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Planning Retirement Online

The Repeat Grandparent


Jeanne Davis explores how we feel about our second grandchild  

Most of us never forget it. That moment when we are presented with our first grandchild. We marvel at the tiny hands, the perfect little feet, this new creation who stares into your eyes as we  look with wonder and fascination. At first, we think our joy could not possibly be greater or our heart fuller. 

But with the arrival of the second does the wonder cease or at least decrease? If so, how do we feel about this, and how does it affect our relationship with the new arrival? 

Not all families are alike

I talked to grannies and grandpas. What has emerged is that it is not a question of the first or second grandchild. It depends on the circumstances. Sheila from Kingston told me that she became much closer to her second grandchild than her first. 


The second grandchild was born to the daughter who lives in the States. Sheila was asked to come help out. Her voice softens with contented remembrance as she tells me that she spent a whole month cuddling this little one. 

For John, a grandpa from Twickenham, the joy was equally exquisite. His daughter had been born with a disability and the fear that her children would inherit the same medical problem was uppermost in the family’s thoughts before the birth. The first grandchild was born without the defect. The second, too, was joyously free of the defective gene.

Much depends on the amount of time you spend with the grandchild and at what age. I was less involved with the early round-the-clock feedings and nappy changings of my first grandchild, my daughter’s child. Perhaps she sensed that I was terrified at handling an infant for fear of dropping the vulnerable bundle or not holding the head correctly to keep it from wobbling. I was called upon more often as the year progressed to baby sit, and my love changed from the initial infatuation to a more realistic relationship.

The next lot are twins and there is no question of worrying about hands-on helping out. A multitude of hands are needed. and welcomed. These are  the offspring of my  son and forty-something daughter in law, their first. My son, bless him, is even more concerned about the way I hold them, feed them, talk to them than the mother. And their progress from first smile, to first solids, to first efforts to crawl are much more minutely observed than by the more laid back, relaxed, though no less adoring  parents of the first two.  

When distance separates grandparents from grandchildren.

The twins and their parents live in Somerset , near Taunton . My journey from London takes about two and a half hours which I manage for a long weekend once a month.  I know that some grandparents live so far away their visits can be far less frequent, reduced to once a year for holiday gift-giving or not at all.

Thousands of miles separate Glaswegians Kate and David from their grandchildren.  Their son took a job in San Francisco . They cheerfully waved the family off but the separation has been hard to bear. How do they keep the contact going, establish the grandchild /grandparent bond?

Technology is a blessing, helping to foster emotional relations over distance. You can use computers, faxes or regular (“snail”) mail to keep in touch. Children can fax jokes, school reports, drawings to their grandparents. Grandparents can fax an encouraging note weekly. And  children love to receive a letter or postcard., addressed specially to them.

Even if you live in the same town, distance can seem great when the grandchildren start school and develop new interests and activities. How do you keep in touch at this stage? Again, technology can help. Or a weekly ‘phone call or postcard – with a brief message or a joke. 

Tensions within the family can also keep grandchildren distant from the grandparents. Some mothers resent their own mothers and their attempts to help may be seen as criticism of their own capabilities. And there are grandparents who want to be included but offer little hands-on help. One father gripes that his parents will very begrudgingly baby sit once, at most twice a year. Magnanimously on New Year’s eve.  

Are grandparents expected to love all their grandchildren equally?

This question worries us because in some ways we don’t. Grandparents reproach themselves because they have different feelings about each of their grandchildren. They are expecting the impossible of themselves, say the experts in child rearing.

The much-revered Dr. Benjamin Spock wrote. “Good grandparents love their grandchildren equally in the sense they are devoted to each one, want the best for all of them and will make any necessary sacrifice to achieve this. But since all children are quite different, no grandparent can feel just the same about any two of them.  It’s human and normal and inevitable that we should feel quite differently about each of our grandchildren, that we should be impatient with certain characteristics in some of them and proud of others.

It is acceptance and understanding of these different feelings, rather than feeling guilty about them, that will allow you to treat all of your grandchildren with the love and special attention they need.”

Repeatedly, the experts admonish. “Do not play favourites amongst the grandchildren. In reality, it may be that you prefer one grandchild over another, but it is essential that you do not let your preference show.”

Children pick up very quickly if they are the favourite or not. To feel less favoured is extremely hard on a child’s self-esteem. Every child deserves to feel cherished and loved by the adults in their lives.  

It sounds obvious to me and probably to you. But then again, we are only human.    



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