You have just become a grandmother – or perhaps you have been one for a long time. It is so very exciting to have a new baby in your life. Not to mention all the other stages, from toddlers right on up.
But one thing you will have noticed is that the arrival of grandchildren affects your relationships with a wide range of other people.
Your relations with own your son or daughter may well deepen or, in a few cases, deteriorate. A new child inevitably brings new shared joys but can sometimes bring out old tensions.
Your relations with your son- or daughter-in-law will also change. They come as part of the package of enjoying that new child, especially if it is a daughter-in-law who had the baby. You may have found that you need to tread carefully not to be seen as ‘interfering’.
But most surprisingly, there are yet another set of relationships that may become a more visible part of your life – with the other set of grandparents.
In my experience, the people our children choose to marry can come from any sort of family. They can be our own friends or neighbours, of course, but they very rarely are.
As often as not, they are completely different in at least one way, if not many. Increasingly, they may be of a different nationality or religion or class. Or, indeed, political leanings.
They may be very upright when you are more of an ex-hippy or the other way around. They may be born-again Christians, when you have never held any religious beliefs.
Or they may be obsessed with cruises to distant parts when you would not dream of going on one or, for that matter, could not afford it. And on and on.
Perhaps they are absolutely lovely people, and you are all pleased that your children introduced you to each other.
You just never know.
You probably met the other parents first at the wedding, if not shortly before. And you may have had no reason to see them again.
Or you may meet often for family occasions.
You may feel, in the interests of general friendliness, it is valuable to establish good relations early on. This may or may not be reciprocated.
My mother, a very intellectual American woman, decided it would be a good idea for her and my father to meet my new husband’s mother (and her current man) when visiting London. His mother was working class, a heavy drinker and easily intimidated by people she didn’t know.
This could not have been a combination made in heaven. I wasn’t there, but I hate to think what a long evening that was from everyone’s point of view.
And then your respective children become parents – and suddenly you have an interest in common – the grandchildren.
This can make for some interesting, difficult or, if lucky, happy situations.
Some time ago, I wrote a book based on deep interviews with grandparents, and I found all sorts of different experiences.
At best, the respective grandparents liked each other and went to some joint trouble to make their children’s lives easier. They coordinated their schedules, for instance, to share out needed childcare.
One set of prospective grandparents even met the other at the airport when the latter were coming in for the birth.
Grandparents also cooperated when there was a specific need, such as when one young couple, suffering marital difficulties, needed time to talk together without the children.
On the other hand, there could also be serious tensions. Sometimes, there was an unspoken competition between the two sets of grandparents to see who could do most for the grandchildren. Or to become closer to them.
Major disagreements over upbringing were also noted. One set of grandparents could be excessively religious – or not religious enough. Or too strict in their care.
Or other matters could arise. One grandmother, for instance, who put a high premium on good nutrition at all times, was very distressed that the other handed out too many sweet drinks and candies.
It is surprising how many steps that we take in life send out ripples way beyond those expected. This is an excellent example. You have a child, he or she grew up and fell in love, they produced a child – and suddenly you are involved with all sorts of new people and in new ways.
It can be a real bonus or a pain in the neck!
How do you get on with the other grandparents of your grandchildren? Do you have examples of good cooperation? Have you had any really bad experiences?