Having grandparents in your child’s life can be a major boon to the whole family—in addition to the attention, love, and free childcare they provide, having involved grandparents can help new parents navigate the often-difficult task of raising children. However, that doesn’t mean that every interaction between parents and grandparents is a peaceful one.
“When grandkids make their appearance, it is all fun and games—for the grandparents, that is! Sometimes it can be hard for parents and grandparents to navigate situations together because their thought processes and goals on regarding the kid is very different,” says life coach and licensed mental health counselor Dr. Jaime Kulaga, Ph.D. “Once you become a grandparent, the situation has now shifted to where you can fully enjoy the child without as many responsibilities and the chaos you once had when you were raising your children. The relationship is often all about having fun, ‘being the good guy,’ and filling the child up with goodies and then sending them back home to mom.”
And while having an adult who will ply you with toys and treats may seem like a dream come true to kids, it’s not always so well-received by parents. If you want to stay on the right side of your grandchild’s parents, it’s time commit these common offenses to memory—and avoid them at all costs.
Grandma and grandpa tend to be more than just occasional babysitters: for many kids, they’re practically a one-stop shop for all things sugary, fried, or otherwise terrible for you. Much to many parents’ dismay, grandparents are a never-ending fount of treats, despite everyone else’s best efforts to make them understand that no pediatrician in the world has ever recommended daily ice cream.
“Once a parent becomes a grandparent, their role changes. They are no longer in the ‘parenting’ role but more of a role of fun and cuddles with less expectations. Grandparenting is not about how many times you can tell Johnny to eat his broccoli for nutritional purposes, but rather letting Johnny have fun picking out any candy he wants at the store and letting him eat it before dinner,” says Dr. Kulaga.
While kids will inevitably learn what’s “cool” or lessons about gendered clothing from their peers, in many cases, grandparents are the early initiators of this behavior. While a baby’s parents are still trying to figure out how to get a onesie on their child without causing a complete meltdown, grandma and grandpa are, rather annoyingly, trying to affix a pink bow to their nearly hairless head.
Whether you’re giving birth in the tub at home or in a surgical suite at a hospital, having a baby is, without a doubt, a major medical event. And even when it’s a relatively easy process, it can still be a pretty private thing, and one that’s certainly not made easier by the grandparents-to-be demanding to get a front row seat.
“Often grandparents want to see the child they raised in the moment of one of the biggest life changing experiences of their lives. They may feel as if the new child is a part of them, too, and they want to be there to experience this moment. Although the grandparents’ intentions are often meant very well in a situation like this, if the couple having the baby want their privacy, it is a good initial boundary for the parents to set with the grandparents,” says Dr. Kulaga. “There will be future experiences and situations that will be private between the new family, and grandparents do have to respect that.”
Parenting techniques are an ever-evolving medium, meaning that what worked for parents decades ago probably won’t fly by today’s standards. So, when a grandparent comments that holding a baby too much will “spoil them” or suggests letting a newborn scream for hours in the name of sleep training, they shouldn’t be surprised when their “helpful” tips fall on deaf—or angry—ears.
Caring for children is no easy feat, even when they’re so well-behaved they’re practically angels. So, when grandparents decide that they’re not actually up for watching Frozen for the hundredth time while their grandchild’s parents get to enjoy a rare date night, it’s an undeniable source of frustration.
Some things grandparents do are slightly irritating, while others are downright unsafe. While car seat rules have changed significantly over the past half-century, that’s no excuse for grandparents to decide that safely-tightened straps or a rear-facing seat simply aren’t necessary—and they shouldn’t be surprised if they don’t get to drive with their grandkids in the car if those rules go ignored.
Just because grandma thinks their three-month-old grandchild is really eyeing that plate of bagels doesn’t mean parents should automatically concede. Recommendations on feeding practices have changed over the past few decades, and now most authorities recommend waiting until six months for solids—meaning those delicious snacks will have to wait a while.
Even the smartest, most reasonable grandparents can sometimes mistake “something I heard” for “medical information,” especially in terms of pregnancy and child-rearing. However, if you’re a grandparent-to-be who wants to enjoy an active role in your grandchild’s life, it’s important that you keep those opinions on whether or not pregnant women should swim in the ocean, how dangerous it is to raise your arms over your head, or which pregnancy dreams are actually premonitions, to yourself.
Of course, if you do want to appease an overzealous grandparent, you can always take the high road: “You don’t have to take the advice they are giving to you, but do respect that they have been through this before, so don’t close your mind too much just in case something they say could actually help you and baby,” suggests Dr. Kulaga.
