6 Challenging Grandparental Types and How to Establish Limits

If you’re giong through challenging grandparental types and how to establish limits’ in your family, our experts and other parents who have experienced the same can provide valuable insights. Dealing with the grandparent-grandchild relationship can sometimes be tricky, but we’re here to support you through it.

Once upon a time, a woman named Mary left her son with her parents while she and her husband were on a trip. On her return to her grandparents’ home, Mary discovered that her son’s hair had been short-cropped. “He just appeared unkempt,” her mother stated. Mary remained silent but was enraged for years following.

It’s no secret that grandmother-grandchild relationships can be complicated, but strategies exist to negotiate even the toughest grandparent styles. And there are strong reasons to do so: the emotional and practical support grandparents provide, the ways they tie you and your children to your family’s past, and the service you provide for your child by establishing a relationship with their grandparents. Studies have shown that grandparents have a good impact on the lives of their grandchildren, offering emotional support and acting as a playmate in ways that parents frequently lack time to accomplish.

Despite the potential advantages, not all grandparent-grandchild or even grandparent-child relationships will be ideal. Our parents and in-laws will eventually bother us, even though we adore them and know they love our children and us. It is human nature for people to annoy one another.

The author of How to Speak to Anybody About Anything, Jill Spiegel, states: “Every connection contains both the capacity for love and conflict. They are here to aid in our growth.” According to Amita K. Patel, a licensed clinical social worker and psychotherapist in New York City, quarrels escalate when emotions run high, as they often do amongst parents, children, and grandchildren. “When children enter the picture, there is a significant shift in roles for both new parents and new grandparents,” she adds. “Parents may realize that their self-perception as parenting experts is not universally shared by their children.”

To assist in making the most of this vital relationship, we asked experts and seasoned parents to identify six frequent grandmother behaviors that weigh on families and to suggest caring solutions for addressing them.

1. The Line Crosser

This may be the most common complaint parents have about their parents or in-laws: that they assert their viewpoint when it hasn’t been asked for, come around too often, or even appear to desire the dominant position in their child’s life. A mother who requested anonymity said, “My husband and I recently discovered the ideal daycare, but my mother-in-law lost her mind since we didn’t ask for her opinion beforehand.”

How to cope:

Spiegel states, “disputes arise when a grandparent wrongly believes they have ownership of the situation.”

It makes sense: they were accountable for your wellbeing for years, and it can be tough to accept that they are no longer your decision maker. According to Chicago-based family systems–focused therapist Bethany Cook, Psy. D “Even when you’re an adult, the dynamics you’ve shared with your parents throughout your life tend to persist. They will likely be intrusive grandparents if they were overbearing parents.”

You might be able to stop the intrusion by involving the grandparent in ways that feel natural. “If they’re continually calling or barging in, think, ‘She wants to feel that we love her and she’s a part of our lives,'” recommends Spiegel. “You can say, “We appreciate that you are thinking of us. We are not always accessible to answer the phone, so let’s schedule a time to speak.” No matter how the issue is approached, a boundary must be established. Dr. Cook states, “For a child to feel safe, he or she must know who is in authority.” If they receive different messages from Mom and Grandma, it can be both perplexing and destabilizing.

2. The Snide Sniper

The belief that if one has nothing nice to say, they should refrain from speaking? These individuals missed the memo. Their barbs (microinsults, scathing remarks) can create resentment, fury, and tiredness; continual criticism is taxing. In several instances, the injuries are literal: A mother in Portland, Oregon, whose in-laws visited shortly after she gave birth, said this “My mother-in-law reprimanded me for not covering up while breastfeeding in my own home, after which she suggested that I take a walk outdoors. She protested that I was moving too slowly, so I walked more quickly and tore apart my vaginal stitches.”

How to cope:

It’s more probable that your critical parent or in-law is clueless than harsh, says Spiegel; most prod out of love. Said an Omaha mom, “My mother-in-law ridiculed our daughter’s name because it was “difficult to pronounce.” Felicity is the name in question.” Yet, the mother-in-law may be concerned that the name is too uncommon and that the child would be teased. It may explain the behavior, but it does not excuse it. Dr. Cook explains that this frequently occurs when a grandparent has a problem with your decisions but lacks the self-esteem to say so. “It may be a means to express disdain without taking the risk of being straightforward.”

Patel suggests requesting that the parent speak clearly. “Respond to a passive-aggressive shot with, “Can you please clarify what you’re trying to say?” This may encourage them to feel comfortable communicating with you.” And ask yourself, “Is this really an insult, or does it really bother me because my parent is saying it?” Or, as Patel says, “Remember that assumptions seldom mend. They only perpetuate what is ineffective.”

3. The Scorekeeper

Comparing their portion to that of others is an obsession for some. When a grandchild’s affection is considered in danger, the tally keeper’s efforts can intensify. A mother from Queens, New York, says, “Because we only saw relatives outside then, we recommended to my in-laws that we hold a Thanksgiving feast in the backyard on the Saturday before the holiday when the weather is great. My mother-in-law assumed it was that day since we were visiting my parents for the real holiday, but we weren’t. She then launched into a 16-plus year-long list of instances in which she felt we had chosen my parents above her. Her total was wildly wrong.”

