The grandmother wars (going on nowhere but my own head).

We’re going to Houston again this year for Christmas, YAY! Even though we already went last year, the Husband graciously conceded to go again as otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to go till at least next October, what with the house reno, and the move, and honestly, who wants to be in Houston in August, plus I’d really like to have the kids experience at least one real, honest to goodness, Halloween in the US before they start big kid school in 2014, (and that’s all of next year summed up in a short paragraph), all to say that I get to go home for Christmas! (and did I mention, YAY!!).

Anyway, I’m having a bit of a mental quandary this week… Talking to my mom the other day, she mentioned that she’d like us to have some rules for our stay, that she’d like the kids to eat with the adults at lunch, but not at dinner because she wants to be able to spend some uninterrupted, quality, time with me and would like to be able to have adult conversation at dinner. And, of course, I said that was fine and we’d work it out since we’re her guests and all and it isn’t a completely unreasonable request. But I won’t deny that it got me thinking… Well, first of all, if last year was any indication the kids won’t be eating with her at lunch either since they have lunch at noon and that’s pretty much right after breakfast for her, and if their not eating dinner with her either then she won’t be seeing an awful lot of them during our stay.

But this is nothing new, I have no doubt in my mind whatsoever that my mother loved my brother and I a great deal, but I also am very clear on the fact that she was never particularly interested in us. She cared that we were healthy, and well fed, and doing well in school, and generally happy, but she was never one of those mothers who was really interested in what we were doing (unless it was something we weren’t supposed to be doing), she never asked what we were reading or thinking or doing if we weren’t in trouble and weren’t bothering her directly. She is pretty self-absorbed, she always has been and I don’t think we suffered particularly from it growing up.

But it bothers me a great deal in regards to my children. There are times that she will talk to me for half an hour about some completely mundane thing going on in her life before she finally asks about the kids, and it’s a completely perfunctory question, I could answer “fine” or go into minute detail about all the wonderful new things that they are doing and it is exactly the same to her. It doesn’t help that on the other side of the family they’ve got a fantastic grandmother. My mother in law, with whom I fight regularly because I don’t want her to give them candy, or some other completely ridiculous thing about which I need to assert my dominance, comes to see the kids once or twice a month and she plays with them. For hours. She came to stay at my house when I left for a weekend to be with my mother before her wedding, she came again for a week when I had to go to Brazil to see my grandma. She takes over responsibility, despite the fact that she knows I’m going to find something wrong with her actions, because I’m a gigantic pain in the ass sometimes, and also a control freak, and yet she watches my children, she entertains them, she scolds them, and cuddles them, and takes really great care of them so that I can go do my thing. She is genuinely interested in them. The first thing she asks whenever she calls me is how they are, and what they’re doing, and then she proceeds to the rest of the conversation. My mother and my mother in law are at exactly the opposite ends of the grandmother spectrum, and it kind of pisses me off, because I would like my mother to be the really great grandmother. Or better yet, I wish my kids had two really great grandmothers.

I’m constantly making excuses up for my mother, she lives far away and hasn’t seen them as much, she’s young to be a grandmother, she’s got a new husband and she’s just not that into kids. These are all valid points. But they’re not a good enough explanation. Not that I think there’s more to it than that, but in my mind it is simply not good enough. Because, frankly, my kids are freakin’ adorable. She should want to spend time with them, she should be interested in them, she shouldn’t care that they take over our meal times because she can spend quality time with me in other moments of the day, She should want to spend as much time as possible with them because she only sees them two or three times a year. But she doesn’t. She’s just not interested, and I simply don’t understand it. I accept it, I’m not angry, I know what she’s like, but I am disappointed. My mother talks about her cats the way she should talk about her grandkids.

I know she loves them, when we went for Christmas last year, she made the house perfect for them, she made us perfectly comfortable, she was welcoming, and she put up two Christmas trees, a beautiful magical one to look at, and a smaller one for the kids to play with, with ornaments they could touch and rearrange and eat… that was pretty nice, and thoughtful of her. She cooks for them, and she does really cool stuff like she got the Boy a gigantic Lightning McQueen bed and this year she’s looking for a cool bed for the girl, but she’s not all that interested in them. I realize I can’t expect her to be perfect, and I grew up with her so I know her attitude isn’t going to do any lasting damage, but I wish she was interested in them anyway, I wish she was a more involved grandmother.

