Mocha Dad and Moms: Setting Boundaries for Grandparents

Dealing with Overbearing Grandparents is a Significant Parenting Challenge

Parenting is a tough job. Add overbearing grandparents to the mix, and things can become quite stressful. Dealing with my kids’ grandparents has been one of my most difficult challenges as a mother.

There are two natural responses to dealing with this problem: 1. Keep quiet or 2. Go off on them to “nip it in the bud.” Neither response is a good idea.

Before addressing an overbearing grandparent, it is important to try to understand their perspective. Most grandparents believe they are parenting experts because they’ve “been there and done that.” They don’t intend to cause any trouble. They only want to show you how it’s really done. Furthermore, they feel as if it’s their job to come to the rescue of their beloved grandbabies and spoil them rotten.

Sure, their intentions are pure, but it doesn’t take away your feelings of disrespect. That’s why addressing the issue in a tactful way is important. Here’s my advice for handling an overbearing grandparent:

  • Get your spouse’s opinion. I know that I can be easily offended when it comes to my children. Talking things over with my husband helps me put things into perspective. He can tell me when my gripe is legit and when I’m just being sensitive.
  • Have a heart-to-heart talk with grandma and/or grandpa. Start this conversation by acknowledging what a great job they did in raising you or your spouse. This will relieve tension and help them to be more receptive. Tell them what your rules are and ask that they use them as guidelines when interacting with your child. Say things like, “I just want my kids to receive a consistent message” or “I just want us to be on the same page.”
  • Give it time. Even after the most heartfelt exchange, it takes time for the offenders… I mean grandparents to change their ways. Give it month or so. Be gracious with them and don’t watch them like a hawk when they are interacting with your kids.

If after expressing your feelings and giving it time you are still having issues, please revisit step one. If after a second attempt and  there’s no change, move to Albuquerque.

Briana McCarthy writes the blog The Mane Source.

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Setting Boundaries with Grandparents is Important

A peculiar thing happened between the time I left home and when I had children – my parents became these strange creatures whose only desire is to make their grandchildren happy. My wife noticed the same transformation in her parents.

It’s strange to watch my parents and in-laws allow my children to get away with things that would have earned my wife and me decades of punishment.

We often turn to each other with bewildered looks and ask, “Who are these people?”

They ply our kids with copious amounts of sweets, let them watch whatever they want to on TV, and buy them extravagant gifts. They believe it is their duty to spoil their grandchildren. We try to complain, but our complaints fall on deaf ears.

Here is a typical conversation between my mom and me when we drop off the kids:

Me: Mom, the kids need to go to bed at 8:30pm and they’ve had plenty of candy today so they don’t need any dessert.

Mom: Get out of my house. I know how to take care of my grandchildren.

When I return to pick up the kids, they always give me a report something like this:

“Daddy, Granny bought us a sugar factory and a pet alligator. She also showed us funny pictures of you when you were a kid. And we haven’t slept since you left.”

I just shake my head, load the children into the minivan and try not to get bitten by the alligator.

In all seriousness, I often have to take a stand with my parents. My mother has a tendency to tell the children to keep secrets from my wife and me. She doesn’t want us knowing how much she actually spoils them.

I had to tell her that encouraging my kids to keep secrets from their parents is absolutely forbidden. Many children are abused because their abuser told them to keep a secret. Not that I’m saying my parents would harm my kids, but I don’t want them to ever believe that keeping secrets is acceptable. I want my kids to feel comfortable telling me anything.

Overall, the grandparents respect our opinions and rules, but they are apt to cross the line periodically. Those are the times when my wife and I tactfully restate our position and give them the opportunity to adjust their behavior which usually works. But we try not to be too hard on them because we realize that they are only trying to give their grandchildren the best of everything.

Stay Strong,

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Question: Do you deal with overbearing grandparents? If so, how to you cope with it?

Mocha Dad and Moms is a regular column where I discuss parenting topics with moms. If you’d like to be one of the featured moms, send me a message with your idea to fjgoodall@mochadad.com.

About the author
Frederick J. Goodall is the founder of Mocha Dad - a parenting website focused on fatherhood. He is passionate about parenting and helping men to be great dads, husbands, and role models. You can contact him at fjgoodall@mochadad.com or on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/mochadad
  1. Y’all nailed it! Let’s just say that I have tried to set boundaries with my in-laws and it’s a no-go. From expensive accessories for her very expensive doll to $40 trips to the movie theater and new “something” every time they go to their house. And, let’s not mention to “mom” that they ate nearly a dozen Dunkin Donuts for breakfast! yeah. each time I say something nicely I get the “listen, they are only here for like 24hours… spiel and the.. this is what grandparents are supposed to do.” I’m like… no…. grandparents are supposed to love on their grandbabies. nowhere do i see the “supposed to give them junk, let them go to bed WAY past their bedtime and buy them stuff they don’t need.” *sigh.

  2. bigguysmama -

    This is a new issue for me since I now live by my parents. My kids have all grown up without them, and we have a completely new dynamic now. My younger brother (27) lives at home and my mom does his laundry for him, etc. Now, if I get my youngest cereal for breakfast, I’m waiting on my kids hand and foot. *insert eye roll*. I have to say, I appreciate that you have spoken up to your parents about what isn’t acceptable. I would expect the same from my husband. It’s a much needed leadership role that seems to go lacking often.