A variety of factors can influence adult children’s reactions to your grandparenting style. Three elements tend to influence these reactions. This first is the differences in each child’s personality; the second is each one’s personal history in relation to your mother-daughter relationship, and third, what it means to each of them to have a grandparent in their children’s lives—i.e., their expectations. It is hard to say how much of a role each of these factors may play in how this drama is unfolding.
First, with respect to personality differences: It is obvious and yet often surprising to parents to recognize how even children close in age to one another can be raised in the same household and can have incredibly different interests and personalities. One child may be active and outgoing while another may be shy and introverted. One child may be able to let slight hurts and disappointments roll off her back while another may be extremely sensitive and have a hard time letting go of resentments about past events that hurt or angered her.
The second factor is your relationship history and current relationship with each daughter. While I believe that you do love both of your daughters and all four of your grandchildren a great deal, it is natural that parents often feel more affinity and similarity with one child than another. Even doing your best to be equally attentive to both of them, there can be slight differences in the tone and quality of your relationship with each child that leads to very different relationships with each of them. These relationship differences may also originate with how your daughters treat you: how each one expresses love and handles conflict and the impact this had has on your relationship over time. Such differences can form the basis for different perceptions, expectations and reactions.
Third, different adult children may have very different perspectives on family and the role that grandparents should play in the lives of their grandchildren. Some adult children feel strongly that being a truly loving grandparent means giving lots of attention and having lots of involvement with the adult child’s family. To these children, this may look like having her parents prioritize time with the grandchildren over their own personal interests and taking the load off the parents by offering to babysit and give them frequent breaks from their parenting responsibilities.
To another adult child; being a grandparent may include very different expectations. If the grandparents have busy lives of their own and show their love for the family with lesser degrees of involvement, their attentions are still perceived as very loving even if the time spent and the roles taken in their adult children’s family life is more limited.
Obviously, grandparents differ widely in their own preferences and images of what it means to be a grandparent. Most grandparents truly love their grandchildren, but they may show it in very different ways. You get to choose how much to conform to each of your daughter’s expectations, but ultimately you have to be true to yourself and your own personality and life priorities to be happy. Ask yourself what you need in order to be fulfilled in living the remainder of your older adult life. For most people, happiness includes a balance of individual satisfaction and family involvement and that balance varies a great deal from one person to another.
It may be helpful to talk about expectations with the adult child who is so critical of your style, both to make her expectations more explicit and to let her know how you see your role as a grandparent. However, you need to realize that she may or may not be open to having this conversation. It is a probably a sensitive and perhaps volatile subject for her and she may end up venting feelings about the distant or recent past that are hurtful for you to hear. You need to be prepared for this.
Do your best not to be defensive if she expresses anger or disappointment in you as a parent and/or grandparent. These may be things she needs to get off her chest in order to move forward. Hopefully, she will be able to hear your perspective on these events as well. If this communication can happen in a healthy way, talking about these issues may help clear the air.
While it is hard to resolve issues that are not openly discussed, if she is not able to do so you may not have a choice other than to accept that you are not going to be perceived in the way that you see yourself. You may have to accept her disappointment in you and your own disappointment in her as well. If possible, try to do so without either rejecting her entirely or giving in to her expectations in ways that betray your true needs. It is a difficult balance to strike when each of your expectations and needs are so different. Continue to be the best grandparent you can be in a way that is authentic for you.
There are no easy answers to this dilemma. It is helpful that you have another adult child that is able to accept and appreciate you as you are. This situation may lead to you choosing to have more involvement with the accepting child’s family, which may actually reinforce the other daughter’s resentment and perception of favoritism.
Do the best you can to continue to give what you are able to give to each of your daughters and to both sets of grandchildren, but realize that there are limitations in how much you as an individual can do to resolve any problem that is actually a problem between two people. Even if you and your daughter never resolve your own relationship, there is still a great possibility of having special and rewarding relationships with her children—your grandchildren. I wish you the best in meeting this challenge.