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Is it normal to have very little interest in your grandchildren?

(22 Posts)
dotty342kids Thu 22-Sep-11 15:57:05


Firstly I have to own up and say I'm not a grandparent! This is a great site though and you all seem really lovely so am hoping you can advise me a little.

I live 2.5hrs away from my parents (who are together). I have a lovely husband, an 8yr old and a 6yr old. Due to a difficult relationship with my dad I no longer see him and my mum comes up on her own to visit us twice a year for a weekend each time. Even before things broke down between me and my father we still only saw them approx twice a year. During all that time she has never spent any time on her own with my children apart from one evening of babysitting when my son was 6mths old (so he was asleep!) when we had a wedding to go to.
I work (she is fairly recently retired) and we don't live near any other family so my husband and I get very little time together on our own which can be hard.
I'd love for her to have an independent relationship with my children as I think the grandparent / grandchild relationship can be a lovely one. Plus, of course, a bit of help every now and then would make a huge difference to my life!
Recently, when I asked her if she'd babysit some time and why she never had before, she looked suprised and said I'd never asked! This is true, but to be honest, I didn't think I had to ask, I just hoped this was a normal aspect of being a grandparent that she'd want to do......... She did agree to, but only on the proviso that she therefore stay one night longer on her visits to "compensate". She always seems to need me to "entertain" her on her visits to me and rarely offers to do anything to help out or even be involved with the children / play with them. She's never given them a bath or read them a story. It makes me very sad.
She's also started implying recently (my dad has cancer) that if / when she's left on her own, that she'll stay living where she is for the foreseeable but then move up near us when she needs help! It was all I could do not to laugh at this concept as it feels as though she'll stay away all the time I could do with her help but come up as soon as she needs help in her life.
I'm an only child so have no siblings / aunts / uncles I can talk to about all of this.

I suppose what I'm asking all of you is this - is this a "normal" approach to grandparenting? Do I have to accept it and find a way of living with it? Is there a way of raising this somehow?

Please help!

absentgrana Thu 22-Sep-11 16:29:25

dotty342kids I wonder if your mother is over-anxious and abnormally sensitive about not intruding on your family life. Grandparents, especially perhaps grandmothers, are often very conscious of the fact that they are not the parents and are concerned that their sons, daughters, sons-in-law and daughters-in law might see their well-meant offers of help as interference or trying to undermine them. Consequently, they can come over as uninterested, even uncaring about their grandchildren. (Being a granny is lovely, but it's not all plain sailing.)

When she visits, perhaps it would be helpful to get her involved with ordinary activities with the children, such as bath-time – with you to begin with and then, maybe, on her own. Why not ask her if she'd like to read the bedtime story? You haven't really got anything to lose. If she's says no, nothing has changed. If she says yes, then it might be the beginning of a closer relationship for all three generations.

By the way, although you and your father are estranged, you shouldn't underestimate how his illness affects your mother. You mention that you have no uncles and aunts or siblings, so your mother may also lack loving companions to confide in about her concerns and worries, including your father's health and the prospect of widowhood. I wonder if her mentioning about staying where she is now and moving nearer to you when she needs help might be her way of trying to establish a closeness without suggesting any kind of her taking over – albeit confusingly put and pretty inarticulate. It does sound to me that communication between the two of you is perhaps not as open as it might be. Maybe the way forward is for you to try to be a bit more open yourself and see how she responds. This does not mean that I am suggesting that you are in some way at fault, merely that the remedy for a situation that is clearly making you unhappy and, reading between the lines, your mother unhappy too, lies in your hands.

Libradi Thu 22-Sep-11 16:32:12

Hi dotty342kids I think grandparenting is different for everyone, we all do things differently.

My first thought after reading your message is what sort of relationship do you and your mum have? I know you only see each other for two weekends a year, do you speak regularly on the telephone or write/email to each other in between? You said when your mum comes to visit she doesn't spend any time with her grandchildren on her own and needs you to entertain her, maybe she wants to spend time with you just as much as her grandchildren?

grannyactivist Thu 22-Sep-11 16:32:21

Oh dear - the longer I live the less I seem to think that there is a 'normal'! One thing I do know though is that behavioural changes usually come about slowly and only if the person involved wants to change. Your mum is the way she is I'm afraid - and from what you've said it doesn't look likely to me that she has any inclination to change. (I love being a granny, so I can't pretend to understand her.) By all means raise the matter (very carefully) with your mother, but be prepared to live with the status quo just in case.

