Grandparents can be a lifesaver. They can improve discipline strategies, give wise advice to new parents who find themselves in over their heads, and offer babysitting services on those rare — and highly valued — date nights. Yet even the most attentive grandparents can still screw up from time to time through a variety of parenting methods, going against the wishes of their parents, and seek to spoil their grandchildren too much.
Rabbi Shlomo Slatkin, LCPC, imago therapist and co-founder of the Marriage Restoration Project, says that even though “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.”
Grandparents can be loving, but at the same time, they must “respect the parents’ values and standards and not overstep boundaries or undermine” them. With that in mind, if you’re a grandparent, make sure you know these important things grandmas and grandpas can stop doing in order to remain on the right side with everyone.
Request more grandchildren.
Not every family has the means or desire to have multiple children, and for some— like those battling with fertility problems— requests for additional grandchildren can be traumatic. Before you say something that might possibly strain your relationship, just realize how lucky you are to be a grandparent in the first place.
Give naming advice.
But if you have a family history of passing on names generation upon generation, that doesn’t guarantee that your own children will keep doing it. The more you suggest a name — or, worse, insist on a name — the more you are likely to offend not only your child, but also your child’s spouse. At best, the ideas will be ignored; at worst, they will be resented.
Post about your grandkids online without their parents’ permission.
Sure, you may want everybody to see the lovely picture of you holding your grandchild, but their parents may have a different opinion. Some parents don’t like to put photos or details about their young children online, so it’s best to get parental permission to post any grandchild content on your Facebook page.
Hand off your grandkids to anyone who wants to hold them.
Not everybody who comments how adorable your grandchildren are needs to physically touch them. And as the coronavirus pandemic reminded us, you never know who’s infected with something that could transmit to that vulnerable little one.
Or let other folks watch your grandkids.
So, you’ve got your grandkids for the weekend, but you’d also planned to meet a couple of friends in town. And since the little ones are sleeping, it’s not a big deal to let your supportive, trustworthy neighbor keep watch over the baby monitor from your living room when you’re going out for an hour or two, isn’t it?
Nope! If you’re the one who agreed to watch your grandkids, you ‘d better make sure you ‘re the one who’s actually watching them all the time they ‘re under your care, or you’re at risk of getting permanently fired from that job.
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 automatically fly when you have grandchildren. As a grandparent, you are bound by the rules of your grandchild’s parents, so you would be well encouraged to stick to them if you wanted to keep spending time with your grandchildren. After all, even though you think you’ve really mastered the parenting aspect, your own kid still has a somewhat different perspective of how their childhood went down.
Be lax about car seat safety.
Car crashes are the main cause of death and injury to children in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ( CDC). So this means that the safety of the car seat is no joking matter. So even if children were never allowed to ride in the front seat, or you played fast and loose with your own children’s seatbelts or restraints, and they survived, that doesn’t mean that doing the same thing is acceptable to your grandkids. You may not be able to drive them around any longer if you don’t follow the laws of their parents on the road.
Use unsafe sleep practices.
As babies, your children could have slept on their bellies in cribs full of stuffed animals and blankets. However, if your now grown-up children insist on using only the sleeping habits recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics for their babies, it’s up to you to stick to them. Don’t just presume that everything’s going to be great because you’ve got factual proof to support your point of view: if your kids claim that the baby goes on their back in an empty crib, that’s how they need to sleep, even hen they’re at your house.
Break bedtime rules.
Putting children to bed is complicated enough as it is, without anyone breaking the bedtime rules and making them stay up for all the hours. If you want to stay on the good side of your own kids, it’s essential to make sure that their kids stick to their bedtime set, whether or not you think that staying up late once in a while can’t hurt.
Disregard instructions about discipline.
When your grandchild ‘s parents have a clear policy on the treatment of their child, it is up to you to obey that rule as well. Which means following their rules, no matter how dumb they might sound to you.
Or reward bad behavior.
Yes, an additional show of The Little Mermaid might get your flailing toddler’s grandchild to stay calm, but, in most cases, so would ignoring that tantrum. And if you give in to your grandchildren’s fits, you ‘re only making it harder for their parents to cope with them at home through their own methods.
Give your input about a parent’s choice to work or stay home.
It makes sense for some families to have one parent stay at home, while others pay the ever-increasing cost of childcare by having both parents work. Even if you have strong feelings on who is juggling what, you ‘d be very smart to keep them to yourself.
Insist on outfits for the new baby.
Is that small sailor suit you brought for your new cute grandchild cute? Oh. Sure. Is it more than a bit insensitive, too, to insist that the new parents dress their child in it? Definitely. Of course, you want your gift worn by your new granddaughter for a special event. Needless to say, however, it’s not your place to make sure they ‘re wearing something you got them for their first family photos.
