Are We Too Strict With Our Grandchildren?

Sometimes Parents Are the Indulgent Ones

grandparents may not deal well with active, noisy, spoiled children
Active, noisy grandchildren can be hard for grandparents to take. Photo © Jamie Grill/Tetra Images | Getty Images

This letter from a reader concerns whether she and her husband are too strict with their grandchildren. 

I've read many articles about the parents being too strict and the grandparents spoiling, or grandparents telling the parents how to parent; but, our experience has been somewhat different. For years we have watched in silence as our grandchildren are not consistently disciplined. We bite our tongues because we sincerely believe that it is their turn to raise their children. Apparently, biting our tongues isn't enough because our son exploded at us during his last visit, stating that he senses that we don't agree with their child-rearing techniques and saying that the tension he feels while here is our fault.

We have certain rules when children and grandchildren visit us. There is to be no jumping on the beds, no running on the stairs and no screaming indoors. The grandchildren are to respect our property. Also, when it comes time to pick up or clean up, everyone is to chip in and help out. When we have to remind the grandchildren of the rules, they often argue with us, or they may just keep doing what they are doing, or they may say that they do it that way at home. If I say that we do it differently here in our house, the kids sulk or talk back.

During the last visit, the issue came to a head because the 5-year-old is still allowed to have temper tantrums. If he doesn't get his way, he will begin to wail very loudly. The parents just tune him out. It is difficult for us to do that, so we are the ones being punished. During their last visit, when he began to wail, we suggested that it was time for bed. That is when all hell broke loose, with our son and his wife shouting at us in front of the children.

The children are all homeschooled and do not have many times they have to obey authority figures other than their parents. Are being too strict in expecting them to obey our rules while they are in our house?

Advice for the Grandparents

This is a sticky situation that many grandparents can relate to. Grandparents are well within their rights to set down rules for their own home.

But in this scenario, the rules weren't the real problem. The problem arose when the grandparents failed to hide their feelings about their son and daughter-in-law's parenting methods. They thought that they were being suitably diplomatic, but their true feelings were broadcast loud and clear. The parents perceived those feelings and reacted. So what's a grandparent to do?

Three strategies may be effective in such cases. The first one is the hardest. It involves a real change in attitude. Grandparents must decide what's the most important to them, having a relationship with their children and grandchildren, or having their standards met. Most grandparents will decide that family relationships are more important. Family disputes of this type can often be resolved with an apology. Grandparents can also put away precious belongings before the grandchildren visit and then resolve to be more laid-back. It may help to ask, "What's the worst thing that can happen?"

A second strategy is to resolve to take the children out more. In good weather, the grandchildren will enjoy a trip to the zoo or the park. In bad weather, grandparents can try an indoor playground or children's museum. It can make a big difference in the grandparents' stress level if the grandkids are releasing some of their energy in active play.

A third strategy is to take it easier during the grandkids' visits. Grandparents sometimes are too particular about mealtimes. Paper plates and an occasional meal of pizza won't hurt anyone. When grandparents work too hard, their irritability threshold may be lower.

Advice From Another Reader

Try to turn the situation on its head by creating a positive motive for the grandchildren to cooperate. This may not be easy with a large and unruly family, but try making it fun to do things your way. Make a game of table manners, with the winner getting to choose the evening movie. "The Tiptoe Game" rewards the one who is the quietest on the stairs, or make a rule that they must go up the stairs backwards, which forces them to slow down. Remember: You're dealing with young minds that are curious. Since you can't set limits, give them "challenges."

Adapted from a post in the Grandparents Forum. See more questions from readers.