Look amongst your circle of friends for someone who might take on the role of grandparent to your children; there are a lot of men and women who would love to be a part of a young family. I have several young mums (and dads) who regard me as granny to their children and I feel very privileged by having these people in my life. I think too much is made of the genetic bond - I regard my friends as my 'family of choice' and although I dearly love my children's children, I also love my four (soon to be five) 'grandchildren' who are not blood relations.

virginiaplain Thu 22-Sep-11 16:42:34

Poor you, Dotty. I can understand the breakdown of your relationship with your father as the same happened to me after my mother died. As far as your mother goes, again she sounds just like my mother, I had four daughters, she would come & visit (with my father, I might add) and sat around all day waiting to be amused, she would eat her own breakfast whilst my children were asking for theirs!! She never did anything with them at all and like you, unless my DMIL or we had a babysitter at great expense, my husband & I never went out. I was extremely cross at the time, but never said anything. I did not want to upset her as she would have been distraught. Now I have five grandchildren of my own I see the whole situation in a different light, She brought me up in a totally different way to how I brought my children up, but my siblings & I were happy. She was not particularly "Hands on" so to change a habit of a lifetime would have been difficult. It just never occured to her to read/play/bath or take my children anywhere but that was also her choice. She missed out on all the pleasures that I now have with my own grandchildren and I feel very sorry for her loss but I don't think she would have looked at it like that, I knew that she loved my children.

As far as your mother is concerned about being with your children on her own, this may be a confidence thing, I found it a huge responsibility to be in charge of my precious grandchildren to start with, but obviously in time got over this.

My Mother died over 20 years ago and my children hardly remember her at all, unfortunately that is a direct result of her actions, how sad is that?

dotty342kids Thu 22-Sep-11 16:59:36

Libradi, think you have hit the nail on the head there - she is definitely far more interested in spending time with me than my husband or children! I know that is lovely (sort of) and I do always make sure that within a weekend visit she gets an afternoon shopping / evening meal out with just me. However, given the complete lack of help and support from her a part of me also really resents doing this and I can't bring myself to do any more!

All of your comments have been really helpful and perhaps I do need to be more direct with my invitations to get her involved with the children.....

Just to share some irony with you - she's been a social worker, specifically working with small children for most of her career so it can't be that she doesn't like kids!!

Grannyactivist - I too regard my friends as a much more loyal, loving and supportive group of people than my actual family!


GrannyTunnocks Thu 22-Sep-11 20:43:33

Oh Dotty I feel so sorry for you and your Mum. Perhaps as you say you do need to be more direct with your invitations and ask her to help more with the children. She is missing so much. My daughter lives abroad but I have seen her 3 or 4 times a year at least since my grandchildren were born and usually for at least a week at a time. The bond between grandparents and grandchildren is such a special one and I hope you and your Mum can work towards her getting closer to your children.

goldengirl Thu 22-Sep-11 21:09:52

Dotty this rings so many bells with me, especially as I'm an only child too of only child parents [well, my dad's tale is a story in itself]. My mother loved to be known as a Grandma - as long as she didn't have to do anything. She did all the 'right' things such as birthday and Christmas gifts but wasn't at all proactive. She lived 200 miles away but even when we went to visit she wouldn't have any baby things available and we had to take the lot - and I mean, the lot - although we managed to borrow a cot. It put us off going as it was such hard work. Her attitude was: you have children you look after them which was rich as I was always being farmed out to my grandmother. I have always been very disappointed that there was no relationship and my children feel sad too. When they had their own children they wanted her to be proud of them, but because neither of my children is married - but have caring partners - she would accept a short visit, but wouldn't allow them to stay over even though they'd travelled 200 miles to see her. I always kept her updated on the family but it's been very hurtful. But it was her loss-she missed so much.

harrigran Thu 22-Sep-11 23:11:55

A bit presumptious," mother should have baby equipment" we have done our bit do we really need to have every room cluttered with baby stuff when we are passed reproduction. Being a parent is all about packing the car with travel cot, bottles and nappies if you want to travel with a baby.

Annobel Thu 22-Sep-11 23:50:28

Right, harrigran, I cannot imagine having to pack baby stuff into my little terraced house! Even now that the GC are bigger, they come equipped with ready-beds.

