The Maternal Grandparent Advantage

Thus, you hear sorrowful tales like this one of a 72-year-old grandmother whose name I am not using to prevent further discord. She moved to Southern California last year to help her son and his wife with their new baby, her first grandchild. “I expected I’d be hands-on, babysitting in the evenings,” she told me.

It hasn’t worked out that way. Her daughter-in-law, whom she didn’t know well before her pregnancy, “did not want me to be close,” she said, and didn’t accept gifts and offers of help.

Among women friends her age with sons, “almost every single one says the same thing: The daughters-in-law keep them away from the children,” she said. “And the sons don’t stick up for their mothers; they have to be loyal to their wives.” Feeling excluded, the grandma plans to relocate and will visit the family every few months.


Let’s acknowledge how many variables can affect generational ties, like simple geography, health and whether the grandparents are working or retired. Finances matter, because disposable income makes it easier to visit from afar.

Then, consider the endless complexities of family dynamics. Despite the supposed matrilineal advantage, I know several hardworking new grandmas providing regular care for their sons’ children, and all seems amicable.

Further, we all know women stiff-arming their own mothers. Social science examines trends in groups of people, but can’t predict what happens in an individual family.

Still, a nurse on Long Island named Susan (she asked me to omit her surname, lest she contribute to familial strain), provides a kind of test case: She has an adult son and daughter, each living about 15 minutes away.

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