QUESTION: I raised three wonderful children
who are now lovely adults without any problems. My first and only
grandson is nine months old now. Before his birth, my daughter-in-law
and I were very close, but now it seems as if everything I do is wrong.
The most recent upset was when we bought a stroller to take our grandson
out for walks. We did this because it would be easier for the baby
and us, and so the parents didn't have to drag things over to our
place and pack them up again. My daughter-in-law thought we were trying
to be the parents. It just seems that I can never do anything right.
All I want is to be a good grams and enjoy my grandchild. Am I doing
wrong? My mom always had things at her house for the grandkids.
ANSWER: You are not doing "wrong"; you
are just following the course set out for you by your own mother!
Your daughter-in-law, however, did not come from the same family.
Her mother-daughter relationship may reflect a family culture quite
different from your own. These differences must be appreciated and
respected, if a supportive relationship between a new mother and a
new grandmother is to evolve.
To add to your pain, this is your first grandchild.
You are excited and enthusiastic about playing a role in your grandchild's
life. And you have lost a friendship with your daughter-in-law to
boot! No wonder you are feeling so bereft. Despite your disappointment,
however, do your best to understand the fuller picture, and do not
draw negative conclusions about yourself -- or what your role will
be in the future -- at this time. Instead, reach out to your daughter-in-law
and do your best to re-establish some of the connection you used to
Let your daughter-in-law know that you are still interested
in her, independent of your grandchild. Tell her that you miss your
relationship with her, and see if it is possible to go out to lunch
together, just the two of you. Reconnect and slowly develop a relationship
that includes your new roles. After all, she has never been a mother
before, and you have never been a grandmother! There is much that
is new, and even more that is yet unknown between you about how to
best approach these new roles with one another. Discussions that explore
feelings and experiences must come before assumptions, which will
only blow up, rather than secure your relationship.
If you feel comfortable doing so, ask your daughter-in-law
about her relationship with her mother. What are the things she wants
to pass down to her child? Or the things she does not want to pass
down to the next generation? Share with her your own struggles with
your mother (there must have been some when you first became a parent!)
and make it clear to her that although you may have been more enthusiastic
than she was ready for, you respect her authority and want to be available
to her when she is ready for a break and wants you to take her son
on a walk.
Bear in mind that although you had a close relationship
with your mother, your daughter-in-law may not have had this benefit.
If so, she may need the space to develop her own identity as a mother
because she does not respect the example her own mother offers. This
could be a time of great inner work for her, and she may need to do
more of it alone than you might wish. In time, she will no doubt be
able to enjoy what you have to offer (which sounds wonderful!). But
in the meantime, she may feel your desire to be involved an intrusion
until she finds her own course.
Although it seems natural to you to extend your good
will in the same way that your mother did, it may feel to your daughter-in-law
that you are overstepping her boundaries. Rest assured that with time,
she will become more confident in her own mothering style, and you
will be less threatening to her. But you will also likely come to
understand that your automatic -- although well-meaning -- assumptions
about taking your grandson for a walk or buying a stroller may pre-empt
decisions she wants to make (such as when she is ready to separate
from him and whether she wants him carried instead of pushed in a
stroller, for example).
Keep in mind that a new mother can sometimes find
herself overshadowed by the greatness and experience of an elder.
A young tree in a forest cannot grow too closely to an older, well-established
tree without threatening its own growth. Perhaps your daughter-in-law
just needs some space to grow!
Do your best to remain connected rather than "put
off." Peer through your disappointment to see what your daughter-in-law
may be experiencing. Take it slow! Have meaningful discussions with
her over lunch, or during a walk with the baby (or without the baby!),
and develop a true intimacy based on understanding each other, rather
than making assumptions. With luck, she will get to know you better,
too, and enjoy the energy you have to share in your role as a grandmother.