Grandchildren. They make grandparents happy. Many of them carry around little brag books and suddenly become the kind of parents to their grandchildren that their children wish they were to them. In fact, the birth of grandchildren to a grandma or grandpa is like a second chance at life during a time in life when they can see the true value and purity of the situation. The first grandchildren normally cause a whirlwind in the family infrastructure, dramatically changing every breath that a grandparent takes. Suddenly, they want nothing more than to spend time rocking and playing with their children. Then comes the next grandchild, and things are pretty exciting. Then the next, and the one after that and two more, plus the ones that get added because their son remarried a woman with two kids. Things start to add up.
When the children are all young, they don’t really notice that perhaps grandma or grandpa seem to gravitate more to one child or the other. Yet as the children grow, it becomes obvious. Grandma loves the babies but doesn’t seem to give the older grandchildren quite as much attention. When they visit her house, they see tons of pictures of Grandma holding her littlest grandchildren pasted over the ones where she was holding them. When grandparents play favorites, whether purposely or not – it can cause a great deal of pain for the grandchildren who don’t neatly fit into the category of being grandma or grandpa’s favorite.
In many households, grandparents play favorites because of geography. Perhaps they live very close to a few of their grandchildren while the others live hundreds of miles away. This may mean that grandma and grandpa are always in touch and connected with their neighboring grandchildren but rarely spend time with the ones far away. Obviously, their relationship with their closely located grandchildren will get stronger as they get to share more everyday experiences. As parents, it can hurt to see your mom and dad seemingly neglect your own children in lieu of your siblings. It may even bring back childhood memories of feeling like the red headed stepchild. Often, parents react by saying negative comments or keeping their distance even more, which only thwarts the relationship further.
There are of course other situations where grandparents play favorites with reasons that aren’t so easy to justify. Perhaps they are willing and able to watch one set of grandchildren at the drop of the hat, but always have an excuse when it comes to watching yours. You may even notice that when the family is all together – the grandparents naturally gravitate more lovingly to a few of the grandchildren while generally ignoring others. In defense of grandparents everywhere, it can be very difficult to split themselves into 8 different parts in order to pay equal attention to each and every grandchild. And the younger, cuter ones often take precedence because quite simply, they are more prone to the hugs and kisses than the older children are. Yet this doesn’t mean it hurts.
Breaching the subject of grandparents who play favorites is a hard to do. Just like no parent want to have to defend that they love one of their own kids more, a grandparent doesn’t want to do that with their grandchildren. But let’s be frank for a moment. In life, there are certain people that we connect to more easily than others. In a room filled with 25 family members, chances are there are 2 or 3 that you are naturally drawn to. It doesn’t mean that you don’t love everyone in the room. It just means that there is some invisible chemistry going on that makes you seek out certain people’s company more. The grandparents in your family may just be naturally drawn to one kid over the other. Perhaps they have an easier time communicating or sharing things in common. It also may be that there is some family tension between the parents and grandparents, which seems to spill over and affect the grandparent grandchild relationship.
If you feel strongly that your children are treated differently, negatively in comparison to other grandchildren then it is important to stand up to the grandparents and bring it to their attention. Use thoughtful and realistic ways to describe what your child’s sees and feels. Rather than approach with it anger, which you will undoubtedly feel, try to remain solution based. If you feel that the grandparents are playing favorites with the younger grandchildren and ignoring the older ones, point out that the babies and toddlers are not going to know the difference, but that your 12 year old does. Sometimes, grandparents are just so overwhelmed with excitement over a cute little baby that they don’t realize they are ‘ignoring’ the needs of the older kids. Additionally, try to encourage your children, the grandchildren, to seek out relationships with their grandparents. Where a two year old will run to grandma’s arms like a bee to honey, a tween may avoid the cheek squeezes like it’s the bubonic plague. Try to find things that your older children have in common with their grandparents and allow them to connect that way.
If distance is the problem with grandparents playing favorites, then make sure that you plan special occasions throughout the year to be together. You could even meet half way so that your family and the grandparents get some private time without the cousins which may exasperate the feelings of playing favorites. Make strides to send pictures and invitations to special events and don’t forget to ensure that your children stay in touch as much as possible. The point is that the grandparent grandchild relationship is important. In all too many families, it is also short lived and tangled with aged old familial issues and problems that have nothing to do with the grandchildren themselves. For this reason, it is important that children are always encouraged to maintain a relationship with their grandparents and that grandparents are empowered to do the same.