5 Ways to Deal with Difficult Grandparents

Mighty Mommy has 5 tips to help families stay on a happy and loving path when grandparents and parents just don’t see eye to eye about the kids.

Cheryl Butler
7-minute read
Episode #468

image of grandparents with their grandchild

For the five-plus years I tried to become pregnant, not only was I disappointed for my husband and I, I was also hurting for our parents—because I knew they were incredibly anxious to become grandparents. They supported us every step of the way through our challenging infertility journey, and the moment we became parents I honestly think they were more excited than we were.

Grandparents are a warm, loving extension of parenthood. When I became a mom for the first time nearly 25 years ago, my own mother was beyond elated, and she stated then (and now) that being a grandparent is one of life’s most amazing joys, even better than being a parent.

I couldn’t agree more! Having loving grandparents to share in all the special (and difficult) moments of parenting is a true gift. They love unconditionally, are ready, willing, and able to lend a helping hand, babysit whenever we need them and of course, spoil them rotten. It all sounds so fairytale perfect. That is, until parents and grandparents disagree on how to raise our special darlings.

Grandparents have had a pivotal role in the lives of their grandkids for centuries, but despite this special relationship there have been many an instance that these dynamics can become complicated and confrontational when parent and grandparent go head to head in the delicate balancing act of raising a child.

Mighty Mommy has navigated this terrain for over two decades and has five tips to help families stay on a happy and loving path when grandparents and parents just don’t see eye to eye about the kids.

5 Strategies in Dealing with Difficult Grandparents

  1. Be Clear on Deal-Breakers
  2. Be Upfront When Boundaries Are Crossed
  3. Consider Their Perspective
  4. Don’t Put Your Kids in the Middle
  5. Find a Happy Medium

Let’s explore these in more detail.

1. Be Clear on Deal Breakers

Just as we do with our kids and other relationships such as that of a boss and employee, it’s important to establish clear expectations, as early on as possible, about what you as the parent deem acceptable in terms of rules and behaviors. For example, my husband and I were adamant that my mother-in-law not give them soda for every drink (we’re talking gallons!) when our kids visited, and we insisted on their using the magic words when they had a request. “Grandma, can we please go outside and play?” as opposed to “Take me to the playground, I’m bored here.” 

Decide on your deal-breakers and talk it out with your grandparents. If they’re not aware of these, they really can’t be blamed when they make a mistake. Perhaps they feel unsure of what you want or don’t want from them. Let them know how they can be helpful to you. Help them feel included and needed because most grandparents truly just want to share their love and time with their grandkids.

2. Be Upfront When Boundaries Are Crossed

Sooner or later, it’s going to happen—a well-intentioned (or sometimes “pushy”) grandparent is going to cross the line and say or do something in regards to your parenting that will make you cringe. Try not to get defensive, but instead calmly and matter-of-factly share your thoughts. For instance, my mother-in-law was a firm believer that the kids should run the show when they were visiting at her house. After letting them physically run throughout her home, tear into any set of toys they felt like playing with (and not clean them up!), they could then turn her into a short-order cook and have any culinary delight whipped up for them on demand. And then—there was the soda. She had it poured the minute our car pulled in the driveway. The word “no” was simply not in her vocabulary. Talk about sending mixed messages to our young tribe of eight kids—they loved going to “Club Grandma” as often as possible. When we returned home, we had to work twice as hard to get them back on track with the structure we provided them on a daily basis. We finally had to sit down and have a heart-to-heart with Grandma about the situation.

We explained our great appreciation for how much she loved and spoiled the kids, but with a large family like ours, we had to be consistent with rules and expectations wherever we went. I’m a diabetic so I was able to use that as a pre-cursor as to why they just couldn’t have all that soda—one of them could be next. She had lots of wisdom to share, which we were happy to hear, but when it came to how the kids ate and behaved, she had to stay the course with how we were doing it. This didn’t happen overnight, but we were consistent in giving her friendly reminders about what we would accept and eventually she got the message. We started letting her take them to some of their practices after school or help with carpools (we were always outnumbered so what a gift to have this kind of help) and that gave her an important role which she truly cherished. It was more important for her to feel valued than to go against our wishes and let them get away with things just to be liked.


About the Author

Cheryl Butler

Cheryl L. Butler is the mother of eight children. Her experiences with infertility, adoption, seven pregnancies, and raising children with developmental delays have helped her become a resource on the joys and challenges of parenting. Call the Mighty Mommy listener line at 401-284-7575 to ask a parenting question. Your call could be featured on the show!