Grandparents Behaving Badly

Every once in a while it’s good to know you aren’t alone when dealing with difficult relatives. And when you start raising children, things you used to overlook seem a lot more important. We asked our friends and readers for a few examples of grandparents behaving badly so we could all read them and feel a little bit better about whatever situation you’re in. And if you have perfect in-laws and parents? Read these and rejoice.

Spoiling the grand kids is all the rage these days. We’ve all seen the memes: “I don’t spoil my grand kids. . . I’m just very accommodating.”  “Saw it. Liked it. Told Grandma. Got it!!!” “Who needs a Fairy Godmother when there are Grandmothers?!” And my favorite – “‘No’ means ask Grandma.” For many parents, these “cute” sayings hit painfully close to home and leave us wondering, “Who are you? And what have you done with the people who raised me?” I hear lots of feedback from my parent-friends about struggles arising from the “‘no’ means ask Grandma” mentality.

Here are a few true stories:

  • “I told my son he could not have a television in his room, so my mother-in-law said she would buy one for him.”
  • “I told my daughter she could not use spending money to buy cheap jewelry souvenirs, so my mother gave her money and whispered to her that she could go get the bracelet she wanted with it.”

Saw it.  Liked it.  Told Grandma….

Sometimes the conflicts start very early on, as in these examples:

  • “My mom gave cake icing to my four-month-old, formula-only child.”  
  • “My Mother-in-law fed my three-month-old ice cream.”
  • “When my daughter was first learning to speak, my mother would feed her candy but call it ‘vegetables’ so that I wouldn’t know about it.”

When I was a kid, my parents banned MTV and cancelled HBO when European Vacation came on in the middle of a summer afternoon. Heavens! Now, my parents and in-laws have hundreds of channels with content that make Rusty Griswold’s bare-breasted European girlfriend look like Donna Reed. Here are some other examples of over-exposure in the presence of the grandchildren:

  • “Family gatherings at my in-laws is us waiting for someone to say a naughty word.”
  • “My father-in-law invites us over and then watches television shows that are not appropriate for my children while they are in the room with him.”

According to my own parents, they were angels as children. They never disobeyed, never talked back. Except for that one time, and–boy oh boy–they never did that again! It was a good narrative. Effective. Today, I hear a lot of complaints about grandparents highlighting the parents’ mistakes to the grand kids:

  • “My mom recently told my kids that my husband and I used to smoke cigarettes after we had decided that we weren’t going to tell them until they were older, because we didn’t want it to seem okay in their eyes.”
  • “My mother talks constantly about how poorly I behaved as a child and tells my children the many stories of the things I did wrong.”

Jacamo fi na ne. My grandma and your grandma, sittin by the fire! Comparing and competing. My mother-in-law loves to recount one of her father’s favorite sayings, “That’s why God made red and green hats.” It’s a shout-out to individuality and uniqueness. Yet I hear her comparing my husband to his brother, my children to her friends’ grandchildren, me to my sister-in-law, herself to my mother. It’s like nails on a chalkboard. Others share the sentiment:

  • “My mother will ask me questions like, ‘Are your kids learning to speak Spanish?  Your nephew is taking Spanish and he is almost fluent!’”
  • “Don’t you want to go back to work?  Your sister-in-law works as a nurse and help to support her family.”
  • “My daughter’s grandmother told her, ‘Don’t tell your parents I said this, but you are better at art than your sister is.’”
  • “My mother-in-law calls my husband in August to ‘reserve us’ for Christmas dinner at her house, rather than my parents house.”
  • “My in-laws will call me to see what I’m buying my child for his birthday or Christmas and then she buys it for him first.”
  • “When we decided to name my daughter after my mother and my husband announced her name to all of the grandparents in the hospital waiting room, my mother-in-law turned to my mother and said, ‘Well, I guess you won this one.’”

Another common theme relates to struggles with grandparents about food and food allergies:

  • “My mother-in-law made dip with peanuts in it forgetting I was allergic.  When I had to go to the hospital, she said, ‘If I had known you were going to make such a big deal out of it, I wouldn’t have told you I put nuts in the dip.’”
  • “My mother says she does not believe in cross contamination, and believes that allergies are all in my head.  She then cooks with peanut oil to prove her point.”
  • “My in-laws lecture about how they never fed their children store-bought baby food. They just blended up whatever they were eating and then fed that to their children, and their children turned out just fine.”

My husband has a passive aggressive (and sadistic) side.  He says, “Let my parents try to undermine our authority with the children all they want. But I’ll remember that when choosing a nursing home.”  That’s not the right answer.

Remember that PSA from the 80s when the dad asks the son where he learned to smoke marijuana and the son answers, “You, alright. I learned it by watching you!” When we were kids, you enforced bedtimes, fed us vegetables, shielded us from inappropriate content, instilled the value of money, demonstrated an overuse of the term “when we were kids,” and taught us to respect our parents. These days, if there’s one thing parents and grandparents can agree on, it’s that the grandparents turned out a pretty amazing set of children. We’re trying to emulate your good work. Let’s do that together. 

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