Discuss “baby weight.”
While new parents may be willing to lose the weight they gained during pregnancy, it’s never pleasant to have someone else start a conversation about it. If you’re not telling someone to lose weight for no reason, it’s not appropriate to do it during a particularly vulnerable time, after they’ve given birth.
Or comment on your grandkids’ weight.
Whether slim or heavy, grandparents who make remarks about their grandchildren’s weight are likely to suffer the anger of their children and grandchildren alike. It’s not a big deal if you don’t serve dessert at home or inspire your grandchildren to go hiking instead of watching TV while they’re staying at home.
But telling them that they’ve gained a few, or saying that their thin frame looks sick, isn’t going to make them eat healthier. If anything, it may be a cause for a lifetime of self-doubt— or even disordered eating. In reality, the 2014 research published in the Journal of Adolescent Health indicates a clear correlation between feeding practices of caregivers and eating-related unhealthy attitudes.
Force your grandkids to clean their plates.
Joining the Clean Plate Club may have been important to your own children, but that doesn’t mean that your grandchildren have to follow that example. In reality, research from the Ohio State University Center for Clinical and Translational Science in 2014 shows that how a child is fed— and not just what they are fed— is a significant factor in childhood obesity.
Or supply a bottomless amount of treats.
Grandparents are known to indulge their grandchildren, but that doesn’t mean you should take every chance to load them with sugar. Not only is it decidedly not a doctor-recommended practice to have ice cream on a daily basis, but it can also find it harder for parents to get their children back to a healthier diet when they get home.
Or criticize their parents’ food choices.
You may not think that there’s a lot of difference between organic food and the cheapest stuff your kids were raised on, but that doesn’t mean you should just forget how your grandchildren ‘s parents want it to be fed. Silly as it might sound to you, if they suggest the organic cheese puffs and fruit snacks are better than conventional packaged versions, you should respect their decision.
Give unsolicited advice about feeding practices.
There’s plenty of a raging controversy on the internet and in public spaces about the relative benefits of breastfeeding and formula feeding, so there’s no need to add your own opinion to it. There are numerous reasons behind why someone would want to do one thing or another, including medical conditions, job schedules, and personal preferences, so adding your own opinion into the discussion would only add to a parent’s frustration.
Ignore health requirements.
No matter how absurd you might think the parent’s request to wash your hands one more time before you hold their child is, it’s their responsibility to ask you—and that’s especially important in the age of coronavirus. If you chose not to obey, don’t be shocked if they don’t let you around their sweet little one.
Or use dodgy remedies for medical issues.
When your grandchild ‘s parents advise you to give them a frozen washcloth or baby-safe pain medication to ease their teething problems, it is necessary to abide by those rules. When they come back and find their baby crying while you rub alcohol on their gums, you might not get to babysit again.
Insist on holding a crying baby.
If your grandkid starts screaming for their parents, don’t insist on holding them. You may think you ‘re a baby whisperer, but the trick that always worked to stop your own children from crying when they were little isn’t completely effective— and holding an upset child out of their main sources of comfort is likely to make the situation worse.
Compare your grandkids to their parents.
Each family is different, and encouraging similarities between your children and their children are likely to make someone feel less worthy. While you may see your grandchildren as sweet little angels compared to their parents, comparing the two won’t go well.
Repeat your own parenting mistakes.
Just because you did it a certain way while your kids were growing up doesn’t mean that you can keep making the same choices with your grandchildren — especially if you’ve noticed that doing so has had some negative outcomes. Your children and grandchildren are different people, and constantly repeating your own patterns of parenting does not account for how the times have changed, or who your grandchildren are as individuals.
Criticize your kids in front of your grandkids.
You may not think your children are parenting their children right, but that doesn’t mean it’s okay to tell them that. It’s important for children to see their adult role models as members of the same team— and, at the very least, you should remember that almost anything you say about a child’s parents ends up being repeated back to your mom or dad.
Bad-mouth other family members.
You may not like your child’s mother-in-law, but speaking badly about their other grandma in front of them may not go over well with their parents. Your children may stop letting you go unsupervised around their children if they don’t trust you not to say rude things.
Ignore potty training instructions.
Potty training can be an especially challenging time, but it’s important that you follow the rules of the T, so that you don’t set your grandchild back. Yes, it may be more work for you, but it will certainly be easier in the long run if you’re not dealing with a six-year-old in diapers.
Impose your traditions.
Sure, everybody in your family may have had a christening or a bris, but that doesn’t mean that your children will actually follow the practice. And don’t slip away to get any of those rituals performed without the permission of your parents: a little holy water may sound like no big deal to you, but it might be the last thing your kids might let you do with your grandchildren.
Or pick fights over holidays.
