Being a grandparent is an undeniable privilege, and one in which you get to relive many of the greatest joys of parenthood—from seeing the little one’s first steps to having an excuse for family vacations again. At the same time, you get to largely sidestep all of the pesky downsides of actual parenting: nightly wake-ups, dealing with bad report cards, or having to save for college tuition.
But that doesn’t mean grandparenting is entirely a walk in the park. And just because the relationship between grandparents and grandchildren is a special one doesn’t mean it comes without its issues.
After all, for many grandparents, getting a little too enthusiastic about getting to relive those glory days can earn you the ire of your grandchild’s parents—and possibly have adverse effects on the child’s life in the long run. So, before you come home with a golden retriever or take your grandkid for their first tattoo, make sure you know these 40 things grandparents should never do.
Show up to the hospital uninvited.
Birth is a miraculous thing, but, for many people, it’s also a particularly private one—and can involve some intense recovery. While you might want to be there for the birth of your grandchild, it’s imperative that you only show up at the hospital if asked.
“It’s important for grandparents to respect the parents’ values and standards and not to overstep boundaries or undermine,” says Rabbi Shlomo Slatkin, MS, LCPC, Imago therapist and co-founder of the Marriage Restoration Project.
Insist on outfits for the new baby.
Is that tiny sailor suit you brought for your new grandchild adorable? Sure. Is it also more than a bit rude to insist upon the new parents dressing their child in it? Definitely.
While you may want your preferred items to get worn by your new grandkid, it’s not your place to insist that they’re wearing something you like for their first family photos. If the outfit is a gift, treat it as such: the parents and kids get to choose the rules about when and where it gets used.
Discuss “baby weight.”
While new parents may be eager to shed the weight that they gained during pregnancy, it’s never fun to have someone else start a conversation about it.
If you wouldn’t tell someone to lose weight apropos of nothing, it’s not appropriate to do it during the particularly vulnerable time after they give birth, either.
Give naming advice.
Even if you have a family tradition of passing down names generation after generation, that doesn’t mean your own children will continue the trend. In fact, the more you suggest a name—or even, god forbid, insist on a name—the more you’re guaranteed to annoy not only your child but also your child’s spouse. At best, your suggestions will be ignored. At worst, resented. Oh, and speaking of baby names: if you’re indeed in the market for one, check out the 20 Most Popular Baby Names Inspired by Movies.
Clean the house before the family returns from the hospital.
Coming home to a clean house after having a new baby is undeniably nice—if you’ve requested it personally. Finding out that your mother-in-law has folded your lacy underwear, however, is not.
Ignore parents’ health requirements.
No matter how ridiculous you might think a parent’s request to wash your hands one more time or get your flu shot might be, it’s their prerogative to ask you. And if you choose not to comply, don’t be surprised when they don’t let you around their precious little one.
Insist upon holding a crying baby.
You may think you’re a baby whisperer, but if your grandchild starts crying for their parents, don’t insist upon continuing to hold them. That trick that always worked to stop your own offspring from crying when they were little isn’t foolproof, and keeping an upset child from their main sources of comfort will likely only make the problem worse. And for more behaviors that may come back to haunt you, discover the 20 Biggest Regrets Nearly Every Parent Has.
Disregard parents’ choices about discipline.
If your grandchild’s parents insist upon avoiding time-outs—or has a specific policy regarding the discipline of their child—it’s up to the grandparents to follow that procedure, too.
That means abiding by their rules, no matter how silly they may seem to you. Just because you spanked your child and they turned out fine doesn’t mean you get to decide that the same goes for your grandkids.
Advocate for unsafe sleep practices.
Your children may have slept as babies on their bellies in cribs full of stuffed animals and blankets, but if their parents insist upon using only AAP-recommended sleep practices, it’s the grandparents’ job to stick to them, too.
Don’t just assume that everything will be fine because you have anecdotal evidence to support your position—if they say the baby goes on their back in an empty crib, that’s how they need to sleep, even at your house.
Give your input about a parent’s choice to work or stay home.
With the ever-rising cost of childcare, it makes sense for some families to have one parent stay home, while for others, maintaining their lifestyle means both parents working. Even if you have strong opinions about who is juggling what, you’d be very wise to keep them to yourself.
Try to raise your grandkids like you did your own children.
Every family is different, so the things you did as a parent won’t necessarily fly when you have grandkids. As a grandparent, you’re beholden to your grandchild’s parents’ rules, and you’d be well-advised to stick to them if you want to keep spending time with those little ones. After all, even if you think you really nailed the parenting thing, your own kid probably has a slightly different opinion of how their childhood went down, anyway.
