What to Do About Overenthusiastic Grandparents

Posted by in No-Cry Separation Anxiety

“Help! Since my baby was born, my mother has been over almost every day. She’s always giving advice, taking over the baby’s care, and bringing armloads of gifts. How can I get her to slow down?”

Let’s not talk about your mother for a minute. I’d like you to think instead about the incredible love you feel for your child. Now, imagine that you watch your baby grow from infant to toddler, and through the years to the time when your baby isn’t a baby any longer. Through the days and nights of everyday life, you pour 20 or more years of this love into your child.

Then your child has a baby: your grandchild! Do you want to rush over to your child’s home and give advice, help with the baby’s care and bring armloads of gifts? Come on, now, admit it: Of course you do!

Logan with Nana and Papa

Logan with Nana and Papa

The Value of the Grand Relationship

If your baby is lucky enough to have a grandmother or grandfather (or several!) in her life, the benefits she’ll enjoy from this unique relationship are many. All grandparents are different and each relationship will have its own special value, but here are some of the common traits of the grand relationship:

  • Unconditional love
    The love between grandparent and grandchild is often total and unconditional. Grandparents have a bond to your baby that encompasses their love for you and their love for your child  love that conveys itself to your child with every hug, every word, and every smile.
  • Fun without strings
    Grandparents often bring playfulness to the relationship. They have had their turn raising children and often feel that they can relax and enjoy the moments without having to focus on the teaching, setting limits, and enforcing discipline that parenting entails. It’s a benefit for children to have this person with whom they can let their hair down and relax.
  • Fun without the stress of time
    Grandparents often move at a slower pace than parents do. If this is so in your family, your child can enjoy a special relaxed and lingering quality to the time she shares with her grandparents.
  • A sense of history
    Grandparents are a link to the history of a family – stories about the background, rituals, and eccentricities that weave the rich tapestry of a family. Grandparents can instill a feeling of belonging and teach children about their roots.
  • Respect for and understanding of the aging process
    Children who have a close relationship with grandparents accept aging as natural. From the time the kids are young, they know their grandparents simply as people. This relationship helps them accept and appreciate the differences between generations.

Zoe with Mom and Grandma

Practical Tips for Relating to Grandparents

As happy as you may be with the wonderful bond between your child and her grandparents, you’ll still need some practical ideas for handling the day-to-day issues that may arise. Here are quick tips.

  • Different opinions about child-rearing.
    Grandparents have raised their children, and you’re just getting started, so that makes them feel like they have the wisdom to share. Parenting has changed with the times but don’t discount a grandparent’s advice without considering it. You just may find a gem of parenting brilliance in a grandparent’s advice.
  • Showering with attention.
    If you’re concerned about a grandparent who gushes over your little one as if she were the only baby on earth, the best advice I can give you is: Enjoy it! Your child can benefit from the attention of someone who thinks your child can do no wrong. It can give her a feeling of self-worth that can’t ever be taken away.
  • Bearing excessive gifts.
    A little bit of “spoiling” is a good thing. And letting the grandparents know that you appreciate their generosity is important (and good for your children to model). If you feel that a few too many toys are coming your way, though, you might tactfully suggest that the best gift for your child is the time the grandparents can spend with him. If they are intent on spending their money, you might suggest they lean towards books, educational games, clothing or the possibility of a college savings account for your child.
  • Rules? What rules?
    Some grandparents have so much fun with the grandchildren that you can’t believe they’re the same people who demanded your adherence to a hundred rules when you were growing up…none of which seem to apply to your children. The answer to this issue is to choose your battles wisely, and address those that are most important to you. Battling over a few extra cookies probably isn’t worth the friction it would create, but mandatory sunscreen and hat for a day at the beach is an issue worth addressing.
  • Differing expectations
    Whether you think the grandparents spend too much time around your house, or don’t see the children often enough, you may find that the expectations of the relationship differ by side. Attempting to understand the other person’s point of view and encouraging open conversation are the keys to finding the right balance for everyone’s needs.
Mary Beth with Grandma

MaryBeth with Grandma

Share: What tips do you have for overenthusiastic grandparents?

*Please note: All these grandparent photos are to enhance the reading experience. All of these grandparents shown are wonderful — and the article is not about them!

3 Comments

  1. I don’t think it’s an either/or issue – a lot of parents greatly value the love, time, gifts, and freespirited fun of grandparents. But that doesn’t mean a free-for-all on the grandparents part or that the parent needs to feel guilty if they want to set healthy and respectful boundaries. I grew up in a family where grandparents enjoy watching their children be parents and interacting with their children as fellow parents/adults rather than trying to usurp the parents role whenever the grandkids are around. My grandparents played with me, but they didn’t undermine my mom or worship me. They left the parenting to my mom and respected her for it and wanted to support and reinforce her in that role in her life. As an adult now with my own children, I really appreciate growing up seeing – and still seeing – that relationship between my mom and her parents. I still have a special relationship with my grandparents, but it wasn’t based on toys, gifts, spoiling, undermining rules, or being all-carefree. It was based on small moments of tickling, sitting on the porch swing and having discussions, my grandmother teaching me crafts.

    Now that I am a mother, my relationship with my mom has changed and I feel like I have entered the adult-parent circle of our family. She wants to watch me parent, she takes pride in seeing that side of me. She supports me both in words and actions. She listens – genuinely listens – to what I say and how I parent my children, and she admires it. She loves playing with my kids and spending time with them, but she is also very happy to be on the sidelines and watch them play with each other or cheer for me.

    In my husband’s family, it is very different and the parent is expected to take a backseat to the grandparent if they’re around. The grandparent tries to relive their parenting days, just without the rules. So lots of spoiling, undermining or ignoring the parents’ rules, all-carefree, worshipping of the grandchild. It is stressful and upsetting to me, especially when I am made to feel guilty if I don’t want them to be around all the time or if I do want to spend time with my child if they are around.

    This article reinforces that guilty feeling of “well you need to think about the grandparents’ view.” It isn’t either/or. I love my family’s roles of grandparents, and I love the love of my in-laws for my children. But valuing it doesn’t mean I can’t wish for healthier boundaries.

    You ask at the beginning:
    “Do you want to rush over to your child’s home and give advice, help with the baby’s care and bring armloads of gifts?” My answer would be no – I would love to watch my child, the one I invested that time and love and energy into, move into that role as parent and watch them learn and grow and develop as a parent just as my mom watched me. I don’t wish to relive my parenting days but rather move into my grandparenting days. And I hope I can do it with as much grace and support as my mom did and her parents did before her – offering advice when asked, supporting and respecting them, and watching them bask in their children.

    • Lots of insightful thoughts – thank you for sharing. As always life is never fully either/or and all families and people are unique.

    • Perfectly said. Your husbands parents, that is exactly how my parents are with the grandkids.. Healthy boundaries are a great idea!