Who doesn’t want the Norman Rockwell-style Christmas for their children and grandchildren? Well, sadly, that may not always be possible. When you’re not the only set of grandparents, your grandchildren can have to split their time between holiday homes. You know how hard this is, don’t you? It’s definitely not worth arguing that.
Push educational choices.
You may think that public school offers a better foundation for children than private schools. Perhaps you can’t picture your grandchildren being taught outside a Montessori setting. You may think that religious instruction is a necessary aspect of the school day. No matter what you want for your grandchildren, remember that it’s up to their parents to decide where they should be educated—and your preference may not fit their budget or priorities.
Or force certain extracurricular activities.
Your kids may have loved to play the piano, play Taekwondo, or play ballet, but that doesn’t mean your grandchildren have the same preferences. Even if you’re offering cash out for lessons that you’re sure will improve their lives, don’t ask your grandchildren to engage in activities only because you want them to. After many long school days and a mountain of homework to get through, the chances are that they already have a lot on their plates.
Promise more than you can deliver.
Each and every grandparent wants to give the world to their grandchildren. But promising them something that you can’t deliver will only leave them frustrated in the end. Keeping their expectations grounded in reality would serve both of you better: they ‘re not going to be disappointed if you can’t take them to Disney World every year, and you’re not going to burn out your retirement fund to get them what their hearts want.
Offer “life lessons” without their parents’ permission.
There are a lot of wonderful life lessons that you might want to share with your grandchildren, but doing so without their parents ‘ permission is likely to put you in hot water. As much fun as it may be to describe death or procreation to your grandchildren, if their parents don’t think it’s the right moment, you’ve got to avoid.
Haircuts — especially the first haircuts— are a big deal for a lot of parents, so giving your grandchildren an improvised short haircut you’ll probably start a war. And given that haircuts have a lot of cultural significance for some families, taking your grandchild to their first haircut without permission could lead to some serious trouble with your own children.
Take your grandkids for major experiences without discussing it first.
Whether it’s their first time eating ice cream or their first attempt to ride a bike, it ‘s important for grandparents to ask for a major life experience before taking their grandchildren out. Just like you may have been sad to skip your own child’s first steps, you never know what milestones are a big deal for your child’s parents until you ask.
Or invite yourself along to family outings.
Although many grandparents are undoubtedly important members of their families, it is important to note that this does not mean that they are automatically invited to anything that their grandchild does. Sometimes, a new family may want to make memories of their own— and that’s great, even though it stings a little at first.
Provide unlimited screen time.
The argument about how much screen time is too much is likely to go on until the screens no longer exist. However, one thing is for sure: if your grandchild’s parents claim that a certain amount is required, you should follow the letter of the law.
Give your two cents about their family structure.
Families come in all shapes and sizes, and giving your input on how you think your grandchildren ‘s family should look will never lead to positive results. It might take a minute for you to come to terms with the fact that your grandchildren won’t be raised exactly the same way that you raised their parents, but it’s important to demonstrate that you really love and support their families.
Scare your grandkids with old wives’ tales.
You might think it’s hilarious to tell your grandchildren that their eyes will get stuck if they turn them over to you, or joke about the monsters under the bed, but you never know which of those tall tales will become real worries for your grandchildren— and those their parents will have to deal with. If you want to keep it nice to your grandchildren’s parents, try to stop telling those scary tales, even though they sound fairly harmless to you.
Gift new pets.
Pets can be great friends, but they’re also an expensive and serious long-term commitment. If you want to get a pet that your grandkids will love, get one they can visit at your house — don’t just show up with a golden retriever puppy with a red bow on his neck at their birthday party.
Allow your grandkids to wear things their parents wouldn’t allow.
As hard as it might sound, if your grandkid’s parents have a strict rule against piercing and insist that hats should not be worn indoors, it’s important that you take care of those preferences. If you don’t, that might be a big violation of their trust.
Just because you might prefer one of your grandchildren to the other doesn’t mean you’re supposed to make that known. Playing favorites would only make your grandchildren hate you — and make your own children less-than-eager to let you spend time with their kids.
Ask your grandkids to reveal secrets about their parents.
You may like the inside scoop on what’s really going on in your grandchild ‘s house, why the creditor was calling about why one of the grown-ups was sleeping on the couch last night. Yet asking the little ones for details is never going to end well. Remember, kids tend to repeat things, and whatever you ask your grandchildren something, it is going to make it back to their parents.
Or reveal too much about their parents’ past.
You probably have a lot of stories about your grandchild’s parents that you’d love to share. That said, telling your grandchildren embarrassing moments from their parents’ past will only lead to resentment between you and their parents—especially when your grandchildren begin to bring up what you told them to do as a method to get their way.
