For the 21 years of our oldest daughters’ life, we have been contemplating the issue of our kids’ relationship with their grandparents. You see, our kids have grown up far away from their grandparents most of their life, but their relationships with one side of the family is stronger that with the other side.
We wondered about it many times. At first, we thought it was just the difference between the characters of the grandparents. We thought my side of the family was just warmer and more caring while Gals’ family could not manage the long distance relationship as well. We thought up cultural and personal attitude differences as the cause for the difference in their effort to stay in touch with our kids.
To be honest, I do not think the explanations we gave ourselves helped us overcome the hurt that my parents made lots of effort to stay in contact while Gal’s parents, especially his dad, remained distant. Even overseas visits were problematic. While staying the nights at Gal’s parents was much easier because they had a bigger, more comfortable house, we ended up staying at my parent’s house which was crowded and messy. It was hard to explain, especially because we could never solve the mystery of my brother joining his wife’s “tribe” or Gal’s sisters having much closer relationships with his parents.
I think that over the years, a bit of resentment and disappointment built up into this relationship from both sides. When Gal’s mom died about 3 years ago, things got worse. Our last visit as a family to Gal’s dad was strange. The kids tried hard to make him smile and laugh, but he was distant, yet when the other grandkids (Gal’s sister’s kids) came, he seemed very happy. Granted, he sees them a lot more often, but grandkids and grandkids and our kids are really great. Besides, my parents enjoy all their grandchildren equally.
Over the years, we shifted to mild acceptance, but whenever things went wrong in the relationship, the more my parents made the effort, the worse it was for Gal and he kept on asking: Why? What have we done wrong? Is it the move? Is it me? Is it you?
These questions about the reasons for the different effort grandparents invest in their relationships with their grandkids are not easy to ask and even harder to answer. However, this year, Eden was studying for her psychology exam and I finally got the answer. If your kids do not have the same close relationship to all their grandparents, you want to read about this research.
To my surprise, the relationship to grandparents has nothing to do with how nice the grandparents are or what culture they are from, how nice you are, how nice your kids are or where you choose to live around the world. It is linked more closely to evolution – that survival mechanism of humanity to keep the dynasty and strengthen it. Grandparents invest in the grandchildren they are convinced are theirs.
In 1998, a researcher named DeLay came up with a theory to explain findings from researches conducted two years previously (Euler & Wetzel, 1996 and Boon & Branson, 1996) who claimed that grandmothers on the mother’s side invested in their grandkids the most. DeLay came up with a theory linking the relationship between grandparents and their grandchildren to certainty. His theory was that grandparents invest in the grandchildren they are certain are their offspring. In other words, the grandparent who has less doubt of being genetically related to the child and therefore to the grandchild, is more likely to invest in this relationship to support his or her “breed”.
Based on DeLay’s theory, because mothers give birth to the child, they are more certain the child is theirs and are therefore more likely to invest in their grandchildren. This means the relationship will also look different if the parent is a son or a daughter.
- Mother’s mother (grandmother on mother’s side) is certain the daughter is hers and therefore certain the grandchild is hers, so she will invest highly in the relationship with the grandchild.
- Mother’s father (grandfather on mother’s side) is uncertain the daughter is his, although he is certain the grandchild is hers, so he will invest less in the relationship.
- Father’s mother is certain the son is hers, but not certain the grandchild is her son’s offspring, so she will invest less than the mother’s mother but, more than the mother’s father.
- Father’s father is uncertain the son is his and uncertain the grandchild is his son’s offspring, so he will invest the least in the relationship with the grandchild.
To check his theory, Decay did a survey among college students and asked them to rate the relationships with their grandparents. DeLay asked them to rate them in terms of time they spend together, how much or their resources they invest in them and how close they are emotionally. Each student had to rank their grandparents’ investment in them – the grandparent that most invested in them was ranked 1 and the up to the grandparent that least invested in them who was ranked 4. Look at the distribution of investment according the students perception in the chart below.
Although the time and the resource charts looked a bit different (higher ranking to mothers’ mother, even lower to father’s father and equal investment for mother’s father and father’s mother), most of the students ranked mom’s mom as the person who invests the most in the relationship with them.
Reading about the research and the possible reasons for it solved the mystery of my parents’ relationship with their daughters’ kids (my 3 sisters and me) and the distance from my brother’s kids. There is still a lot of love there, but less time together and less investment in the relationship, especially compared with the amazingly wonderful bond between my brother’s kids and their maternal grandmother.
It also solved the mystery of Gal’s dad’s awkward relationship with our kids and the closer bond to his other grandchildren (Gal has 3 sisters).
Obviously, there is no guarantee this is always the case and in some families, not all 4 grandparents are alive to even allow a comparison. For example, Gal’s mom’s parents died when she was a baby, so when examining his relationships with his grandparents, he had no one to compare to his paternal grandparents.
This also made me think about how much heartache and family conflicts can be saved if families learn there is a genetic disposition at the core of the relationship and that it is not based solely on behavior, character traits or cultural differences. I have to say that it clears a lot of space for forgiveness.
To check this theory among the readers of this blog, I have decided to survey the parents who read this blog with a quick poll.
Please choose the grandparent that has the closest relationship to your kids. If you do not have kids of your own, choose based on your relationships with your own grandparents.
Who's your kids' (your) favorite grandparent?
And next time when you have a family conflict with your parents about their relationship with their grandkids (your kids), remember it may have nothing to do with you.