There is some part of human nature that encourages people to make amends. We all make mistakes – however much we don’t like that fact – and it makes us feel better if we can put them right. Particularly sizeable ones.
Or, if that’s not possible, we want to do something to make up for the initial errors. In other words, to make amends.
What is interesting is how we sometimes try to make up for former less-than-desirable behaviour with one person (or more) by working very hard to do better for a new person with whom we have the same or similar relationship.
I think this is generally a good thing to do, but there can be considerable collateral damage along the way. I want to talk about this with respect to grandmothers, but let me begin with a completely different example.
I am no great expert on second marriages, having had only one marriage in the course of my life, but the pattern is well known.
A common scenario is a couple who marry when they are very young. The man (but it could be the woman) is heavily engaged in furthering his career and pays insufficient attention to his wife and children. They fall out of love and divorce.
Sometime after, the man re-marries and is determined not to make the same mistakes that led to the downfall of the first marriage. He may, of course, make other mistakes entirely, but the intention is clear.
Thus, he makes a much greater effort to help his new wife and takes a more active role in bringing up his children.
This change in attitude is doubtless in part due to increased maturity arising from greater age and experience, not to mention the differing personalities of the individual partners.
But I suspect there is also an element of making amends, consciously or unconsciously, for his past behaviour. We all want to feel good about ourselves and this is one way of soothing old wounds.
All the benefit of the new behaviour goes to the new wife and family, of course, with little benefit at all to those left behind. Indeed, it is likely to be the source of enormous anger for the first wife if she becomes aware of the care and attention given to the second family.
“Why wasn’t he like this with us?” she very reasonably laments. And the children undoubtedly have their own views, too.
It is an old story and I offer no easy solutions.
An interesting parallel can be seen with grandmothers. Probably grandfathers, too, but let’s keep to the women.
A woman marries and has children in the very years of her life when her career also needs nourishing. She is highly stretched in every direction. She wants to give her children all the attention they need, but is inevitably caught between their needs and those of her paid occupation. Not to mention those of her husband and herself.
Much has been written over the years about the difficulties of ‘having it all’. Something suffers and it is, not infrequently, the children. And career-driven mothers blame themselves. Big time.
Many years later, the same woman finds herself with grandchildren. Her own situation has changed greatly. She is much less likely to be climbing a career ladder if she is still working at all.
She has the time (and maturity) to focus properly on the children and realises how much fun it is to be with them. Perhaps her son or daughter lives nearby and has actually asked for regular help with childcare.
In any case, she becomes a much more hands-on grandmother than she was a mother. As I have written frequently, the relationship with grandchildren is often much easier in any case for a whole lot of reasons.
And, again perhaps consciously or unconsciously, she sees this as a wonderful opportunity to make up for the previous shortfalls in the time and attention given to her children.
This was a not in-frequent theme in discussions held with a variety of grandmothers for a book I wrote on grandmother’s lives.
Each had their own story, but many felt that they had not been an especially good mother for one reason or another. Some felt this was not their fault and did not blame themselves.
But others felt that their new relationship with their grandchildren was a perfect opportunity to make amends. And it helped them to feel better about themselves.
Again, all this may be good for the grandmother and her grandchildren, but her children may well be resentful that they did not benefit in the same way. Unless it is their particular children who gained the attention and even then, there may still be lingering discontent.
Many SixtyandMe.com articles tend to provide helpful advice on how to cope with problems raised. I am not a counsellor and am not sure what can be done here aside from, perhaps, starting an explanatory discussion with those concerned.
Do you feel you are a better grandmother than you were a mother? Have you ever thought of this as a way of making amends for past behaviour? Do you have experience as either a first wife or second wife, where the husband gave much more attention to his second family? How did this make you feel? Did you think that he was trying to make amends?
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