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Tired of Grandparents Undermining Parents Decisions?

by Ivy B

If you are anything like me, you think parenting comes with plenty of its own drama. Grandparents undermining parents is just another bit of trouble we don’t need. So, how do you deal?

There is something fierce that comes over a mother when grandparents undermine parents. Let me tell you a little story.

It was Halloween. My son was not quite two and heading out with the family for his first Trick-Or-Treat. He refused to eat more than a couple of bites for dinner. Our house rule is no dinner = no treats.

This also happened to be the first trick-or-treat outing we spent with my husband’s family in a few years. When my daughter was younger, we did it once and I didn’t want to return. Her cousins were running wild through the streets while the parents let them load up on candy all night and act like hooligans. 

I get stressed out around kids with no manners or discipline, so I vowed never to do it again. But, here we were among the madness at my husband’s request.

The first home we stopped at had a popcorn bar full of treats to load into a cup. My Mother-in-Law asked if my son could have a cup of M&Ms to which I responded, “This is the first house we stopped at, and he didn’t want to eat dinner. He doesn’t need the junk right now.”

Knowing we had a long night ahead of us, I wanted to save some of the junk to help curb the toddler’s crankiness later in the evening. It wanted to use candy bribery as my backup plan to help us finish the night with some peace.

I walked away to help my daughter fill her cup so we could move on. When I returned to my son and husband, I was disappointed to see the toddler sitting in the stroller stuffing his face with m&ms.

This wasn’t the first time I’d had issues with one of the grandparents undermining our authority. Sadly, I also know it won’t be the last, but that doesn’t mean I simply take it.

Here is what I recommend for dealing with inappropriate grandparent behavior.

Grandparents undermining parents? What to do when grandparents undermine parents and overstep boundaries . | www.sahmplus.com
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Why Do Grandparents Undermine Parents?

Sometimes, it might seem like grandparents are doing things that drive parents a bit crazy. But guess what? There are reasons behind it! Let’s break it down:

Different Parenting Styles: Grandparents grew up in a different time, and they might have their own way of doing things. They might not fully understand modern parenting techniques or believe their way is better.

Overprotectiveness: Sometimes, grandparents just want to spoil their grandkids and protect them from any hardships. This can lead to disagreements if they’re too lenient or indulgent.

Lack of Awareness: In some cases, they might not even realize they’re undermining parents. It’s not always intentional; it could be due to a lack of awareness about the rules or boundaries parents have set.

Desire to Connect: Grandparents may try to connect with their grandkids by bending the rules or being more lenient. They just want to create a strong bond, but it can sometimes clash with the parents’ wishes.

Understanding these reasons can help parents approach the situation with empathy and find common ground with their well-meaning but sometimes challenging grandparents.

What Grandparents Should Never Do and How to Fix it

While some may not even realize the damage they’re doing to their relationships, it’s important to recognize the signs of toxic grandparents and deal with it quickly.

So, what are the 3 top inappropriate grandparent behaviors?

Undermine/Disrespect Parents

Parents have rules about screen time, bedtimes, and food choices for a reason. Some parents have food allergies to contend with or mild cases of food intolerances that they know make kids uncomfortable.  

Grandparents who don’t follow some of the major rules are really disrespecting parents, even if they’re thinking they’re just doting on their grandchildren.

When grandparents interfere with parenting, it can send the wrong signals to children!

Being Critical of Your Child

Even a simple statement like “I love your hair when it’s long” after your kiddo has chosen a short hairstyle can have a poor effect on a child’s self-esteem. Imagine anything any more critical and the damage it can cause.

This is really selfish and inappropriate for a grandparent.

Buying Grandkids’ Love with Gifts

Grandparents should understand that love cannot be bought. And sure, the grandkids will think they “love” a grandparent more if they’re constantly receiving gifts, but it’s not a lasting or sustainable way to get and keep a child’s attention.

What To Do About Grandparents Undermining Parents

Dealing with grandparents who cross boundaries can be a tough situation. And, when you’re married, you have to take extra precautions so as not to cause drama within your marriage as well.

