Grandma Competition Is Universal

A grandma friend confessed to me that she struggles with a “little jealousy issue” with the “other” grandma. I quickly reassured her that she was not alone. There are two kinds of grandma competition and they’re both pretty universal:

  1. Competition between grandmas who brag about who has the most extraordinary grandchild
  2. Competition between grandmas who share the same grandchild and compete for most adored grandma status

If either of these types of competition resonates with you, take comfort in knowing you belong to a very large club! I recommend reading Judith Viorst’s hilarious essay “The Rivals” in Eye of My Heart: 27 Writers Reveal the Hidden Pleasures and Perils of Being a Grandmother so that you can see the humor in this sometimes-painful situation.

Known for her poetry collections on the decades of a woman’s life, Viorst has been using humor to diffuse challenging issues that make us laugh out loud with recognition.

Viorst writes that we compete with our grandparent friends and we compete with our grandchildren’s other sets of grandparents.

“Even if we are known, in other matters, to be basically modest and diffident, and even if, as mothers, we refrained from shamelessly bragging about our kids, we grandmothers feel entitled to inform the immediate world that our grandsons and our granddaughters are not merely extraordinary but the most extraordinary. And if another grandmother is one-upping us in the contest, we may one-up right back.”

And speaking of extraordinary grandchildren, have I mentioned that my own granddaughter read all of Louisa May Alcott’s books when she was seven years old?

Whoops, see how easy it is to slip into shameless bragging!

I wondered why we brag so much. Is it just the proliferation of all those cute little Grandma’s Brag Books in every store that gives us permission? There’s actually a scientific answer: Harvard researchers have revealed why we brag so much. They found that talking about ourselves—whether in a personal conversation or through social media sites like Facebook and Twitter—triggers the same sensation of pleasure in the brain as food or money.

About 40% of everyday speech is devoted to telling others about what we feel or think. Now, through five brain imaging and behavioral experiments, Harvard University neuroscientists have uncovered the reason: It feels so rewarding, at the level of brain cells and synapses that we can’t help sharing our thoughts.

In the Harvard study, neuroscientists used magnetic resonance imaging scanners to see what parts of the brain responded most strongly when people talked about their own beliefs and options, rather than speculating about other people.

Generally, acts of self-disclosure were accompanied by spurts of heightened activity in brain regions belonging to the meso-limbic dopamine system, which is associated with the sense of reward and satisfaction from food, money or sex.

It’s no wonder Facebook and Twitter have flourished. We love it when people listen to us.

I feel some reassurance after learning there’s a scientific reason we brag. And Viorst’s comments are also comforting:

“Despite our competitiveness, we are decent people who wish we were far more secure and mature to allow ourselves to indulge in competitive grandmothering. But we’re not.”

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