baby with grandmother
Julie Hambleton
Julie Hambleton
February 26, 2024 ·  5 min read

Why a Maternal Grandmother Is So Important for a Child

Our grandparents play an important role in many of our lives. Grandmothers, particularly, spoil us with treats, snuggles, and lots of love. Most of us, however, have probably never thought about the differences between our paternal and maternal grandmothers. According to science, there is something extra special that we get from our maternal grandmother. This is why.

Science Says We Are Typically Closest to Our Maternal Grandmother

Naturally, this is not going to be true in all cases. Some of us may not have a maternal grandmother, or perhaps we grew up closer in location to our dad’s family than our mother’s. That being said, when we think about it, many of us have a closer connection with our maternal grandmother, and there is actually some science to explain why.

There is both anecdotal and scientific evidence to suggest that we are most connected to our maternal grandparents, in particular our maternal grandmother. There are many reasons for this.

1. Gender Roles

Despite advances made in women’s rights, still, typically the mother plays a larger role in raising the children and directing their daily activities. Likely, mothers will favor their own parents over their parents. (1)

More time spent with their maternal grandparents will result in grandchildren having a closer connection with them. (1)

2. Grandparent – Parent Relationships

Many mothers have a great relationship with their mother-in-law, however, just as many don’t. For some grandmothers, the fact that they are no longer the most important woman in their son’s life can be hard to accept. Jealousy and competition can creep in, which may cause a mother to look to her own mother for help with the children over her spouse’s. (2)

Again, this will result in more quality time spent with the maternal grandmother and grandfather, therefore a stronger connection between them. (2)

Read: Study Finds Moms Are Happier When Their Kids Have Early Bedtimes

3. Paternity Uncertainty

Paternity uncertainty is just as it sounds: A mother is always certain that a child is hers, as she physically carried and gave birth to it. Before DNA testing came along, a father couldn’t necessarily be so sure. This means that the maternal grandmother will be the most certain that the child shares her genetics, while the paternal grandfather will be the least certain. (3)

The theory suggests this is because uncertainty will subconsciously or consciously cause a parent or grandparent to be less engaged with their child or grandchild. (3)

One study asked college students with all four living grandparents to rank in order which grandparent they would go to for various needs, from first to last. The maternal grandmother overall ended up ranking first, and the paternal grandfather last. (3)

4. Early Bonding

When you’re sick, hurting, or going through a difficult time, who do you want to call? For many of us, especially women, it’s our mother. Naturally, when a woman is pregnant and especially while she is giving birth, she wants her mother close. (2)

First of all, your mother is a source of comfort. Second, and what gives her preferential treatment when baring children, is that she has gone through labor and delivery before. This allows her to sympathize with what her daughter is experiencing. (2)

The maternal grandmother is more likely to be invited into the delivery room over all other grandparents. This means she gets that first bonding moment with the grandchild. Early bonding can lead to preferential treatment when parents are looking for a babysitter or extra help with their children. (2)

This connection does not go away over time. Studies done on teenagers show that teens still prefer their maternal grandparents – especially grandma – over other family members for life advice and more. (2)

5. X-Chromosome Connection

That’s right, yours and your maternal grandmother’s DNA might actually play a role as to why you feel more connected to her than your other grandparents. (4)

Maternal grandmothers will have a 25% x-chromosome relatedness to all of their grandchildren: granddaughters and grandsons. Paternal grandmothers, however, will pass on all of her x-chromosomes to granddaughters, but none to her grandsons. This makes her 50% related to her granddaughters genetically and 0% related to her grandsons. (4)

This DNA-relatedness could impact how we subconsciously connect to each of our grandmothers, and how they connect to us. (4)

Other Factors

Of course, there are plenty of other factors that may or may not contribute to the grandchild-grandparent connection. For example, if the child’s parents get divorced, more often than not the mother has primary custody. More time spent living with mom may result in more time spent with maternal grandparents. (2)

Furthermore, other things will affect these relationships, such as (2):

  • The health of each grandparent
  • Proximity
  • Similar interests
  • Personalities
  • Age of grandparents
  • Cultural differences and multigenerational households

A maternal grandmother may be more reserved versus her paternal counterpart. Health problems or one set of grandparents being much older than another may also affect their ability to participate in activities and bond with their grandchildren. (2)

Moreover, just like any other relationship, a grandparent and grandchild may just simply have compatible personalities or common interests that bring them together. This will likely outweigh any genetic advantage one grandparent may have or otherwise. (2)

Regardless of which grandparent you feel closest to, one thing is certain: Grandparents are important, special people in the lives of their grandchildren. Many of us wouldn’t be the same without them, and we should thank them – and probably call them – more than we do.

Keep Reading: Always Be Grateful For What You Have No Matter How Hard Life Gets


  1. “Matrilineal Advantage in Grandchild–Grandparent Relations.” Oxford. Christopher G. Chan, Glen H. Elder, Jr. April 1, 2000.
  2. “Why Maternal Grandparents Tend to Be Closer to Grandkids Than Paternal.” Very Well Family. Susan Adcox. June 11, 2020.
  3. Differential Investment Behavior between Grandparents and Grandchildren: The Role of Paternity Uncertainty.” Journals. David I. Bishop, Et al. January 1, 2009.
  4. The Selfish Grandma Gene: The Roles of the X-Chromosome and Paternity Uncertainty in the Evolution of Grandmothering Behavior and Longevity.” NCBI. Molly Fox, Et al. March 15, 2011.