Grandparents get to do all the fun stuff with their grandkids without having to do the actual childrearing, meaning that parents and grandparents often find themselves at odds with one another. This tends to worsen when grandparents take a “good cop/bad cop” approach with parents, arguing for later bedtimes, extra treats, or calling parents out on those times when they’re forced to prioritize their child’s safety over non-stop fun.
Similarly, few parents can stomach when grandparents refuse to discipline their grandchildren whatsoever. While it may not be appropriate for grandparents to issue punishments a child’s parents haven’t explicitly deemed okay, letting kids have free rein with no consequences can quickly turn a good relationship between parents and grandparents into a highly contentious one.
“Explain how it can mentally and physically run you down as a parent when the child comes home with broken boundaries. Many times, grandparents will try harder to respect your rules when you address them in this manner,” says Dr. Kulaga. “That being said, allow the grandparent some flexibility and fun still to spoil their grandchild.”
Sure, names like Juniper and Drax might look strange alongside the more traditional monikers on a family tree, but if grandparents want to avoid the ire of the parents-to-be in their life, it’s best for them to keep their opinions to themselves. After all, there’s probably someone in the family who thought the baby names they doled out were pretty lackluster, too.
Taking a kid to the movies for the first time, getting the kid’s ears pierced, or planning a trip to Disneyland may seem like generous offers on the part of grandparents, but doing any of these things can earn grandma or grandpa the ire of a kid’s parents. Even if they seem minor, those milestones can be a big deal for parents, and understandably cause some friction when grandparents get to experience them first.
Whether it’s a storage issue or concerns about spoiling a kid that make parents uneasy about grandparents’ over-gifting tendencies, providing too many gifts is virtually always going to be a point of contention between grandparents and parents. After all, wouldn’t the thousands poured into Littlest Pet Shop figurines have served everyone better being set aside as a college fun, anyway?
Just because children are friends with one another doesn’t mean you have to imply some romantic connection. And no, just because that baby is looking at someone for a while doesn’t mean he’s “a flirt.”
Attitudes toward breastfeeding have changed significantly over the past few decades, to the point where plenty of parents eagerly nurse their children uncovered in public, and countless states have laws protecting them. However, when grandparents start carrying on about “decency” and buying tent-like nursing covers to protect a new mom’s modesty, it’s definitely an ire-provoking experience.
On the flip side of that coin, grandparents who rail on about the poisonous nature of infant formula—a highly-tested substance used safely by parents for decades—they shouldn’t be too surprised when their invites to family dinners start to wane.
Whether a kid’s parents are staunchly opposed to using animal products or let their kid eat anything their little heart desires, grandparents often insert themselves into the conversation about food more than is necessary. And, of course, in doing so, earn themselves some serious resentment from parents along the way.
Including grandparents in their grandchild’s life can be a wonderful thing. What’s less wonderful, however, is those guilt trips parents endure every time their kids’ grandparents aren’t invited to participate in a family activity. If you’re thinking of using the phrase, “You know, we won’t be around forever” to get yourself invited on a family vacation, it’s time to seriously reassess.
Ask any parent and they’ll tell you: the bane of their existence is any toy that plays music or otherwise makes noise. While grandparents may not mind them, since they only have to hear their din on occasion, every time they gift their grandchild one, it means subjecting that kid’s parents to a cacophony of unwanted noise, including the inevitable screaming tantrum when said toy is taken away.
Most grandparents didn’t grow up in the age of social media, meaning that their rules about what’s acceptable and the rules their own children abide by can be wildly different. In many cases, this means that grandparents will cause some serious discord when they start posting bath time photos of their grandkids when mom and dad have a strict “no faces, no places” social media policy in effect.
While helicopter parents get a bad rap, grandparents are often worse when it comes to indulging their overprotective tendencies. Unfortunately, that often means that every tiny bump, bruise, or scrape is met with suggestions of a trip to the emergency room.
Parents and grandparents may have differing ideas about how much TV is acceptable, but it’s when grandma and grandpa decide that the answer is to simply leave cartoons on all day long that things get a bit contentious. In addition to the mind-numbing quality of watching hours of TV at a time, parents will generally be less than thrilled when their child comes home begging to do the same.
