I saw a beautiful quote the other day that said, “The maternal grandmother is the purest unconditional love you can ever find.” First, I thought, “that’s so true!” Then, I wondered “why just maternal grandparents, though?” Shouldn’t it be ALL grandmothers? Why yes, indeed it should! Let’s discuss!
Grandmothers Give Us the Purest Unconditional Love Ever
First, let me start by making it abundantly clear that I do NOT think that maternal grandparents have a deeper bond with their grandkids than paternal ones. The quote that inspired this post was based on one specific study. I thought it was interesting, but that doesn’t mean that I agree with it. We’ll discuss it in a moment, along with how that same study proves that sometimes the opposite is true. For now, let’s just forget about matrilineal and patrilineal factors and talk about why ALL grandmothers give us the purest unconditional love ever.
What makes a grandmother’s love so pure?
If you’ve checked out my other posts on this topic, you know I feel pretty strongly that raising kids near their grandparents is the best gift you can give them. Our parents just have a different way of interacting with our kids than we do, and sometimes they need that.
Maybe it’s because grandmothers literally have a lifetime of experience raising kids, so they just plain have more knowledge and patience than we do. We’re pretty awesome, too, but until our kids are fully grown and starting families of their own, we’re still basically “learning on the job.” Our moms, on the other hand, completed their training!
Speaking of jobs, if you think about it, when we’re in the process of raising kids, we have SO many of them. We’re our children’s teachers, nurses, personal assistants, taxi drivers, chefs, and accountants. We’re the people who make the rules (I guess you could call us Congress?) and enforce them. When kids break them, we’re the judge and the jury! The list goes on and on.
Grandmothers, on the other hand, basically retired from the majority of those jobs when we grew up and moved out. So, they just get to be grandma, period. Their sole duty is to love our kids unconditionally, and they definitely excel at that!
Research shows that grandmothers deeply empathize with grandchildren
Before we move on to the study that inspired this post, I just want to share one that proves that ALL grandmas have a special and unique relationship with their grandkids. Researchers at Emory University showed 50 grandmas pictures of their grandchildren and studies their brain’s responses. According to James Rilling, the lead author,
“What really jumps out in the data is the activation in areas of the brain associated with emotional empathy. That suggests that grandmothers are geared toward feeling what their grandchildren are feeling when they interact with them. If their grandchild is smiling, they’re feeling the child’s joy. And if their grandchild is crying, they’re feeling the child’s pain and distress.”
In other words, ALL grandmothers are basically made of pure empathy. It doesn’t matter if they’re maternal, paternal, or heck, even “honorary” grandparents. They ALL deeply love their grandkids, plain and simple.
If you need more proof, check out my post about why a grandmother’s presence is really the best present. For now, I want to move on to the second part of my response to that quote: why maternal grandmothers specifically? We’ll look at a few studies and also talk about how each of those factors can easily be flipped around in favor of paternal grandparents.
Studies show that maternal grandparents are closer to their grandkids…but that’s not the full picture
Before we look at the studies, I feel like I need to say again that I personally do not believe at all that only maternal grandmothers can be close to their grandchildren. Quite the opposite, as you’ll see later on.
So, turns out, scientists have actually spent a good amount of time trying to answer that question. I was really surprised at the wide range of results. Some of them I feel are kind of outdated. Like, one basically said maternal grandparents are closer because women don’t get along with their mothers-in-law. So, they don’t let their kids see paternal grandparents as often. I’d like to think we’re well beyond that tired cliché. However, there is a second part to that general theory that does make sense: cases of divorce.
Kids of divorced parents spend more time with their mom’s parents
While the overall rate is lower than ever and divorced parents are more likely to share equal custody of kids, in general children still end up living with their moms more than their dads. In fact, out of the 25% of families headed by a single parent, 80% of them involve a single mom. One study found that this played a major role in determining just how close kids were to their dad’s parents.
If we go back to the original study that I mentioned above, though, we find that while researchers found that maternal grandparents played a more active role in a child’s life when the child lived only with mom, the opposite was true for the 20% of single-parent-household kids that live only with their dad.
Researchers were also very clear to emphasize that “it is important to consider mothers as well as fathers when explaining matrilineal advantage because either parent can create advantages and disadvantages favoring maternal and paternal grandparents.” In other words, regardless of which parent a child lives with (even if it’s both), parents ultimately play the largest role in determining just how much time that child gets to spend with either set of grandparents.
Location plays a major role in the grandparent/grandchild relationship
Even in cases where both parents are still together, some studies show that women are far more likely to live closer to their parents than men. Obviously, that’s not always the case, but I see it a lot in my own circle of friends. Multigenerational households are also becoming more common again, and that often means that children don’t just live near their grandmothers, but with them.
Here’s the kicker, though: other studies show that it’s actually men who live closer to their parents. A 2016 Pew Research study also showed that men ages 18-35 are more likely to live at home than women. Now, neither study really mentions how many single dads live with their moms, but it just goes to show that for every study there’s one that says the opposite.
Bottom line, ALL grandparents love their grandkids unconditionally and form deep bonds with them when given the chance. That bolded part is important. Let’s discuss it in a bit more detail by talking about how we can help ALL grandmothers bond with our kids.
How can we help ALL grandmothers bond with our kids?
If we work together- parents and grandparents- we can help remove the barriers that keep one set of grandmas from forming closer bonds with their grandchildren. For example, if you’re a divorced mom and your kids live with you, actively arrange for your ex-mother-in-law to spend time with your children. If you’re a paternal grandmother, remember that the road goes both ways. If your ex-daughter-in-law doesn’t reach out to you, then call her. Make the first move.
If your kids’ grandparents live on the other side of the country- or the world even- then you’ll have to work harder to help them bond. Facetime, Zoom, and such are the best inventions ever for this. Technology in general has made it easier than ever for kids to form close relationships with both sets of grandparents, no matter how close or far they are.
I know this all took a few unexpected twists and turns for a post that started out talking about why maternal grandmothers give our kids the purest unconditional love. But as we clearly saw, the same is also true of paternal grandmas! Heck, grandfathers, too! Let’s not leave them out! ALL grandparents bring so much love, support, and empathy into our lives, and we’re lucky to have them.
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