We took an informal poll among our mom friends and coworkers, and a clear trend emerged: The majority of women reported being closer with their own mothers than they are with their partner’s parents. As a result, their moms enjoy stronger, sweeter relationships with their grandchildren than their partner’s parents do. And this paternal-grandparent distancing doesn’t always follow logic: It seems to exist even when the maternal grandmother lives thousands of miles away and the paternal one lives (gulp) around the corner.
Why is this a near-universal truth? It would be tempting to cue the montage of monster-in-law clichés, horror stories, movies and memes, but the reality is more complicated. It turns out there are both cultural and scientific reasons for these relationship dynamics.
The disparity is the result of something called “matrilineal advantage,” reports New York Times science columnist Paula Span. She interviewed various sociologists and psychologists who have studied the maternal grandparent edge. They point to two main contributing factors:
1. Mothers and daughters tend to be uniquely close, with many pairs sharing a lifelong intimacy. When two women are motivated to maintain a strong relationship with each other, their bond becomes practically unbreakable. Is it any wonder it’s so heavily relied upon during times of great stress (e.g., the daughter’s transition to motherhood)?