Ignore potty training instructions.
Potty training can be a particularly difficult time, but it’s important you follow the rules to a T, lest you set your grandchild back. While it may be more work for you, it will definitely be easier in the long run when you’re not dealing with a six-year-old in diapers.
Impose your traditions on them.
Sure, everyone in your family may have had a christening or a bris, but that doesn’t mean your kids will necessarily continue that tradition. And certainly don’t sneak off to have any of those rituals done without their parents’ consent: a little holy water may seem like no big deal to you, but don’t be surprised if that’s the last activity your grandchild’s parents let you do with them. And when you want to know the origins of some of your own customs, check out these 20 “American” Traditions We Totally Stole from Other Cultures.
Supply non-stop treats.
While grandparents are notorious for indulging their grandchildren, that doesn’t mean you should take every opportunity to load them with sugar. Not only is having ice cream on a daily basis not a doctor-recommended practice, but also doing so can also make it difficult for parents to get their kids to return to a healthier diet when they get back home.
Offer life information without the parents’ permission.
There are plenty of big life lessons you might want to share with your grandkids, but doing so without their parents’ permission is likely to land you in hot water. As much of a boon as it might seem to explain death or procreation to your grandchildren, if their parents don’t think it’s the right time, it’s your job to hold off.
Break bedtime rules.
Getting kids to bed is difficult enough as it is without having someone breaking the bedtime rules and letting them stay up until all hours. If you want to stay on your own kids’ good side, it’s important to make sure their kids adhere to their bedtimes, even if you think staying up late once in a while couldn’t hurt.
Haircuts—especially first haircuts—are a big deal to a lot of parents, so giving an impromptu buzz cut to your grandkid probably won’t fly.
And considering that haircuts have a lot of cultural significance to some families, taking your grandchild to the salon without permission could lead to some serious turmoil with your own kids.
Criticize parents behind their back.
You may not think your children are parenting their kids right, but that doesn’t mean it’s ever okay to tell your grandkids that. It’s important for kids to see their adult role models as members of the same team—and, at the very least, you should remember that virtually anything you say about a kid’s parents will end up repeated to mom and dad.
Take your grandkids for major experiences that their parents might want to go along for.
Whether it’s their first time eating ice cream or their first trip to a movie in the theaters, it’s important for grandparents to ask before taking their grandkids out for a major life experience.
Just like you might have been sad to miss your own child’s first steps, you never know what milestones are a big deal to a kid’s parents until you ask.
Give unsolicited advice about parents’ feeding practices.
There’s enough of a raging debate on the internet and in public spaces about the relative benefits of breastfeeding versus formula feeding, so there’s no need to add to it personally.
There are countless factors behind why someone might choose to do one or the other, including medical issues, work schedules, and personal preference, so inserting your own opinion into the conversation will only add to a parent’s frustration.
Use dodgy remedies for medical issues.
If your grandchild’s parents tell you to give them a frozen washcloth or baby-safe pain medicine to relieve their teething issues, it’s important to adhere to those rules. If they come back and find their child weeping as you rub whiskey on their gums and put potatoes in their socks, don’t be surprised if you’re not asked to babysit again.
Reward bad behavior.
Yes, an additional showing of The Little Mermaid might get your flailing toddler grandchild to calm down, but, in most cases, so would ignoring that tantrum. And if you’re giving into your grandkids’ tantrums, you’re only making it harder for their parents to deal with them via their own methods at home.
Provide unlimited screen time.
While the debate over how much screen time is too much will likely rage on ad infinitum, one thing is clear: if your grandchild’s parents say there’s a set amount allowed, you should follow the letter of the law.
Criticize parents’ food choices.
Sure, you may not think that there’s much of a difference between organic food and the less expensive stuff your kids were raised on, but that doesn’t mean you can simply ignore how your grandkids’ parents want them to be fed. Silly as it may seem to you, if they say that organic cheese puffs and fruit snacks are better than traditionally-grown vegetables, it’s your job to oblige.
Revamp their wardrobe.
You may think that your grandchild looks absolutely adorable wearing nothing but tutus or clothing with cartoon characters on them, but if that’s not what their parents want them to wear, it’s important to respect that. After all, there will be plenty of opportunities to buy your grandkid clothes over their lifetime, but you won’t necessarily get the chance to do so if you start ignoring their parents’ rules at an early age.
Act too invested in a grandchild’s appearance.