Showcase your own bad habits in front of your grandchildren.
Whether you’re smoking, drinking, cursing, or playing fast and loose with the rule of the seatbelt, just remember that your grandchildren will note those nasty behaviors you ‘re in now. So when their parents see their own children imitate these habits, don’t be shocked when the babysitting privileges are revoked.
Allow your grandkids to do something illegal.
Sure, letting your grandkids steer while you’re driving around an empty parking lot or giving them a sip of wine at dinner when their parents aren’t around that might not seem like a bad idea to you, but it might be to their primary caregivers. After all, when your 16-year-old grandchildren will tell mom or dad that they’re “still allowed to drink” at home, prepare for some serious repercussions (no matter how much their parents asked you for wine when they were 16).
Try to act as a surrogate parent.
As unique as your relationship with your grandchildren is, it’s important to note that you’re not their parent. Although it may be challenging to take a backseat to your own children when it comes to writing rules on how your grandchildren live and behave, it will keep everyone happy in the long run.
Lay on guilt trips.
It’s understandable that you’re totally in love with your grandchildren. That said, if you’re not promptly asked to be a constant fixture in your grandchild’s life, especially in the first few months, that doesn’t mean it’s time to start laying the “you never know how many years I have left” lines.
The first few months of a child’s life are a challenge for both the little one and the parents, and it’s only going to make you persona non grata in their lives to steal the new family from your lack of inclusion.
Reinforce gender stereotypes.
Although gender roles might have been well established when you were growing up— and there may have been repercussions for breaking those expectations at the time — that doesn’t mean you can impose those old-fashioned views on your grandchildren. If your grandchild likes to play with a toy, let him play with a doll. Don’t tell your granddaughter that she’s going to be a nurse instead of a doctor while she’s in the hospital. So don’t make a big deal of a kid wearing pink or blue, no matter their age.
Expect your kids to spend the same way you did.
You may have been able to take your children on vacation every year and send them to ridiculously priced camps every summer, but you shouldn’t expect their parents to do the same thing. Not every family has that financial privilege, and expecting your grandchildren to live according to your standards will only put extra stress on them and their parents.
Expect physical affection.
Getting hugs and cuddles from your grandchildren may be a fantastic feeling, but that doesn’t mean you should ever insist on receiving physical affection. If your grandchildren don’t want a cuddle, it may be frustrating, but trying to force them to give you one teaches them the wrong lesson about bodily autonomy.
Shower your grandkids with toys.
A couple of presents on birthdays or holidays is just fine, but your grandchildren shouldn’t be having new things every time they come to your house. Aside from setting unreasonable standards for your grandchildren at a young age, you ‘re also filling up their homes.
Or give them noisy toys.
That drum kit, video game, or vuvuzela horn may seem like a fun show to you, but it’s probably just because you’re not going to have to live in close proximity to the person playing with them.
Are mom and dad are strong advocates for politeness? If you’re watching your grandchildren, it’s extremely important to make sure they say “please “and “thank you” just as often as their parents expect them to do at home.
Use your grandkids for chores.
If your grandchildren are staying at home for a longer period of time and their parents give the OK, you might be able to ask your grandchildren to do a few tasks. But secretly having your grandchildren wash your dishes or dust off your books every time they come for a visit may alienate both your grandchildren and your own children, particularly if you did not ask for their approval.
Wash your grandkids clothes or toys without asking their parents.
Perhaps your grandchild spilled something on their clothes, or maybe you think their old blanket could use a fresh clean one. Either way, without their parents’ prior permission, you’re not supposed to throw any of your grandchildren’s stuff in your washer. Your children may have particular washing practices to keep their child’s things from getting ruined or shrunk, and if you mess up something after you don’t ask them first, you might face their wrath.
Invite over non-parent-approved guests when watching your grandkids.
You have the right to invite someone to your house, but stop doing so when you’re babysitting your grandchildren. If it’s someone the parents don’t know or have never agreed to be around their children before, they might not be so happy to let their kids go back to your home unsupervised.
Clean the house before the family returns from the hospital.
It’s definitely good to come home to a clean house after getting a new baby— if you asked for it specifically. However, finding out that your mother-in-law has folded your sexy underwear is not the case.
Show up to the hospital uninvited.
Birth is a marvelous experience, but it’s also a very personal thing for many people— and it may require some intense recovery. You want to be there for the birth of your grandchild, of course, but it’s important that you only show up at the hospital if they ask for it.
Wait for your grandkids to make contact.
You may want to get personal letters, weekly phone calls, and daily FaceTime requests from your grandchildren, but don’t expect them to do all the legwork on that front. If you want to keep in contact with your grandchildren, it’s up to you, at least to some degree. And before you start complaining about how little you ‘re hearing from them, try to reach out instead.