These are my best tips for dealing with grandparents overstepping boundaries and those who undermine parents.

Ask Yourself: “Is This a Safety Issue?”

If your child could be seriously harmed in a situation in which you were being undermined, speak up.

Safety issues are my number one concern as a parent. This is the one area where I am not concerned with backlash from speaking up about inappropriate grandparent behaviors.  

Unfortunately, I did have this happen once when I went outside one of the grandparents’ home to find my children playing in the streets of a busy neighborhood while said grandparent watched. Supervised or not, that got shut down quick. I know little ones aren’t aware enough of the dangers. And there are too many distracted drivers and speeders for this to ever be okay, in my mind.

If you feel your children are in danger, speak up immediately.  Whatever drama or “consequences” come from it can be handled after the fact. 

Bite Your Tongue

When you’re dealing with your spouse’s parents, dealing with grandparents undermining parents gets more complicated.  Utilize restraint and know it’s important to remain calm and collected so that you can voice your concerns with your spouse to handle (see next section: Ask Your Spouse to Handle It). Never speak out in the heat of the moment because you can do more harm than good. 

Of course, if your child’s safety were in question, this doesn’t apply in my opinion.

Ask Your Spouse to Handle It

This point is applicable when it’s his parent doing the undermining. Explain the situation and why you felt you were undermined. Ask him to handle the situation in a way that he feels will be both appropriate and effective for his parent(s).

Talk to the Grandparent As Soon As Possible

Once you have both come to an agreement (and you’ve simmered down), talk to the offending grandparent as soon as possible about the situation. One really good suggestion is to mention that when parents are around, they are the authority.

When Grandma is in charge, doing things her way is okay so long as the kids are safe and she has their best interests at heart. If it’s your parent, this is your job.

Remind Them You’re the Parent

When grandparents and parents disagree on parenting, which is quite common, it’s okay to remind them that it’s your turn. You’re raising kids under your rules, trying to teach them life lessons you value, and in a way that works for you.

Don’t Let Them Undermine the Other Parent

If you know your mom or dad is undermining your spouse, show them that you’re united.  Parenting teamwork goes a long way in raising good kids, so grandparents need to know you’re seriously a team. Standing up for each other will go far in strengthening your marriage, too.

Give Them Rules

If you notice a regular pattern, don’t be afraid to share rules for grandparents to follow.

Remember Grandparents Are Important

Remember, grandparents are important for your kids

Sometimes we need to re-frame our thoughts to feel better about the people in our lives. Remember that grandparents are important to your kids for many reasons. Try to focus on some of the benefits your kids receive from having Grandparents in their lives if you’re dealing with difficult feelings.

Though I wish we could all be lucky enough not to have to deal with it, it hurts when grandparents undermine parents. It has the potential to degrade relationships and could seriously affect how a child views their parents.

I don’t know about you, but I’m a tired mom of two kids. I’m desperately trying to raise them to be well-disciplined, mild-mannered, good citizens.

Parenting is hard work on its own without dealing with grandparents who cross boundaries.

What do you do when a child’s grandparents interfere with parenting?

FAQs About Grandparents Undermining Parents

What does “grandparents undermining parents” mean?

This refers to a situation where grandparents act in a way that goes against the wishes or authority of the parents, causing tension and potential conflict within the family.

How do grandparents undermine parents?

Grandparents may undermine parents in various ways, such as disregarding rules or routines set by parents, spoiling or indulging grandchildren, criticizing parenting decisions, or contradicting parents’ disciplinary actions.

Why do grandparents undermine parents?

There can be many reasons why grandparents undermine parents, including a desire to assert their own authority or parenting style, a belief that the parents are too strict, a belief that their prior experience makes them more wise, a desire to spoil their grandchildren, or simply a lack of awareness or understanding of the parents’ wishes.

What are the consequences of grandparents undermining parents?

The consequences of grandparents undermining parents can be significant and may include tension and conflict within the family, confusion and anxiety for children, and a breakdown in trust and communication between parents and grandparents.

How can parents address the issue of grandparents undermining them?

