friends with the other grandparents may de-escalate grandparent competition. Photo Digital Vision Getty Images

    It's natural for grandparents to sometimes feel jealous. That doesn't mean that it's okay to act on those feelings, especially when it leads to competition between grandparents. Your grandchildren deserve to have loving relationships with all of their grandparents -- which, in this age of blended families, can be quite a few. It's by no means required, or even a good idea in some circumstances, but if you can become friends with the other grandparents, you may find that the urge...MORE to compete with them is stilled.

    However, since grandparents are only human, certain scenarios are almost certain to engender grandparent envy. Here are a few of those scenarios, and some advice for coping.

    Close-By Grandparents Vs. Long-Distance Grandparents

    One set of grandparents is bound to live closer to the grandchildren than the others. If it's a matter of a few miles -- no big deal. However, it's a bigger deal if one set of grandparents has easy access to their grandchildren while the other set has to spend many hours (and many dollars) for the privilege. Let's face it: Facetime and Skype are wonderful for long-distance grandparents, but they can hardly live up to the real thing. 

    • What to do: Sometimes grandparents will consider moving closer to their grandchildren. That's not a bad idea if they want to relocate. It may be a bad idea if getting closer is the sole purpose of the move. A frank discussion with the children is in order before any decisions are made.
    • If moving is out of the question, which it will be for most, long-distance grandparents must strive to remember that the quality of contact with the grandchildren is more important than the frequency. Also, if they get extended visits in the grandchildren's home, they are getting a unique experience which the nearby grandparents probably don't have. Mostly, though, grandparents in this situation just have to accept it and make the best of it, because being eaten up with jealousy is productive for no one.

    Grandparents Who Are Financially Comfortable Vs. Those Who Are Strapped

    Another problematic scenario is when one set of grandparents has significantly more money than the other. The more affluent set may be able to pay for expensive trips and outings with the grandchildren, as well as spring for pricier presents. We tell ourselves that our grandchildren aren't so shallow as to prefer one set of grandparents for monetary reasons, but the more affluent set does have the chance to purchase some pretty incredible bonding experiences. And while we're at it, let's go ahead and admit that, yes, our grandchildren's heads may be turned by lavish gifts and luxury travel -- at least during certain impressionable stages.

    • What to do: Sometimes financially insecure grandparents will wreck their budgets trying to compete. That, of course, is pure folly. A better plan is to concentrate on offering the grandchildren something different. Can't afford a trip to a theme park? Take the grandchildren camping instead. Can't afford expensive gifts? Give the grandchildren handmade gifts and sentimental gifts that no amount of money can buy.
    • Most grandparents want their grandchildren to have solid values, to put people above things and inner assets above material goods. This is a chance for grandparents to be good role models and reinforce those values.

    Maternal Grandparents Vs. Paternal Grandparents

    It may not be fair, but maternal grandparents usually have an advantage over the paternal side. They are more likely to be invited into the delivery room and more likely to be asked to help out when a baby is born or when a parent is ill. Adair Lara, author of The Granny Diaries, calls the paternal grandparents the auxiliary grandparents, "kept in storage in case of need." As always, your experience may vary.

    • What to do: For paternal grandmothers, patience is key. Relationships between a woman and her mother-in-law are naturally a bit fraught. The best strategy is to build your relationship slowly and gradually. Don't try to replicate the mother-daughter relationship -- those have their own problems. And try your hardest not to compete with the maternal grandmother but to bring something different to the relationship.
    • Paternal grandfathers usually rank last in the hierarchy of closeness. (It goes like this: Maternal grandmother, maternal grandfather, paternal grandmother, paternal grandfather.) If you are a paternal grandfather, your best bet to overcome this disadvantage is to become a very involved grandfather. And what fun that can be!
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  • 03 of 04

    Don't Compete With Parents

    Grandparents should not outdo the parents on gift-giving occasions. Photo © Purestock | Getty Images

    When grandparents compete with parents, nobody wins. Why would grandparents want to try?

    Sometimes grandparents unconsciously compete with parents. After all, the last time they experienced the kind of love they feel for their grandchildren was when they were parents. So it's kind of natural that in expressing their love for their grandchildren, they turn to the behaviors they employed as parents.

    Keeping to the Grandparenting Role

    Savvy grandparents begin when their grandchildren are still in...MORE the womb to think about what it means to be a grandparent and what areas are not part of the grandparenting role. Still, it's not unusual for grandparents to be surprised by the strength of their feeling for their grandchildren and for them to react in ways that they didn't really plan. Maybe they express their opinions a little too freely or even refuse to follow the parents' rules. Sometimes they take a grandchild to visit Santa or to see a much anticipated movie, not thinking that the parents may have wanted to be there for these occasions. Clearly these grandparents need to learn to respect boundaries.

    The Issue of Money

    When grandparents have more disposable income than parents, they must be careful not to steal the parents' thunder. They may not give more gifts than the parents do, or give more expensive gifts unless the parents agree. (Sometimes when grandchildren get older, parents appreciate the grandparents' ability to help pay for college and to give big-ticket items. But such gifts must always be discussed with parents ahead of time.)

    Some grandparents, consciously or subconsciously, want to be loved more than the parents. Grandparents have a certain advantage, since they are not tasked with discipline and mundane parenting jobs on a regular basis. They can be like a fun version of parents. Having fun with grandchildren is fine, but not when the intent is to take away from the parents.

    Parents naturally want to be first in their children's hearts. Grandparents must be careful not to do anything that would diminish them in their children's eyes.

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  • 04 of 04

    Don't Compete With Friends

    Grandparents should avoid talking too much about their grandchildren. Photo © Comstock | Getty Images

    Since our grandchildren are such a big part of our lives, naturally we want to share news about them with our friends and peers. But when your companions' eyes glaze over, it's time to switch to a different topic.

    The subject of grandchildren can be touchy when your friends want grandchildren but don't yet have them, especially when infertility is an issue. It's even more insensitive to harp on your own grandchildren when a companion is estranged from grandchildren due to family...MORE conflict. You can't solve these problems for your friends, but you can avoid causing them additional pain.

    Don't One-Up Your Friends

    When all parties have grandchildren, conversations often devolve into an elaborate grandparent competition, with each grandparent trying to outdo the others in relating the achievements of their grandchildren. You can almost see the wheels turning as each grandparent prepares to top the tales of the others. Needless to say, they aren't really listening to each other.

    If you want to cement your friendships with other grandparents, back off a bit on the bragging. You might even want to share something about the challenges your grandchildren face. "Johnny is a good reader, but he struggles with math." "Julie was cut from the volleyball team. I felt so bad for her." This kind of disclosure is likely to lead to your friends sharing similar experiences, and perhaps your conversation can become something more productive than a game of grandparent one-upmanship.