Sure, 40 years ago, you may have been able to leave your kid in the back seat of your car while you got groceries, but times—and, in tandem, laws—have changed. And when grandparents start acting like the rules implemented by parents or the authorities are ridiculous—or worse yet, ignoring them altogether—it’s definitely going to be the start of some ongoing arguments.
Is babyproofing tedious and sometimes expensive? Yes, it is. Is it also necessary, no matter how many times grandma or grandpa allegedly stuck a fork into an electrical socket and survived? Also yes.
Having some extra help around the house when you have a young child is always appreciated. What’s not quite as pleasant however—and can lead to some serious annoyance—is when grandparents start showing up unexpectedly and start inserting themselves into situations best handled by their grandchild’s parents alone.
Do grandparents sometimes have a grandchild they like best? Definitely. Is it ever appropriate to make that known, whether verbally or through behavior? Absolutely not—and doing so might just get your babysitting privileges revoked.
Parents and grandparents often have different ideas about what constitutes an appropriate punishment—and many fights have ensued over this discrepancy. While mom or dad thinks talking through an issue is the best way to get it solved, grandma’s in the corner ready to wash someone’s mouth out with soap.
Involved grandparents have a very special role in their grandkids’ life—but that role is not “parent.” “The grandparent has been there and done that when it comes to raising children. Their role is no longer to parent the child,” says Kulaga.
While there are bound to be differences between grandchildren—one who gets straight A’s versus the one who hasn’t turned in an assignment in weeks—grandparents should know better than to compare their grandkids to each other. After all, everything from parenting style to sleep habits to neurological differences can affect a child’s behavior, and comparisons certainly won’t do anything to improve their self-esteem.
Is it sometimes difficult to watch a stranger take care of your precious grandchild? Sure. That said, if grandparents want to stay in the picture, it’s probably in their best interest not to criticize perfectly competent, respectful babysitters or give parents too much trouble about why they’re returning to work in the first place.
All babies get fussy, and that sometimes means a grandparent will be tasked with trying to soothe them for a few minutes. Of course, if a baby is completely losing it, it’s understandable that you might want to hand them back, but if you’re bowing out the second a baby isn’t silent, don’t be surprised when you get the side eye from the parents.
Just because you think a new parent is holding their baby incorrectly or can’t change a diaper to save their life, that’s not an excuse to step in. Much like the generations that came before them, today’s new parents also have to learn to act on their feet when kids are concerned.
As a grandparent, you’re part of a whole-family team that requires you to be on the same page as your grandkids’ parents. So, if you happen to decide that badmouthing mom or dad’s choices is a good idea, prepare yourself for some backlash—and for anything you say to get back to them.
While withholding praise isn’t necessarily a great model for boosting confidence, grandparents who commend their grandchildren for every action, no matter how minor, aren’t doing them any favors in the long run, either. After all, how is a kid supposed to have realistic expectations about how the world at large will react to them when they’ve just been told they’re “exceptionally good at drinking water”?
The majority of kids hit their developmental milestones at some point or another, meaning nobody can really take credit for them learning to walk, speak, or read. However, much to the displeasure of parents everywhere, there are countless grandparents who will insist that their grandchildren would have remained sedentary, mute, and illiterate without their sage guidance.
Bedtimes serve a very real purpose: ensuring that children get adequate sleep so as not to be a complete nightmare the following day. And if you want to keep your grandchild’s parents happy, it’s pretty important that those 8 p.m. bedtimes don’t suddenly fly out the window because someone requested an additional showing of Moana.
While doling out too many toys, treats, or compliments isn’t exactly ideal, taking a completely hands-off approach to being a grandparent won’t win you many admirers either. Just because they’re not your own children doesn’t mean you have to act like they’re virtual strangers, either.
It may not be in anyone’s best interest to have grandparents insist upon doing everything for their grandkids, but that doesn’t mean a complete lack of initiative on a grandparent’s part will fare much better. Sometimes, it’s up to grandma or grandpa to decide what’s best—that crying baby or dirty diaper isn’t going to fix itself, after all.
Whether it’s grandma’s concerns about vaccine safety or grandpa’s worries about living so close to a busy road, grandparents can not only make parents paranoid, their behavior can also instill a significant amount of fear in their grandchildren, too. And unless they want to come over every night when their grandkids are too afraid to go to sleep, they should probably try to tone down the fearmongering as much as possible.
Having a biological child takes nine months, not counting the time spent trying to conceive, and adopting can take years. So, if you’re eager to stay on the good side of your grandchild’s parents, it’s probably a good idea to hold off on asking those questions about when the next one will arrive.