Tuesday 23 January 2018

Granimosity: How to avoid Granny wars this festive season

Don't let competitive grandparenting spoil the day, says our reporter, as she rounds up the usual gripes

Settling scores: Dustin Hoffman and Robert De Niro are warring grandparents in 'Meet the Fockers'
Settling scores: Dustin Hoffman and Robert De Niro are warring grandparents in 'Meet the Fockers'

Cari Rosen

Christmas. A time of peace on Earth and goodwill to all. Well, not all the time if you are grandparent - especially a mother-in-law.

A survey earlier this week showed that more than half feel ignored by their son or daughter's partner. And while 21pc of them will receive only a token present, when you throw other decisions into the mix, such as who spends the big day where, you can see how, even for the happiest families, the festive period can turn into a war of the (Cadbury) Roses.

As editor of Gransnet (gransnet.com) this is something I hear about a lot.

Yet with some sound advice, below, from our members, I promise you'll get through it and still be speaking on St Stephen's Day. Here are our top five "gran gripes".

"I sometimes feel like I'm being made to feel grateful for scraps of my children's time, particularly at Christmas."

Christmas isn't a great time to bring up resentments and make demands, but a combination of emotion, nostalgia and a constant mild hangover can put you in the mood to do just that. One Gransnet user merely mentioned she was thinking of going away for the festivities. Her daughter's response? That if she did she "would never do Christmas again". Others, too, report feeling trapped by the expectations of their families.

Many young couples try to keep things fair by alternating Christmas between their families (and let's spare a thought for them, trying to manage the expectations of the under-fives and the over-50s).

Most grandparents cope with this approach quite happily, so long as the 'turns' are scrupulously observed. The ructions occur when there's a break in the pattern.

"This year is my turn, but my son-in-law's brother will be over from Australia, so they are going to that side of the family. My head understands. My heart doesn't. I'm devastated."

It's understandable to be upset by the thought of spending Christmas away from your children and grandchildren. But there are only two ways to play this, and one of them will certainly end in tears. You can make a big thing of it, or you can let them go, with what one Gransnet user called "that sweet smile of understanding that hides an inner voice railing at the disappointment".

On the upside, everyone will appreciate the gesture you have made. Plus (a Machiavellian tip) your generosity now will buy you a free pass when your children want you to babysit at New Year, but you have to regretfully prioritise an impulse-booked holiday in California.

"If I can't get it right with my own family, should I just go away for Christmas?"

There's simply no excuse nowadays for ignoring the social possibilities offered by tech. As one Gransnet user told us "Last year we had Skype Premium so we could be linked with both of our children and their families at the same time... it was a bit like the early days of Eurovision broadcasting."

Some go further and arrange fully independent Christmases, gathering together all the unattached waifs and strays and creating something truly unique. Others say what they actually think - politely, of course.

"I don't get on with my older sister, and I told my mother years ago that I was quite happy for her to spend Christmas with her, but that I was no longer prepared to do so. It's ridiculous to spend what is supposed to be a pleasant day with people you don't like."

"My daughter-in-law prefers to invite her family for Christmas lunch. I hear she's quite a good cook."

Ah, the pecking order. People tend to assume that it's a shoo-in for the maternal grans, but we've seen from our forums that it can go both ways.

We've also seen instances where grandparenting turns really nasty, a phenomenon fabulously known as "granimosity". ("What's the difference between in-laws and outlaws? Outlaws are wanted.")

Try to control your baser urges, however much you might enjoy flaunting your way with Playmobil, or emphasising that your Christmas pudding's home-made and not from Tesco. Even friendly rivalry can make everyone else in the family want to spend Christmas in an isolation unit.

"I made a promise to myself that I would never put my adult children through what I went through. I felt pulled in all directions. I learnt that you cannot please everyone."

And that's exactly what it all boils down to: do you want to be right or do you want to be happy? Sometimes you just have to decide between them.

Especially at Christmas.

Irish Independent

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