My kids love her, and they’re happy to see her, but they also don’t mind too much if they don’t see her. But they get super excited when my mother in law comes over, they ask about her when she hasn’t been back for a while and they are genuinely upset when she leaves. I guess I’m a little jealous maybe, I know this isn’t a contest but we’re losing dammit!

Also, I’m nervous about our visit, which, thankfully, will be short compared to last year (two weeks rather than almost two months), but last year I had the nanny with me and despite that my mom felt like the kids were invasive, I cannot even begin to imagine what it’s going to be like with no help. I don’t know… I’m sure it’ll work out fine and we’ll figure it out, but I can’t shake this feeling that still, she should be more interested in them. I realize that it’s a bit arrogant of me, and presumptuous, and maybe also a little bit sad, because the truth probably is, that while I feel bad for my kids, I also feel bad for me because despite my age and the distance it still hurts a little bit that she’s still not all that interested in what amounts to really the coolest thing I’ve ever done.

5 thoughts on “The grandmother wars (going on nowhere but my own head).

  1. I sooooo get what you are saying! My mother is the same way. As a matter of fact, because I’m divorced and remarried, my daughter has 4 sets of grandparents. All of whom are kind and generous to her, but not one of them is particularly interested in her. I don’t have a memory of any of her grandparents ever playing with her or really showing any interest beyond what is polite. Most conversations will be like this; “How is Julia?” “Oh, gosh she’s super, as a matter of fact, today she……” “That’s great, Honey.” Almost all of them will cut me off before I ever even get to tell them what she did that made me proud/happy/sad/whatever.

    She is 17 now and there have been many times over the years that I was so sad because she didn’t have a tight bond with any of her grandparents. As a matter of fact, as I type this right now, my mother is in surgery to determine if she has cancer on her tongue. When I told Julia she was just like “oh well” -without being rude. At first I was a bit offended that she couldn’t understand that my mom is in surgery and she should be concerned, but then I remembered that to her, my mother is just some person who sends her cash at Christmas. Yes, that is sad, but it is the bed my mother made, not me. Or Julia. I spent many times trying to get my parents to bond with her over the years. They would ask her how school is and then ignore her for the rest of our visit.

    Yes, that has saddened me over the years, but I just have to remind myself that i can’t expect something from people if they don’t have it to give in the first place. Realizing this about folks has helped me through many situations where I was frustrated in people’s behavior. All I can do is vouch to be the individual who will break this chain when I become a grandmother. I will play, cuddle, kiss, show interest and be the most attentive grandma ever, because when I die I want my grandchildren to miss ME and not the regular arrival of a Christmas check.

  2. Congrats on going to the States for Christmas. We’ll be there too, for the first time in over two years! Hopefully your mom will warm up to them more once they are older?

  3. I feel for you – I’m lucky, because my mom is the fantastic grandmother, but I’ll never understand the indifference one of their other grandmas always shows. She, too, is very self involved and disinterested in kids, and I can totally see why it makes you sad for the kids (and for yourself, though since in my case it’s not my mom, it doesn’t hurt my feelings – but it would, if she were). I wish I had some good advice, but all I can say is I know just where you’re coming from.

  4. I can so relate to this. Only it’s the in laws that are not interested. They only live about 20 minutes away in a house on the freaking beach. My kids were there one time this year, and only for a very short visit. They are more interested in my step-Mil’s 3 chihuahuas than their only 3 grandchildren. My mom who lives two hours away spends more time with them and spoils them rotten!!! It’s sad but it is what it is!

  5. Hi, I can relate to this, but it’s my dad and stepmom who seem to have very little interest in my three-year old son. Which I don’t get because, like you said about yours, he is the best thing I’ve ever done. I don’t think it would bother me so much if they didn’t go see my stepmom’s grand kids every month. Yes, it’s a closer trip but still. Come on. They’ve been here twice since my son was born.
    We’re all going to see them in Colorado for the holidays and I’m excited but I’m worried, too. They have the least kid-friendly house you’ve ever seen. Wish us luck!

    I’m glad I found your blog via the #FF Twitter from Mommy for Real.

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