Is it fine to tell your grandchild that you like their new haircut or love the way they did their makeup for Halloween? Of course. However, when you focus too much on their appearance on a daily basis, it can create an obsession with maintaining a certain standard for their looks, or make them feel like a failure when they fall short.
Shower your grandkids with toys.
A few gifts on birthdays or holidays is fine, but if your grandkids are getting new toys every time they come to your house, don’t be surprised when their parents ask you to stop. Aside from the fact that you’re setting up unrealistic expectations for the grandkids at a young age, you’re also clogging their home with crap. “While a grandparent’s job is to spoil the grandkids, their agenda can conflict with that of Mom and Dad and can lead to a clash,” says Slatkin.
Invite yourself along to family outings.
While many grandparents are undeniably important members of their families, it’s important to recognize that this doesn’t mean they’re automatically invited to everything their grandchild does. Sometimes, that means the new family making memories of their own without you in tow—and that’s okay, even if it stings a little at first.
Agree to new pets.
Pets can be wonderful companions, but they’re also an expensive long-term commitment. If you want to get a pet your grandchildren will adore, get one they can come visit at your house—don’t just show up with a golden retriever puppy with a red bow on its neck at their birthday. And if you do want to convince your kids to bring home a furry friend, clue them in to these 15 Amazing Benefits of Adopting a Pet.
Compare grandkids to their parents.
While you may think your grandchildren are perfect angels compared to their parents, comparing the two won’t go over well. Every family is different, and inviting comparisons between your kids and their kids will only make everyone involved feel less worthy.
Pick fights over holiday traditions.
It might be nice to imagine that your grandkids will be celebrating the Norman Rockwell-style Christmases with you that you’ve always imagined, but don’t be surprised when that’s not the case.
If you’re not the only set of grandparents, your grandkids may have to divide their time between homes at the holidays. And, of course, not every family wants to continue the religious or cultural traditions of their parents, so ask first before buying that Santa suit.
Force your grandkids to clean their plates.
Joining the Clean Plate Club may have been essential for your own kids, but that doesn’t mean your grandchildren have to follow suit. In fact, research from the Ohio State University Center for Clinical and Translational Science suggests that how a child is fed—and not just what they’re fed—is a major influence on childhood obesity.
Repeat your own parenting mistakes.
Just because you did something a certain way when your kids were growing up doesn’t mean that you should keep repeating those same choices with your grandkids—especially if you found that doing so had adverse outcomes. Your kids and your grandchildren are different people, and simply repeating your own previous parenting patterns doesn’t account for how the times have changed—or who your grandkids are as individuals.
Allow grandkids to wear things when their parents won’t.
If your grandchild’s parents say sun hats at the beach, no makeup, and no piercings until college, it’s important you heed those preferences. While you might think it’s adorable to take your grandchild to get their ears pierced, doing so without their parents’ consent is a major violation of their trust.
Ask your grandkids to reveal secrets about their parents.
You might want the inside scoop on what’s really going on in your grandchild’s home, from why that creditor was calling to why one of them was sleeping on the couch last night, but prying for information will rarely end well. Remember: kids love to repeat things, so anything you ask your grandkid will definitely make it back to their parents.
Just because you might prefer one of your grandchildren to the other doesn’t mean you should ever, ever make that known to them. Playing favorites will only make your grandchildren resent you and make your own children less-than-eager to have you watch their kids.
Promise more than you can deliver.
While it’s nice to imagine that you can give your grandkids the world, promising them things you can’t deliver will only leave them disappointed in the end. Keeping their expectations grounded in reality will serve you both better: they won’t be sad when you can’t take them to Disneyland every year and you won’t be burning through your retirement fund to get them everything their heart desires.
Reveal too much about mom or dad’s past.
You probably have tons of stories about your grandchild’s parents that you’d love to share. That said, telling your grandkids embarrassing moments from their parents’ past will only cause resentment between you and their parents, especially when their kids start bringing up what you’ve told them as a means of getting their way.
Showcase your own bad habits in front of your grandchildren.
Whether you’re smoking, drinking, cursing, or playing it fast and loose with the seatbelt laws, just know that those bad habits you’re engaging in now will get noticed by your grandchildren. And when their parents see their own children emulating those behaviors, don’t be surprised when your babysitting privileges get revoked.
Try to act as a surrogate parent.
While you may have a special bond with your grandkids, it’s important to remember that you’re not their actual parent. Though it may be difficult, taking a backseat to your grandchild’s actual parents when it comes to writing the rules about how they live and behave will keep everyone happier in the long run.