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Planning Retirement Online

Grandparents do make a difference - 11

May 2010



Each month we bring you this special column on grandparenting written by our expert contributor Jeanne Davis.

If you have a subject you would like covered by Jeanne, please email us at:


The jealousy and resentments that can be caused when grandparents feel excluded

“I feel excluded,” Joan says, telling a friend about her infrequent contact with her grandchildren. “There is no warmth there,” she says of her daughter-in-law. “She doesn’t seem to want my help.” Joan lives in Essex, some sixty miles from her son and daughter-in-law in Kent. Her daughter-in-law’s parents live much closer to their daughter, just a 15 minute drive. From the beginning they have had a hand’s on role in helping with the grandchildren.

Joan, a widow, has now found a solution – she has decided to move nearer to the children, a move that may have been precipitated by taking the initiative to talk to her son and tell him how she felt. It may not have been easy. She would not have wanted to appear to criticise her son’s wife. However, they were able to work out a solution, and it looks as though she will be seeing more of the two grandchildren.

It has been the pattern that daughters do turn to their own mothers particularly when the grandchildren are infants and toddlers. Their mother, rather than a mother-in-law, seems the more natural person to ask for advice. But family life has changed and with it, so have the old patterns of relationships. A mother may not live close enough to be of help.

Becca, a working mother in London, says her mother lives away in Finland but shows no jealousy of not being closely involved. In fact, she says she is very happy for Becca that her mother-in-law is available to look after her son four days a week while Becca is at work. But while Becca’s own mother is not jealous, in this case the mother-in-law has a problem. Despite helping to look after her grandson, she is resentful of the time he spends with his aunts, her very own daughters!

Ed and Vicky have two working daughters. Fortunately Ed recently retired and was able to help Vicky with care of the grandchildren during the week. But the sons-in-law are not always grateful for the help. They see the hands on help of the maternal grandparents as being interfering. They get told by their wives “Don’t be so silly. Be grateful.”

No one situation fits all. Not all grandparents want to spend time with their grandchildren, a grandmother may not be “maternal”, and not all parents want or ask for help. Some grandparents may not be as physically capable as others helping with young children. .

Not two but three sets of Grandparents

What do you do about jealousy or envy when you the parent are dealing with not two sets of grandparents but three or even four?

Kim, writing online, asks for advice. “My son, age 11, has three sets of grandparents (my husband’s parents divorced and both remarried). One set is fine but the two other sets of grandparents do show resentment of the other set of grandparents and felt they weren’t getting involved with our son as much as they would like to be.”

Of the fifteen replies Kim received, most said that in one way or another they needed to get together and explore each other’s feelings. Why they feel one set gets to see more of him and is it actually what is really happening? The grass always appears greener, especially if one set of grandparents lives a lot closer. All the grandparents undoubtedly love the grandchild and want what’s best for that child and their family.

This is not going to be easy. Complex family relationships get in the way, people’s egos, sensitivities, perceived slights. Grandparents need to focus on the child’s best interest, not theirs. Think what effect possessiveness and squabbling might have on the well-being of the grandchild.

In a new Grandparents’ Guide, funded by the Department for Children, Schools and Families and produced by Grandparents Plus, ten top tips for grandparents in varying situations are featured. Among them:

  • Try to keep communicating, even when it’s difficult;
  • Remember to listen, sometimes that’s enough;
  • Respect and try to understand each other’s point of view;
  • In disputes try to be on the side of the family as a whole;
  • Most important: Focus on the children.

To get your free copy of the Grandparents’ Guide

The guide offers help and advice about a range of issues – from a new baby to teenagers, from separating parents, to coping with crisis situations. For your free copy visit the website on


Previous articles in the series:

1. Grandparents do make a difference
2. When Grandparents are on duty
3. To Discipline or not
4. The long Distance Grandparent
5. When the parents separate
6. Second time around
7. Who baby-sits?
8. Favouring one grandchild more than the others
9. Should Grandparents who provide child care receive financial assistance
10. A feast for mind and body for you and the grandchildren at half term


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