When Grandparents Interfere with Parenting

5 mins read

Many parents find it intrusive when their own parents interfere with their parenting strategies. In an ideal situation, parents raise their children in whatever way they want, while the grandparents enjoy the privilege of spoiling their grandchildren.

But what happens when the grandparents abandon this role and try to be the parents instead?

Grandparents Undermining Parents

Certainly, grandparents who have to take on the parenting role because the children’s parents are either not there or are simply not taking responsibility deserve honor and recognition for being parents for a second time. But grandparents who are too assertive are often unaware of the fine line between parenting and grandparenting.

Initially, the grandparents may seem helpful. They might buy the children treats and toys, help around the house, or assist with the childcare responsibilities. However, sometimes their unsolicited advice is irritating instead of useful.

Obviously, no parents like to be undermined by their own parents! In this situation, parents need to declare their rightful authority, set clear boundaries, and take charge of all decisions regarding their children. But how do they go about this?

The decision to provide care is often based on an “impulse to care,” especially among custodial and living-with grandparents. —Margaret Platt Jendrek, PhD
Miami University Oxford.
Source: The Gerontologist

How to Get Grandparents to Back Off

Well, grandparents shouldn’t back off completely. They shouldn’t abandon their grandparenting roles. But the children are primarily the parents’ responsibility, and therefore, the parents are the ones who make decisions for the children and determine how to raise them.

So, the parents need to treat the situation subtly and gently so that the grandparents don’t feel unwanted. After all, it is their parental instinct that makes the grandparents want to help the parents when they see them struggling with their children. It is simply a natural, caring instinct rooted firmly in their hearts.

Here are a few tips that might help parents deal with overassertive grandparents.

Don’t Be Skeptical about Everything

Don’t confront the grandparents about everything. Remember, they mean well. Let them spoil the children a bit. Breaking a few small rules here and there won’t do any real harm, will it? Step in only when absolutely necessary. Also, stop and think. Are your reservations really justified, or are you simply annoyed?

Communicate Openly

Looking on from a distance and frowning never helps. Communicate openly with the grandparents and be clear about the rules. However, tread carefully to avoid hurting anyone’s feelings.

Instead of saying “I know what’s best for my child!” try saying “I appreciate your advice, but . . .”

Instead of getting angry with them when they meddle in affairs, try saying “Thank you for your advice, but I think I can handle this.”

The best way for the parents to let the grandparents know that they can take care of themselves and their children is by showing them instead of just talking.

Get an Expert Involved

Perhaps, despite the parents’ best efforts, the grandparents still give the children too many sweets or allow too much screen time. If the parents are having a hard time enforcing the rules because of the grandparents, meet together with a pediatrician and let him or her explain. The word of an expert may be more convincing, and it might save parents the trouble of repeating themselves over and over again to grandparents who just won’t listen.

Many people formed their best childhood memories with their grandparents, and parents certainly want this for their children as well. But this cannot happen until all the bickering and opposition between the parents and grandparents stop. In order for children to form strong bonds with their grandparents, parents should do whatever it takes to strengthen their relationship. This is not easy, but it is definitely worth the effort.

When Grandparents Interfere with Parenting


Jendrek, Margaret Platt. “Grandparents Who Parent Their Grandchildren: Circumstances and Decisions.” The Gerontologist 34, no. 2 (1994): 206–216. Retrieved from https://academic.oup.com

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