How to cope:

Spiegel suggests demonstrating to the “cheated” individual all the ways they are actually winning. “This relates to anxiety. Thus, emphasize their leading role in the child’s life: “You’re the only ones who’ve ever taken her apple picking, and she loved it!” Help them feel individually cherished. You can also invite all the grandparents to supper; competing is more difficult when everyone is on the same team.”

The idea is to consider the emotions at play and communicate with them, adds Patel. “I would recommend that parents question themselves, “Am I battling to solve this or to win?” If you are attempting to demonstrate that their count is incorrect or that they do not have the authority to decide who you see, take a step back and lower your emotional temperature. Afterwards, let them express their emotions and assure them that they are important family members. That is what people yearn to hear.” Dr. Cook agrees: “Frequently, what individuals truly desire is not ‘equality’ but rather more of something they believe they are lacking. Ask them, “Do you want more sleepovers? More FaceTime chats? Strive to get to the bottom of what is truly bothering them.”

4. The Questionable Advice Giver

Parents adore and even thrive on giving their children advice. A reminder to floss is good, but if the suggestions are odd or perhaps hazardous (“Boys can’t wear purple!” “Give her rice porridge or she’ll never sleep!”) and delivered too insistently, it can be difficult to take them seriously.

How to cope:

Spiegel says, “You can say, ‘I’ll make a mental note of that.'” Validating them is essential. If the feedback feels like an intimation of your incapacity, you could add, “It would mean a lot if you could express your confidence in us.” Spiegel said he hopes they will hear this and realize they have been giving this advice without realizing how it sounded.

What if they disregard your parental authority? Then, Patel argues, “It is time to establish a limit. Convey your emotions without being accusatory: “When you query how I do this, I feel frustrated” is more helpful than “You are so out of touch!” According to Dr. Cook, for some grandparents, your disagreement with their parenting methods can feel like a personal insult as if you are implicitly criticizing their parenting choices. Chatting with them can be beneficial. You may say, “I’m building upon what you’ve done.” It has nothing to do with you; I’m just trying to be a good parent.”

A Los Angeles mother created her own remedy in the interim. “My mother mimics babies and toddlers whenever they cry or moan on Skype, which is her One True Method for calming them down. She will mimic his cries by saying, “Waaah waaah waaah, I want to climb on the table!” It frustrates me to no end. Thus, I now mute her and discipline her myself as she throws a phony tantrum.”

5. The Danger

Whether they are easily distracted, a bit too rough, or out of touch with the ways of young children, some grandparents are simply not great at caring for small children. Another Los Angeles mother writes, “When our kid was born, my mother nearly caused a house fire by placing wet towels in the oven to dry. At the age of one, we all went on a trip. As my husband and I were packing, she watched our children. She wandered off, and our son crawled to the stair’s edge and nearly fell.”

How to cope:

Dr. Cook is direct: “You are not required to expose your children to harmful people, regardless of their position.” Spiegel also recommends temporary disengagement if you’re dealing with, for example, a grandfather who engages in too much roughhousing for your liking. “You could say, “Ava enjoys your visits, but I’m concerned about the wrestling, so I’d like it if you could skip that.” If they resist, you can respond, “Well, I’m glad that works for you, but it does not work for me.” Hence, let’s take a month off to consider a possible compromise.'”

6. The Absentee Ancestor

The above instances share a common theme: engagement. (In certain circumstances, too much.) However, some grandparents may not prioritize their grandchildren as one might think or wish. One Brooklyn, New York, mother laments, “My father hasn’t met my 1-year-old daughter, although he lives an hour away; he’s preoccupied with his own life and doesn’t seem interested, and it saddens me.” This is an extreme case; more typical is a grandparent immersed in a life of travel, socializing, and quiet time who loves their grandchild but does not live to lavish them with attention.

How to cope:

Assess your expectations. Are you confusing their independence for lack of interest in your child? Note that your parents have already raised children and may not be interested in doing so again. When you see other grandmothers sitting in the front row at the dancing recital, it can be difficult to accept, but you may need to adjust your perspective. Dr. Cook says, “We typically conceive of grandparents as soft, cuddly individuals who bake cookies. Yet, they are simply people. We invite difficulties when we attribute impossibilities to others.”

What is the greatest way to determine how your parents or in-laws feel about grandparenthood? Patel suggests asking them how they envision the relationship developing. “Ask what would allow them to live their own lives while still feeling fulfilled by the relationship.” You may not receive the response you desire, but at least the truth will be revealed. Spiegel states, “For some, being very involved with grandchildren is simply not their thing.” You can reassure your child that it is not a judgment on them by saying, “I know she loves you, and we’ll call her occasionally.”

Dr. Cook reminds us that there are willing substitutes available. If you are open to the idea, I guarantee there is a wonderful individual in your neighborhood who wishes they were closer to their grandchildren and would love to spend time with yours.

Meaningful articles you might like: How the American Family is Changing, Assisting Your Child in Adjusting to a New Sibling, How to Deal with Grandparents Who Have Different Values