February 26, 2018

Clash of the Grannies

fighting grandmas

image from henrikeger.com

By Cathy O’Neill

Have you ever done a Grandparent Audit of your home? Tallied up how many gifts each set has sent or counted the number of photos featuring each one of them? No, of course you haven’t. You have better things to do with your time. But plenty of grandmothers have. They know exactly how much wall and floor space they occupy. And, they now exactly how much is occupied by The Competition.

Of course, most grandparents like each other tremendously, and build a deep bond based on the love they share for the grandchildren. But some see the other set(s) as “the opposition.” In effect, they want to be the Alpha Grandparents. They want to have more influence on the grandkids than the other family does. As a result, some of them don’t share very well as they battle it out for star billing.

The Title Championship

Sometimes, the battle begins before the baby is even born. Our friend Tina told us that her mother claimed exclusive rights to the title “Grandma” when the baby was still in utero. The paternal grandmother, she most generously conceded, could be called “Granny or Nana” but only she could be called “Grandma.”

The Battle for Wall and Floor Space

We have been told, firsthand, about grandmothers mailing Glamour Shots of themselves to their toddler grandchildren. Sandy told us that she returned home from work one day to find that her visiting mother-in-law had replaced some of her parents’ photographs with framed pictures of herself. And it’s not just about pictures of the grandparents. As George told us, “You have to make sure the grandparents have all the same pictures of the kids, or they’ll be like, ‘Hey, why do they have that picture that we don’t have?’ ”

The picture rivalry is matched only by that time-honored tradition of Gratuitous Grandparental Gift Giving. “If my mom comes over and sees that Brad’s Mom has bought the girls a Barbie, she’s back the next day with outfits for each of them. It’s ridiculous. The house can’t hold any more of this crap,” says our friend Kyra.

The Battle for Face Time

The gift and picture competitions are, for the most part, easily resolved. If grandparents want to blow their retirement money hiring photographers and buying toys, so be it. The battle for face time is much trickier:

“What I can’t stand is the ‘fishing.’ I hate it when my in-laws, who are divorced, start their fishing expeditions to see if their ex is getting to spend more time with our kids. It’s another game of monkey-in-the-middle, and guess who always winds up being the monkey . . . me!”

—Alicia, married 8 years, 2 kids

How do you deal with Competitive Grannies?

Ultimately, it’s up to you and your husband to keep extended family relationships and expectations in check. Now that you have kids, you’re the grown-ups! If your mother (or, less likely) father has competitive tendencies it is your job (not your husbands, or your in-laws, or your childrens) to remind her that “the opposition” has as much right to love and be loved by the kids as she does. Tell her to step back and let them have their turn. Each set of grandparents is entitled to their Exclusive Access. Fair’s, fair!

Also, if you – and if we’re honest we are all (a little bit) guilty of this – tend to be better at facilitating your family’s time with the kids, keep in mind, that your in-laws enrich immeasurably the lives of your children.  What child doesn’t benefit from another set of hands applauding every tiny achievement, another lap to sit on, another teller of tales, another adult who loves and cherishes them?


Cathy O’Neill is a co-author of the bestselling book Babyproofing Your Marriage: How to Laugh More and Argue Less As Your Family Grows (Collins, 2007). Published in ten countries, Babyproofing Your Marriage: How to Laugh More and Argue Less As Your Family Grows details how parenting young children impacts marriage and explores how to laugh more, argue less and communicate better as your family grows.  Cathy has appeared on NBC’s Today Show, Fox News, the BBC, SkyNews and over 50 radio shows across the country and in the UK. You can learn how to babyproof your marriage and find ideas on how to make marriage – and life – during the early parenting years more enjoyable and fulfilling at www.babyproofingyourmarriage.com.


  1. I think kids cannot have enough “grandparents” I refuse to feel jealous of anyone who loves any of my grandchildren. They don’t even have to be related. My lucky grandkids have several extra special friends of their parents’ who I have suggested that they call grandma along with their name just like they call me. Everyone is not as fortunate as I am to have grandchildren so I will share!

    • That is wonderful, Lily! It’s true- I’m always surprised when I hear people have no grandchildren and you can tell they’d be so loving :) Good for you for sharing :)

Speak Your Mind