Stansgran Fri 23-Sep-11 12:34:05

I am sorry for dotty but ,to be brutally truthful ,she has to ask herself does she want a relationship for her children or cheap childcare . I love reading to my grandchildren but I loathe bathing them as it hurts my back. I have a complete set of nursery goods and toys especially for them -which I also loan out to friends with visiting gcs. I also spend a fortune(which I don't really have) on travelling to see them. If I only saw my dds twice a year I would want to spend time with them I suspect, if I had had a good relationship with them. And your poor mother has a husband with cancer-would you feel more compassion if it had been a second husband not your father with whom you have issues.

dotty342kids Fri 23-Sep-11 13:04:13

Hi Golden, your "story" sounds so like mine! I agree, it's very sad when someone's attitudes and behaviour impact on everyone around them. My children have a great relationship with their other grandma who is far less physically fit and active and therefore doesn't "do" much with them but she smothers them with love which, to me, is of huge value.

Stansgran, that was rather brutal! First and foremost I want my kids to have a grandma who actually seems to enjoy spending time with them, rather than one who only wants the glory of being a grandma but isn't prepared to put any time and effort into it! The odd hour or two of babysitting (more than every eight years) wouldn't go amiss either, particularly as my mum's M.I.L used to look after me twice a week, every week whilst I was young and my parents were working. You'd think she'd remember how helpful that was and think to offer similar occasionally..............
It sounds as though, even though you don't live close and are slightly restricted by your bad back, you do what you can for your grandchildren and they are lucky to have someone so committed.
Your final point - here really isn't the time to go into the whole saga of my dad and I but I have huge compassion for them both and do what I can to support her from a distance. I'm just not willing to let him back into my / my kid's lives when all he does is cause upset and stress to us all.

absentgrana Fri 23-Sep-11 15:11:09

dotty342kids I appreciate that you're feeling stressed and distressed by the situation, but, trust me, there is no glory in being a grandma. There's surprise, joy, delight, worry, anxiety and a million other emotions. You are, perhaps, attributing attitudes to your mother that she may not feel. Deep breaths, stand back, try to open the channels of communication. It may not achieve anything – but worth a try, I would say.

Finally, none of us who has not been there can know what it is like to watch a long-term partner die. Of course, you have a right to choose about your father's connections with your family, especially if there have been issues in the past. What you should not do, I reckon, is in any way sideline you mother because of these issues at a difficult time in an older woman's life.

Charlotta Fri 23-Sep-11 15:27:41

Hello Dotty - it sounds to me that your mother might be depressed. If a grandparent sits amongst the family and says nothing then this is typical of someone who feels too lethargic to take part in family life.
I'm not an over-the moon, grandmother as I am always as pleased to see my own children as as I am to see their offspring. You can read on GN how we grandmothers differ but most of us would not behave like your own mother - except if we were depressed that is..
The point is that you have to improve the relationship with your mother first. If possible. Good luck!

dotty342kids Fri 23-Sep-11 18:20:14

No, she's def not depressed. Just got some very odd and sad ideas about her role as a grandmother I think.
I'd like to thank you all for your comments, some have hit the nail right on the head and reassured me that I'm not mad to feel a level of disappointment in her approach so thank you especially for that :-)
Absentgrana - I'd really like it if my mum were simply more at ease with the fact that she is a grandma. In no way do I sideline her but at the same time I'm not going to get down and beg her to spend time with her own grandchildren! She's only 64 and has lots of life left in her yet and could bring such a lot to my children's lives (and her own!) if she wanted to. I think a lot of it really boils down to whether she actually wants to. And I don't think she does so perhaps it's more a case of me learning to accept that...

Stansgran Fri 23-Sep-11 19:12:29

I'm with absentgrandma all the way-some poor souls can't do right even when they are desperate to be involved, some stand back and are accused of indifference, some people who have been hurt in their lives are afraid of letting the love for their grandchild cause more hurt-sil or dil leaves and takes the gcs away-just read some of the anguish in some of the threads and you'll see we are a brave lot loving these children and their children. we don't all have the same ideas of what a gran should be. If god forbid my husband had cancer i don't doubt the daughters would never expect me to leave my husband's side-having said that there are cancers which are curable and others terminal but the toll having a partner with cancer is psychologically damaging to many people-living in a parallel universe to everyone else is what some have said to me.
Bombard her with emails about the gcs,photos galore and involve her without her realising it-she may be much better with older gcs than at present. I think all young mothers need mothering themselves anyway*dotty*-I think you could do with some caring -your children will be fine with or without a gran

apricot Fri 23-Sep-11 21:47:46

Dotty, your mother had only 1 child and left you to someone else regularly. Now she sees you only rarely. She sounds like someone who was just not very maternal and didn't enjoy being with children either then or now.
It's sad but she's not going to change. At least, when you become a Granny, you'll know how to do it better, to be a loved part of your grandchildren's lives
and a big help to their parents.

