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The Grandparent Competition

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Prixel Creative
When you compete for your grandkids' love, nobody wins

My daughter Laurie shouted over the phone, “Mom, I’m pregnant!” The joy in her voice was contagious.

“I’m thrilled,” I replied. “You’re going to be a mom. That means I’m going to be a grandma. Congratulations to both of us!” We laughed and gave each other a long-distance hug.

After we ended the call, I remembered my mother had bought me my first maternity dress when I was expecting Laurie, so I wanted to do the same for my daughter.

“What can I get you?” I asked a few days later. “I’d like to buy your first outfit.”

Laurie asked for a corduroy jumper and told me her favorite color. I made a note of it and planned to shop within the next few days. Little did I know that Laurie’s stepmother, Sally, beat me to it. Somehow she got wind of Laurie’s preference. Sally’s gift arrived well before mine. I felt upstaged and hurt.

Sally was also quick to choose a name for her new role — Nana — which would have been my name preference.

I felt overshadowed — first the gift, now the name. What’s next? I wondered.

While I rejoiced over this new season of my life and looked forward to spending quality time with my grandbaby, I didn’t realize the tug-of-war I’d find myself in with the other grandparents.

Winner takes all

I tried to put the corduroy jumper incident behind me and chalk up Sally’s actions to her outgoing personality. But I didn’t get very far. As the years progressed, Sally and Rob (my ex-husband), had money and a summer home in Newport Beach. They opened their home to my adult children and their children for holidays and summer weekends. They treated these young families to clothes and food and water skiing and ice cream and boat rides and Disney movies. They lavished gifts on our grandkids, while my husband, Charles, and I struggled with unemployment for a season and life in a small apartment for years.

I knew Sally and Rob were not responsible for our predicament, and their jobs and money management were entirely theirs. But I didn’t like not being the one giving our grandkids special experiences. And I certainly didn’t like behaving like a victim.

I wanted to be able to welcome my role as a grandmother and let Sally do the same in her own way. If I really meant that, I had to face my lack of self-confidence and trust God to help me become the loving grandmother I wanted to be.

What I could do

As grandchildren expanded our family over the years, I focused more on doing what I could do and less on what I couldn’t do. And that made a big difference in my relationship with my grandkids and with their parents. I invited the kids on sleepovers and trips to the zoo and the beach in San Diego, where we lived at the time. And I spent a ton of time with them on their turf. We had fun, and we built loving relationships.

Every once in a while, a spark of jealousy ignited, especially the time when Sally and Rob treated our grandchildren and their parents to a week in Hawaii, all expenses paid. I took a deep breath at the news and decided that instead of worrying about what Sally and Rob were up to, I would be grateful the kids were having a great vacation with family.

I reminded myself that no one can steal my identity as a grandma. There is only one me, and my role is not based on money or trips or gifts. I chose to be a grandmother who was happy for my kids and grandkids.

Each unique relationship

As for Laurie’s in-laws, they had the disadvantage of living in another state. Due to health and financial concerns, they rarely visited the grandchildren. But they consistently sent birthday and Christmas gifts and connected by phone and mail. The few times I was with these folks, I found them to be sincerely nice people. They found ways to grandparent long distance, and they built their own special relationships with our shared grandchildren. They had our grandchildren’s best interests at heart, and that is what we all had in common.

When my second daughter had three children of her own, I realized I was able to spend more time and money on them. Their father’s parents lived farther away, yet they grandparented well from afar, and we had a compatible relationship with them, and still do. Once again, we each wanted what was best for our grandkids. That was our common bond.

Meanwhile, after Sally had grandchildren of her own from her biological daughter and son, she still didn’t skip a beat when it came to our shared grandchildren. At times, what she did felt like too much, but I had to admit that she loved each one and wanted to participate in their lives — just as I did. How could I be jealous of someone who was also looking out for my grandkids in the best way she knew how? How could it not be a good thing to show our grandkids what love looked like from each of our grandparenting perspectives?

Letting go

It was clear my ego and jealousy had gotten in my way all those years before. I had let myself feel insecure in my role as a grandparent. During that time, I learned to give myself a good talking to whenever jealousy reared its ugly head. I’d ask myself these two questions:

  • Did I expect the grandkids and their parents to take sides?
  • Did I want to deny my grandchildren the opportunity of having more love and fun?

My answer to both those questions was always no. And I came to realize that the many grandkids who had been born over the years were surely better off with more than one set of grandparents to love and enjoy in whatever way they chose to show their affection.

When grandparents compete with the other grandparents, nobody wins, including the grandchildren. In the years since my grandparenting struggles, I’ve experienced a fresh wind of godly renewal, one that blows love and forgiveness into my life and carries away competition and control. I’ve learned that envy and judgment kill relationships, but love overcomes all.

Today when I think about Sally and Rob, I can smile in gratitude for the grace God gave me when I needed it most. I now can say with assurance that Sally, without even knowing it, challenged me to be a better grandmother — indeed a better person.

Karen O’Connor is a speaker, writing consultant and author.

Be a 'Great' Grand

When a new grandbaby arrives, no grandparent thinks she will compete against other grandparents. But if you find yourself in that situation, here are some quick tips to help you.

  • Remember there is only one you. No one can steal your identity when it comes to being a grandparent.
  • Focus on the grandchildren and the unique relationship you’d like to build with them. Enjoy what you can do with your grandchildren, and stop focusing on what you can’t.
  • If you do feel jealousy entering your relationship with other grandparents, ask yourself these two questions: Do I want my grandkids to choose sides? Do I want to deny my grandchildren the opportunity to experience more love than I can give alone?
  • Observe the other grandparents, and don’t interfere with their plans.
  • Put love at the top of your list of gifts. Money, trips and presents pale in comparison with genuine love and shared time.

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You may feel that there is no hope for your marriage and the hurt is too deep to restore the relationship and love that you once had. The truth is, your life and marriage can be better and stronger than it was before. In fact, thousands of marriages, situations as complex and painful as yours, have been transformed with the help of professionals who understand where you are right now and care deeply about you and your spouse’s future. You can restore and rebuild your marriage through a personalized, faith-based, intimate program called, Hope Restored.
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