Distraught grandmother seeks advice after seeing her grandchildren ‘favour’ other grandparents - here’s what to do if that sounds familiar

Experts share their thoughts on this challenging scenario

Grandmother looking sad with family in the background
(Image credit: Getty Images)

One grandmother asked the internet for advice when she saw her grandchildren 'favour' their other grandparents. A relationship coach shares her thoughts on navigating this difficult situation.

Grandparents who are able to be a part of their grandchildren's lives are a valuable asset to the family unit. They can use their wisdom and life experience to teach valuable life lessons, and with more parents living near grandparents than ever before due to spiralling costs, they're providing a much-needed service with their childcare. Such has the level of grandparents caring for their grandchildren grown, they're now even entitled to childcare credit

But what happens when you're a doting and involved grandparent, and it seems your grandchildren prefer their other set of grandparents? To understand more about the relationships grandchildren have with their grandparents, we spoke to Susie Masterson, a relationship coach and BACP registered trauma informed therapist, and Charlotte Monk, a BACP registered relationship and family therapist.

Charlotte tells us "children are remarkably aware of atmosphere and energy and are naturally drawn to adults who they sense love, safety and authenticity from. Children also thrive from secure boundaries which makes them feel safe and will take great reassurance from adults who embody routine, positive discipline alongside a sense of fun. As with all humans, children can also be drawn to others because they share similar interests, humour or memories. From my work within family therapy, I see that children cannot be tricked by gifts or grand gestures, however lovingly bestowed,  as truly the art of connection is in presence not presents."

Writing on the Gransnet forum, the distraught grandmother began her plea with "We have two grandsons, 5 and 3. The 5 year old started completely ignoring my husband and I when we are together with his other grandparents."

She continues "He insists on sitting next to, on lap of mostly, the other grandma and acting as if we are not there. Since the 3 year emulates everything the 5 year does, he is now doing the same. He wouldn’t even sit in the empty chair next to us last night and ate his whole meal in the other grandpa’s lap. We do have a good relationship with both when we see them on their own, but we are hurt and confused about why this is consistently happening in a larger group."

She concludes "The other grandma is obviously quite proud of this behaviour which doesn’t help. We have attempted to overlook this in hopes it will pass but it has become very uncomfortable for us and we no longer feel like putting ourselves in this position." 

Why do some grandchildren 'favour' their other grandparents?

We asked Susie about this, who shares "For young children, proximity matters. Not all grandparents live close to their grandchildren. Even if they do, there can often be a disparity between contact. There are lots of potential reasons for this:"

  • Who organises the childcare/contact
  • The strength of the relationship between adult child and grandparent
  • Grandchild’s stated preferences
  • Convenience
  • Divorce or separation of adult children

Susie continues "Child led parenting is increasingly popular. This means that in the case of grandparents, children may get to choose how much time they spend with them. This can often play out in families where there has been separation or divorce and the child or children favour one parent."

Charlotte adds "In life do you have a preferred child, parent, or friend? If not, perhaps this suggests that love is universal and as individual as humans themselves, and that how this love is shown is unique in different families, contexts and relationships. Love cannot be measured, it is simply felt. If the answer is yes, explore with yourself why you have that preference, what does it say about the relationship and is there any learning to be taken from it?" 

What to remember if your grandchildren appear to prefer their other grandparents

There are many reasons this might happen, and few of them are personal. Susie shares her advice with us in relation to this challenge.

  • Children live in the here and now. Susie tells us "Their pace of change - of processing their feelings - is often very quick.  My nine year old can be distraught after something happened at school, only to be happily singing in the bath 30 minutes later. This is why it’s important to consider the capacity of children to make decisions at any given time." It's likely only temporary that grandchildren will prefer the 'other side,' and their allegiance will quickly switch back. 
  • Grandchildren might take sides. Susie adds "In the case of parental separation of divorced parents, it’s common for children to (subconsciously) take sides. In psychological terms, this is called splitting.  We split off from our difficult feelings about something or someone - this can also happen with grandparents. 
  • They have underdeveloped perceptions. Susie tells us children's changes in preference can be down to their perception difficulties, telling us "If a child has a fall or their grandparent is cross with them, they will associate this experience with their grandparents being ‘bad’. They cannot hold the concept of bad and good co-existing. So, they separate all the good things that have happened to them: the ice creams, the cuddles etc, and only remember the last ‘bad’ experience."
  • A parent might have facilitated a preference. Susie concludes "Time is a valuable commodity, and it can be weaponised.  It’s really important for parents in any situation to be compassionate and communicative with their children but also their wider family.  Familial connection, where possible, is really important to the formation of a child’s identity."

Charlotte concludes "Here is the silver-lining for any grandparent who feels like they are in this predicament of being the less preferred grandparent - as in all relationships we have the power to change, nurture and adapt ourselves in our relationships, within our boundaries, to transform the connection. What this looks like can be infinite: a shared meal around a table chatting about your day, a trip to the park, a quick text to check in or a holiday together."

Poignantly, her final words are "Ultimately do not fear the stagnant, competitive discourse of being the 'favourite' grandparent that is spread by social media or parts of society – lean into your relationships, learn about your grandchildren, and nurture your connection. When you embrace the gratitude mindset of being a grandparent, sharing in the privileged love and joy that grandchildren bring instead of sitting in an 'us and them' mindset, it has the opportunity to feel so much more wholesome and fulfilling." 

For more on grandparents, half of them feel lonely due to lack of connection with their grandchildren, but spending time with grandkids just once a week can reduce their dementia risk, if you can carve out time to see them. If they are far away, there's 10 ways grandparents can do long distance, according to a psychologist.

Susie Masterson
Susie Masterson

Susie Masterson is a relationship coach and BACP registered trauma informed therapist. Susie is passionate about relationships and has her own private practice where she helps individuals, couples and companies.

Charlotte Monk
Charlotte Monk

Charlotte is a BACP registered relationship and young persons therapist trained to a Masters level,  working in private practice and at a secondary school. Charlotte has a passion for neurodiversity affirming, integrative therapy.

Lucy Wigley
Parenting writer - contributing

Lucy is a mum-of-two, multi-award nominated writer and blogger with six years’ of experience writing about parenting, family life, and TV. Lucy has contributed content to PopSugar and moms.com. In the last three years, she has transformed her passion for streaming countless hours of television into specialising in entertainment writing. There is now nothing she loves more than watching the best shows on television and sharing why you - and your kids - should watch them.