An excerpt from Motherhood Without Guild
by Debra Gilbert Rosenberg
Question and Answer from the section
Motherhood and Family
My kids have three sets of grandparents: my mother and her husband, my father and his wife, and my in-laws, and they all seem to be competitive about who is the best grandparent. How can I get them to behave themselves?
Sometimes, even supposedly mature people act like little kids. I’ve heard many stories about how sets of grandparents compete for favored grandparent status. It’s laughable, except when it’s your kids who are being pushed and pulled to visit more often, or who are showered with unnecessary and lavish gifts in the attempt at winning their affection. When there are ex-spouses and multiple sets of interested relatives, the competition can get dicey.
Talk to them, if at all possible. Tell them that you want your children to love all their relatives and have great relationships with them all. Remind them that grandparenting is not a competitive sport. Reassure the grandparents that you totally support their desire to feel connected to your children. Ask them to limit gifts because you don’t want your kids to learn to expect gifts from grandparents; you do want them to love them, enjoy them, and maybe expect to learn something or to have fun together.
Do not talk about one set of grandparents to the others. If your father-in-law asks you who bought Brooke that beautiful dress (and it was your father), jump up out of your seat, exclaiming “I almost forgot; I have to make a call!” and leave the room. Or ignore the question, responding instead, “Don’t you think Brooke’s eyes look just like yours?” If they want to know how often you visit with the other grandparents, tell them you try to see all of the relatives as much as possible. Learn to change the subject if they try to compare gifts or involvement. Remind them that your children love and enjoy them. Teach them that loving relationships can’t be compared or measured, and tell them you are grateful that so many people love your children.
If you allow frequent visits, phone calls, and email; eliminate their ability to measure each other’s generosity or contact; and Motherhood without Guilt deflect the competitive questions, you will go a long way in decreasing the competition among these relatives. You will also teach your children that love is not something you can measure, that the richness of a relationship comes from the closeness the people feel rather than the gifts that they give, and that you value people for who they are, not for what they do. These are very good lessons.