Something about having to share grandchildren can bring out the wolf in the gentlest grandma. Maybe it's just that our time with our grands tends to be limited, so we work up a genuine dislike for anything — or anyone — that cuts into our time. Having to share with the other grandparents can be particularly hard.
Still, such feelings are unworthy of the values that we want to pass on to our grandchildren, and family drama isn't on anyone's list of favorites. So here are five ways you can ensure that you get along well with your grandchild's other grandparent, and keep the peace for years to come.
1. Be accepting of differences.
When two people come together in a marriage or partnership, two families also come together. Sometimes these families are very dissimilar. They may be from different countries, cultures, ethnicities, religions or income levels, or the differences may be less noticeable and more subtle. Sometimes families that seem much alike on the surface have wildly different family cultures.
Most human beings are somewhat tribal. Being with people who do things differently can be uncomfortable and challenging, but it can also be a terrific learning experience. As grandparents it's fine to share our values and knowledge with our grandchildren, but we need to accept that our grandchildren can benefit from being with their other grandparents, too, even when some of their ways are very different from ours.
2. Try not to compete.
Grandparents may breezily assert that they don't have favorites among their grandchildren – that they love them all equally. Even while they are making this assertion, they may be competing for the honor of most loved grandparent. They don't realize that their grandchildren want the same privilege: the chance to love each grandparent for his or her unique qualities without having to have a favorite.
Grandparent competition is silly because it's innately unfair. One grandparent or another is sure to live closer to the grandchildren, to have more money to spend on them, or to have more leisure time to hang out with them. It's best to accept that each grandparent-grandchild relationship is unique and to make the most of your time with your grandchildren without worrying about what the other grandparents are doing.
3. Play nicely with the other grandparents.
Many occasions each year bring the grandparents together, and that's a great chance to show what you're made of. At family gatherings, don't dominate the conversation, give the biggest gift, or look for opportunities to show how much you are loved. Instead look for ways that you can help.
This is also a time to get to know the other grandparents. You may find that you have more in common than you thought, or you may find new things to appreciate about your grandparent counterpart.
4. Practice cheerful sharing.
Since it is physically impossible for your grandchildren to be in two places at once, sometimes you may have to yield some grandparenting time to the other side of the family. Holidays are prime for scheduling conflicts, but summer vacations can be touchy, too.
Many grandparents have adapted to celebrating holidays early or late, in order to accommodate everyone's crazy schedules. Vacations can be harder, especially if the other grandparents go with the grandchildren and you're not invited. Still, if grandparents can't learn to share time without a struggle, the parents may decide not to include either set of grandparents in holiday celebrations and vacation plans. Then everyone loses.
5. Take the long view.
Grandparents often lament, “They grow up too fast!” And they do. Your grandchildren will grow up, and as they do, your relationship with them will change. So will their relationships with the other grandparents. If you feel that you're getting the short end of the grandparenting stick at the moment, that could change at any time.
A solid relationship with grandchildren doesn't pivot on a single occasion or experience, but is built by a history of growing and adapting with them. If staying close to your grandchildren is your goal, you'll take the long view and behave in ways that will make that happen.
A Word About Jealousy
No one really wants to be jealous. It's a very uncomfortable emotion. If you could help it, you wouldn't be jealous of your grandchild's other grandparents. But sometimes you just can't help it. The trick is to acknowledge the feeling and then move on.
When those feelings arise, try to harness them in a positive direction. Go for a walk or hit the gym. Attack a chore that you've been putting off. Do a good deed for someone else. Having feelings of jealousy just means that you are human, but what you do with those feelings is totally within your control.
Above all, you have to be the kind of person that other people – especially those grandchildren – want to be around. If you are consistently kind, loving, generous, open-hearted, and flexible, you will get your share of grandchild love. You may have some lean times, but everything will balance out.
When envy of another grandparent threatens to bring out your inner wolf, resist. Just being a grandma is much better.
Susan Adcox is a writer specializing in grandparenting topics. She is the author of Stories From My Grandparent: An Heirloom Journal for Your Grandchild.