dotty342kids Fri 23-Sep-11 21:59:10

Thanks Apricot, yes, intend to be as involved as they'll let me when it's my turn!

redblue Fri 28-Oct-11 16:26:22

dotty342kids your situation sounds similar to mine.

I suspect there are other young/new mums out there without any parental (grandparent) support.

I am the oldest of four, my parents marriage was indescribably terrible and turbulant for, well basically all of my childhood or as much as I can remember especially my teenage years when my mum treated me as a confident and discussed divorcing my father with me regularly.

Towards the end of my time at home my mum also turned on me and made it clear she wanted me out and after I left regularly asked me to make sure all of my belongings were out of the house (they were!) - to be fair to her she had a very hard time raising all 4 of us more or less single handedly and it was over crowded at home. As a result i am very independent.

However now she wants to be part of my two childrens lives. But she wants this strictly on the basis that she does not help but that (ideally) I visit her with the children for as long as she can tolerate young children round the house and then we go home. She is 64 and lives 3 hours drive from where i live. I work full time and am in debt paying childcare costs although there is light at the end of the tunnel money wise now my daughter is about to turn 3 (gmt assistance with nursery fees hurrah!!!). So apart from anything I genuinely cannot afford petrol money.

She also told my other three siblings to get out of the house in their teenage years. As I say to be fair she had me when she was early 20's and i think it is fair enough she wanted her own space after years of child raising which she did not enjoy. But now the only communication she makes is that she is getting ill and frail. She has decided to stay with my father after all and regularly emails me to say he "has changed" and she is very happy with him which I am happy about (better that than that she is lonely).

But i just cannot bring myself to take the children to see her. No one from either my family or my husbands family have ever looked after either of my children at any time since they were born. Although family support would be nice i am now totally used to the situation where only nursery or i (or my husband) look after the little ones.

My point? None I guess apart from that you are not alone in having a mum who does not want to take any active role in looking after grandchildren and some mums can then fit in with how their mum wants things but i like you struggle with it and so there is no relationship there any more with my mum.

Butternut Fri 28-Oct-11 18:12:46

Dotty - I'm afraid I felt quite angry reading your post. It was all about your needs and your expectations of what your ideal grandma should be. Your Mum is an individual, not a Super-Grandma flying in to fit perfectly into your life, who has considerable concerns of her own.

How about just enjoying her company when she does visit. Let go of what you want, and try embracing what you have.

silverfoxygran Fri 28-Oct-11 18:56:36

I wonder how it is for your mother to visit you without your father. Does she feel stuck in the middle - damned if she visits and damned if she doesn't? Your father's illness can't make life easy for her and perhaps she needs you to make her feel more at ease.
I suffered terrible interference from both mother and MIL so I always took care not to push my way into my children's adult lives. My DD laughed when I asked her if it was alright to pick up the baby but I wouldn't have done so without permission.
We are all products of our own experiences which so often result in misreading the signs. Start communicating with her - tell her how you feel and listen to her too.
I hope she comes around to being a hands-on gran 'cos she really missing out!

HildaW Sat 29-Oct-11 22:10:59

Butternut is right. In a way there is no such thing as a 'Grandma', or a 'Grandad' for that matter, there are just people who happen to have children who then, in turn, have children. The relationship that exists between the people is up to the people concerned. My mother lived in the shadow of a very controlling husband who loved and still loves only himself. Her relationship with us was always tempered by his needs, but when she was able she was a loving mother and grandmother. However, there were times when she was very much unavailable.
Thankfully I am able to love and support my children and grandchildren and we have created relationships that work for us at any given time (I get it wrong sometimes - but hey thats life). What I am trying to say is that there are no rules and nothing is constant. We keep in touch regularly, are honest but diplomatic with each other (apologising if we get it wrong) and generally bumble along as best we can.