Have you ever noticed when you bring your child to your grandparents house, you’re often bypassed and they immediately go towards your kids? The beautiful relationship between grandparents and grandchildren is a great thing to witness, but I often wonder why it seems like they love their grandkids more than their own kids.
As an explanation, you’ll often hear things like “you just won’t understand until you become a grandparent yourself”, or “it’s a feeling I can’t explain”.
One grandmother talked about the topic in a Mumsnet post in hopes of explaining the feeling, and she clarified that it’s not that she loves her grandchildren more, it’s that she loves them the same as her own kids – but certain things make the relationship easier, in a way.
She said: “I’m a grandmother, and I love my grandchildren as much as I love my children, I couldn’t love them more as it wouldn’t be possible!
“The relationship with grandchildren is more pleasurable in some ways though, as we grandparents have the fun times and less stress as we aren’t responsible for daily routines, decisions etc. Personally I love being a grandmother, just as much as I enjoyed being a mother.”
According to scientists who conducted a small study to see how a grandmother’s brain reacts to pictures of their grandchildren as opposed to their children, it found grandmas feel more affection toward their grandkids than their adult children.
The study consisted of 50 grandmas who had at least one biological grandchild between the age of three and 12. An MRI scan was used to measure the brain function as grandmothers viewed photos of their grandchildren, compared with pictures of their grown-up children, unknown kids and adults.
“What really jumps out in the data is the activation in areas of the brain associated with emotional empathy,” says James Rilling, Emory professor of anthropology and lead author of the study. “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 contrast, the study found that when grandmothers view images of their adult child, they show stronger activation in an area of the brain associated with cognitive empathy. That indicates they may be trying to cognitively understand what their adult child is thinking or feeling and why, but not as much from the emotional side.
“Young children have likely evolved traits to be able to manipulate not just the maternal brain, but the grand maternal brain,” Rilling says. “An adult child doesn’t have the same cute ‘factor,’ so they may not illicit the same emotional response.”
On Mumsnet, one mum posted about a comment her own mother made that made her feel uneasy, she said: “So my darling mother has said a couple of times now ‘I’m totally overwhelmed. My love for my first grandchild is deeper than it was for my own kids, I think it’s because I don’t have the responsibility’.
“My relationship with my mum was virtually non existent growing up from the age of about 5. AIBU to think this is a bit odd? Especially as it’s said directly to me?”
What seems to be the common theme and reasoning is that grandparents don’t have as much responsibility and the need to discipline their grandchildren. With a lack of being that authority, it probably means less stress when spending time with them, which leads to their relationship being perceived as more loving.
Another grandparent said the feeling is different rather than “more”.
They wrote: “I adore both my children and my grandchildren. I was there when my 1st grandchild was born, and sat snuggling them while my darling daughter went for a bath and her darling husband had gone home to get supplies. I’ll never forget that morning, I honestly thought my heart was going to burst out of my chest. It was a very intense feeling of love.
“But the bit I really love is that I don’t have to stress and worry about them and I can take them home again when I’m running on empty. You don’t get that luxury with your own children….!! It’s love but a different one to loving your children.”