Handling Grandmas' Grandparenting Insecurities

Jan Faull, MEd, on helping grandparents feel connected to their grandkids.

Presence (Not Pictures) Counts

Q. Our 15-month old daughter's grandmothers are having interesting issues. One obsesses over whether our daughter "knows" her. The other makes comments like "Oh, she doesn't like me," if our daughter starts fussing when she approaches her.

I am so tired of having to defend my daughter ("Oh, she's just tired/hungry/bored etc." or "Oh, that's silly, don't be ridiculous"), and I feel for my daughter because she's not trying to insult her grandmothers. As I work from home two days a week, I have offered both grandmothers the opportunity to come over during the day (separately) or after I get done working (late afternoon) to play with their granddaughter. So far, neither has taken me up on it. They are both retired, one lives about 10 miles away, the other just under 20.

Do you think it would help my daughter in feeling more comfortable with her grandmothers if I put a picture of both of them in her bedroom and she looked at them each day, with us telling her that these are her grandmas? I don't know what else to do.

A. The only way for your child to know her grandmothers is for them to spend time with her. The only way the grandmas can be assured that their granddaughter likes them is for them to set their insecurities aside and play with her, feed her, and change her diapers.

Of course your child likes her grandmothers -- what's there not to like? No doubt they are sweet, responsive ladies. The responsibility in the building of their respective relationships, however, lies with them, not your daughter. She's a fickle toddler, loving and cuddly one minute, defiant and unapproachable the next. She's not trying to insult these grandmas, she's just being her toddler self with an agenda that has nothing to do with knowing or not knowing people or liking or not liking them.

If the grandmas were mean or erratic when visiting, then your child would cling to you for protection. This situation is unlikely the case.

Getting Grandmas Involved

Making the Most of Their Visits

You need to be commended for inviting them over when you're at work or home. It's too bad they didn't take you up on it. There's not much more you can do. If you like, invite one and then the other over for afternoon tea or dinner. They might accept these invitations.

When the grandma comes in the door greet her happily. Your daughter will look to see how you relate to her, when she sees you're happy Grandma is visiting, your child will take on the same attitude.

Once everyone's comfortable, have the grandma sit on the floor with a ball or a jack-in-the-box. Tell her to start playing with the toy. At first, stay in the room and get the play going in a positive fashion. Once Grandma and your child are playing and relating well, leave the room. By doing so, you give them the opportunity to get to know one another thus building their relationship.

Photo Substitute?

It's a fine gesture to put pictures of the grandmas in your daughter's bedroom. Better yet, take a picture of the two of them playing with that ball or jack-in-the-box. Then you can talk about the fun time they had together as you're putting your child to bed or changing her diapers. Be sure to send each grandma a picture, too.

Of course you would like your daughter and her grandmothers to have a loving and liking relationship, but you can only do so much. They have a responsibility to get to know your child on her terms -- after all, your daughter is the child, they are the adults. There's no need to burden yourself with guilt feelings. It's tough enough to work at home plus manage a toddler. You need their help and support; you don't need to consume yourself too much with their issues.

When your child is older, you'll need to teach her to show her grandmothers proper respect. This concept, however, escapes toddlers. For now, since you're in the middle, just do what's reasonable to make these relationships work.

Jan Faull, MEd, is a veteran parent educator and the author of two parenting books, Mommy, I Have to Go Potty and Unplugging Power Struggles. She writes a biweekly parenting advice column for HealthyKids.com and a weekly parenting advice column in the Seattle Times. Jan Faull is the mother of three grown children and lives in the Seattle area.

Originally published on AmericanBaby.com, October 2005.

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