Divorced parents make the best grandparents. Not because they have more time – they might not have it. Not because they have learned emotional maturity – they might not have done. But because divorced parents – however amicable the split and however long ago it was, are always slightly in competition.
This year, we all recorded versions of my son’s favourite stories for him to listen to on his Yoto, an audio player designed for young kids. He was delighted. He spent the morning walking around the house, listening to my dad reading Winnie’s Knickers on repeat. The boy was distracted, I was happy and my dad’s effort – including a ukulele solo by way of a soundtrack – was rewarded.
A few hours later, my hilarious and generous mother went upstairs to record her own story, having had the technology explained to her – patiently and only slightly passive aggressively – by my husband. What story did she record? Why, Winnie’s Knickers, of course. So now my son has two recordings of the same story, to be played on the same machine, by his maternal grandparents.
I’m sure it was an accident: the book just happened to be on our table, they were both doing unpaid childcare, they’re both excellent at reading stories and Winnie’s Knickers is a banger. And yet even if it was a slip, it does feel like rather a Freudian one.
Related: 10 ways to be a fabulous grandparent
When your parents are no longer together, things like days out, presents, treats and babysitting can become not just an invaluable expression of affection but also a measure of their grandparenting. The same kind of rivalry can happen between maternal and paternal grandparents, with both unconsciously competing to be the favourites. In The Man Who Died Twice, Richard Osman’s character Ron buys his grandson two ice-creams just to outdo the used car salesman Grandad Keith. But when you add divorce into the mix, the scope for potential one-upmanship becomes even greater. And who benefits? Well, everyone.