Parents can address the issue of grandparents undermining them by setting clear boundaries and expectations, communicating openly and honestly with grandparents about their concerns, and seeking support and guidance from a therapist or counselor if necessary. It is important to approach the issue with empathy and respect for all parties involved.

This post originally appeared in 2020 on sahmplus.com and has been updated.

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Tanya @ Mom's Small Victories April 12, 2018 - 9:36 am

These are great tips, the baby/toddler stage was definitely harder, especially when we had the first one and the grandma’s/great grandma’s would roll their eyes at me when they didn’t agree with something I wanted for my,baby. I’d get the well, we did the same for you/your husband and your babies and you turned out fine kind of attitude. But I was breastfeeding and we were formula fed as babies because that was the norm then so it was definitely a challenge. I feel like we have to figure out when to pick our battles. Some things I won’t compromise on but I have since let them spoil them more, but at every turn I tell my boys, just remember when I’m a grandma I’m going to spoil my grandkids worse than you are getting spoiled now!

Ivy B April 12, 2018 - 10:32 am

Yes, we got a lot of the same things and sometimes still do. I appreciate that my husband insisted his mom let us parent our way and just be grandma.

Jennifer Young April 16, 2018 - 7:53 pm

Great article! It can be really difficult to deal with in-laws and them parenting your children. I think this article has lots of great tips. Thank you for sharing!

Ivy B April 17, 2018 - 7:40 am

Glad you found it useful 😀

Cheyenne April 16, 2018 - 9:36 pm

So true ! It can be tough dealing with undermining grandparents.. especially when you have so many conflicting ideas. I bite my tongue more than not :-/

Ivy B April 17, 2018 - 7:40 am

It really is tough! It’s funny the younger generation tries to practice biting their tongue lol

drift hunters March 24, 2023 - 4:16 am

When I brought up my concerns, I’d receive the “oh, we did the same with you/your spouse and you turned out OK” line of reasoning. But, I was nursing at the time, and bottle feeding was the standard for infants at the time.

Daisy April 16, 2018 - 10:19 pm

I am feeling so blessed right now because my oldest is 22 and youngest is 17 and I’ve never felt I was treated this way by either set of grandparents…. My ex Mama in law ( I got her in the divorce) often tells me I’m doing a good job with Mamahood…

Ivy B April 17, 2018 - 7:35 am

Awww, that’s awesome! My dad is supportive and tells us we’re doing a good job … and when he sees something he doesn’t like, he’ll make a face, but never undermines us. I feel like that’s the best way to handle it 😀

Jennifer Maune April 17, 2018 - 4:08 pm

I definitely agree that grandparents are important, but they do need to respect the parent’s rules. Great tips!


Ivy B April 17, 2018 - 7:34 pm

Agreed! I’m always happy that my father supports our decisions, even if you know he doesn’t agree with them. It makes our lives so much easier! You know … because it’s not like they knew what they were doing when they were raising us either 😉

Mar April 17, 2018 - 7:12 pm

This is such a great post. We live with my mother in law and its surprisingly been really easy. My father in law on the other hand will not give up the bottles, even though we are trying to get her off them. It’s a struggle.

Ivy B April 17, 2018 - 7:33 pm

I don’t know why they’re difficult at times. If you’re up for the challenge, place all the bottles in a plastic bag and hide them.

With my daughter, when I was ready to give up bottles I struggled too much with the slow weaning process. So, I bagged up every bottle in the house and hid them in a closet. It went over insanely easy for everyone and we never looked back. Maybe it’s something to consider? lol

Good luck!

Lisa April 25, 2018 - 5:12 pm

My MIL drives me crazy but I make sure my kids know that I love her and I love having her around. When she visits all family rules are out the window. We through out our schedule and our expectations. I know it sounds crazy but I could butt heads with my MIL endlessly or I could enjoy her company and let my kids have a blast. When she leaves, we buckle down to get the kids back in line which sucks but after the craziness I need to get back to life as quickly as possible. Btw, my kids are 4, 2 & a newborn. I know this isn’t a good solution for everybody but I know my MIL loves my kids and just wants to show them since she doesn’t see them everyday. She normally spends about 5 days with us a month and we spend a week with her 4-5x a year. Grandma time is a blast. The only rule I have is that she doesn’t set boundaries, I make the rules and she can make them looser but not stricter. For instance, my kids don’t hold hands in a parking lot bc I need them to be aware of their surroundings, not rely on me. It makes my MIL uncomfortable but she deals.

Ivy B April 25, 2018 - 7:42 pm

My MIL lives in the same town and is pretty much an “anything goes” kind of grandma … I wish she could be more strict. Because she just about has no rules, the kids walk all over her. It’s sad and sometimes she’s let them do some pretty unsafe things, which is pretty dang disappointing.
Maybe I’d feel differently if we didn’t see her nearly as often?

Jessica May 2, 2018 - 5:08 pm

Ok… So, no. My overall response is no. If ANYONE is undermining you, you have an inherent right as a parent to set them straight right then and there. Your MIL was DISRESPECTFUL to you when she asked for your opinion about the M&Ms and IGNORED you. She played hero while you played disciplinarian. And because you didn’t correct her, you taught your kids that what you say can be ignored. M&Ms may not be harmful, but that message sure is.

I take absolutely no undermining from my narcissistic MIL. Gone are the days of asking my husband to deal with it. That is not a healthy relationship, and I do not want my kids learning that mama’s voice doesn’t matter.

Ivy B May 2, 2018 - 8:08 pm

I don’t necessarily disagree. In an instance where the conversation is had in front of my child, assuming they understand what’s going on, I will ABSOLUTELY stand up for my decision.

My husband and I had a discussion about it later and I told him we needed to treat her like we do the kids … “did you ask mom? what did she say?” LOL. Out of respect for my husband, I currently allow him to handle the situation because I know I struggle with the right words … mainly I don’t sugar coat things and I can be really harsh. I’m married to him and thus, his family, so I do it to keep the peace.

This totally depends on the situation though. When she let one of my kids play in the street, I didn’t handle it nearly as calmly or kindly.

I try to pick my battles, but still have it taken care of.

Marissa McKenna August 2, 2018 - 1:18 pm

Thank heavens I never had to speak to my mother in law about anything, but my parents? I’ve had to have words with them several times. For the most part they have listened, but now my kids know that they must ask me first before my parents give them anything or tell them they can do something.

software coupon code December 19, 2020 - 7:04 am

I read your Whole blog It was inspiring me. Yes, we got a lot of the same things and sometimes still do. It wanted to use candy bribery as your backup plan to help you finish the night with some peace.

Holly March 16, 2023 - 3:48 pm

Super helpful thank you!

backrooms April 27, 2023 - 2:51 am

They have paid attention for the most part, but my children are now aware that my parents must get my permission before giving them anything or letting them know they may engage in a particular activity.

Leslie Lindsey April 28, 2023 - 5:28 pm

So how would you or I handle grandparents who constantly think for about 5-6 yrs now that your child has a disability and needs testing? Would even go as far as to communicate with the child’s speech therapist “for more info because they are concerned” about the progress or lack there of.
My parents and my husbands parents both live within 15 mins from us and it’s great 90% of the time. They are a huge help with our son and we are very close with each other. But this was it for me since it wasn’t the first time.

Ivy B May 2, 2023 - 12:46 pm

I find that asking questions really helps open the communication in that maybe you’ve missed something that they’ve picked up on. By asking questions, it opens your mind to alternative points of view and reduces judgment. But, if you’re not concerned about your child’s development, I would express this. Back your statements up with the progress you’ve seen and that you’re proud of your child for those. Also, perhaps thank them for their concern and mention that if you see signs that trouble you, you’ll refer to their concerns then.

Honestly, here’s how I’d assess it for myself – are my husband and I struggling with behaviors? do we have difficulty with our child that causes a strain on our family? Has this increased recently? If you’re finding a comfortable balance that you and your husband are okay with, I wouldn’t give too much thought to it. But, I might suggest setting boundaries with the grandparents to not communicate with the speech therapist unless you’ve given express approval to do so.

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