Does Grandma’s Prerogative Exist?


Rilyn, Nana, and Papaw took a selfie one day!

I first wrote about this topic two years ago and the response was so strong that I decided it was time to talk about it again.

On the Sunday after my third grandchild was born, a well-meaning friend at church asked me if I was heading to Texas that week. I told her I wished that I was, but Erica and Kendall had asked me to wait to come until Marie was home.  My friend said, “Well, did you tell them that it’s grandma’s prerogative to come now if she wants?”  I smiled and said that I wanted to respect Erica and Kendall’s wishes.

The conversation bothered me, but I wasn’t sure why.

However, it was several other conversations with both of my girls that helped me formulate my thoughts.  The girls shared with me disappointing stories friends have shared of dealing with moms or mother-in-laws after a baby is born, such as:

  • One young mom’s mother insisted on coming the week that the baby was born. This grandma pulled no punches in saying that she was there to hold the baby and nothing else. She said she’d hold the baby so her daughter could keep up with meals and laundry. So selfish.
  • Another young mom’s extended family–all 8 of them–came to visit for a week arriving the day everyone came home from the hospital.  They didn’t stay at a hotel…they stayed in the small home of this young couple. So inconsiderate.
  • Another friend of one of my daughters shared that when they visit her in-laws or when the inlaws come to town to visit or take care of the kids, Grandma and Grandpa don’t follow the instructions for bedtimes or boundaries that Mom and Dad have set for their kids.  The grandparents communicate that they get so little time with the grandkids that they “deserve” to have the extra time with the kids plus the kids didn’t seem tired anyway. They also have let it be known (by their attitudes and actions) that they believe Mom and Dad’s guidelines, boundaries, and routines are foolish.  So sad.
  • Another young mom said that when her inlaws come and visit, it’s not a help, it’s a chore. They rarely offer help and they insist on eating out rather than home prepared meals. This  young mom finds eating out unenjoyable with little ones, not to mention the fact that eating out doesn’t fit this young family’s budget.  So stressful.
  • Yet another mom shared her frustration of a grandparent who smokes and has cats. This mom doesn’t want her kids around smoke and two of her kids have animal allergies. Yet this grandma complains that mom (her daughter-in-law) is keeping her from her grandkids, which isn’t true. The daughter-in-law graciously offers to meet grandma at a park or invites her to their home (smoking not allowed), but instead of being grateful for the offer, grandma is stubborn and refuses to see the kids unless it’s on her terms. So stubborn.

There are no grandma’s prerogatives. There are only mom and dad’s prerogatives. A grandparent’s job is to help and encourage, offering assistance within the lifestyle and routines of this new family.

What does this mean practically?

For me, Erica used cloth diapers so I learned to use the new generation of cloth diapers.

Anne and Matt want their kids in bed by 8pm. When we’re caring for the kids, Mark and I do our very best to follow their instructions even if we wish we had more time to play with them.

Other considerations for grandparents might include:

When babies are born, make the extended family visit a day visit or a one-day-in-next-day-out visit to keep from adding to the stress that already accompanies adding a baby to the home.

Ask mom what she wants or what help she needs, don’t assume.

Grandparents can offer help with laundry, cleaning, meals, and dishes. (Not controlling help…blessing help–but that’s a topic for another blog post!)

Defer to the parents way of doing things. When you are visiting someone, your preferences take a back seat.

I am blessed to have had my parents model balanced grandparenting for me. They have given much love, been available, but never once pulled the “grandparent prerogative” card. Anytime I left my kids in their care, I’ve never worried if they would follow my instructions. Even to this day, when they visit they offer to help with meals, dishes, laundry, running kids to activities, or whatever is going on that day. When they’ve come to town for weddings and our house is filled with adult kids and their families, they have offered to stay in a hotel for the night.

Whether you’re the grandparent or the parent, it’s important to know that “grandma’s prerogative” doesn’t exist. The parents call the shots on how their kids are to be cared for and treated. (Of course, grandma can also set her own boundaries, especially if she’s being taken advantage of by the parents.)

If you’re the parent, stand firm on what you want for your family. If a grandparent doesn’t respect your wishes, set boundaries in place to protect your desires for your family.  Yes, you may make some people mad, but your loyalties are now to your new family, not your old family.

If you’re the grandparent, check your expectations and remember that your job is to defer to mom and dad’s wishes–even if you don’t agree with them. Be a good house guest if you have to travel to visit family. Build trust by doing what your child and their spouse ask you to do.

The goal is to have a good relationship between mom and dad and grandma and grandpa. Understanding that “grandparent prerogative” doesn’t exist is a start to making that relationship strong!

How about you? Would you add any other strategies for parents and grandparents to work together well? 


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13 thoughts on “Does Grandma’s Prerogative Exist?

  1. Jill, I need some suggestions – the Mom had her baby in May, and her Mom has visited and stayed for a few weeks. The Dad’s parents offered to fly out and stay at a hotel to visit for a long weekend, but they were refused. Still have not seen their first grandchild in person. Lots of hurt feelings.

  2. If grandparents don’t follow the parents rules, they are teaching their grandchildren to break the fifth commandment.

  3. Jill, as a grandmother (or Nanna) of 35 kiddos, I agree with 99.9 percent of your post. I do think that once in a while, and within careful and respectful limits, there is a little bitty “nanna’s or poppa’s perogative” as a way of building relationships and lasting memories. Example: staying up with nanna extra late to bake a cake for mom’s birthday – shhhhhhh – its a secret! OR playing outside in the rain and running through mudpuddles! What a great memory even though it was not totally in line with the parents’ usual rules. So I think as long as there is an over-arching respectful relationship based in large part on the guidelines you have laid out, then occasionally it builds relationships and memories when grandparents do some things that are “outside the box” of what the parents would typically do on a day-to-day basis. Make sense?

    WHich brings me to your question, Debbie. I am guessing that one of three possibilities is at play in the scenario you raise. (1) There is a pre-existing history of tension or there is not a solid enough history of respect between this young couple and the dad’s parents and it will need time to heal and probably can’t be done immediately in the wake of a new baby OR (2) Mom is suffering from post-partum depression OR (3) Mom and dad are just exhausted and overwhelmed. #’s 2 and 3 are potentially related of course. In these instances, if I were Dad’s parents (and I have been in those shoes along the way with our 35 grands although thankfully not often) I would try to see what the new parents need that I could help with – such as delivery of a few meals – and provide that. I would send a little note saying I look forward to meeting my new grandchild just as soon as they are up for it, but in the meantime I will respect their wishes. I would add that I would be praying for them and their little one. I would check in from time to time but not be overbearing and in the meantime if there is any tension or rift in the relationship work on restoring healing and respect. I have never seen a new parent NOT come around and WANT the grandparents in the child’s life when treated with kindness, compassion and respect. And patience because sometimes it just takes time. – Hope that helps!

  4. Thank you so much for this post! As a mom of two young children, we have had struggles with boundaries with the grandparents, mostly my parents. But we have the opposite problem of many of these scenarios – our parents live really close…both within 8 miles of us. So we see them A LOT! My parents just drop in whenever they want and almost seem to get upset if we are trying to get the kids to bed or if I don’t just sit down and visit if I was in the middle of something. I am only child, these are there only grandchildren so I know they are so important to them but we also would like some boundaries. And we would like time to just be a family as well. It is so hard to talk to my parents about this because anytime I have tried to say anything (nicely), my mom seems so hurt and gets kind of mad so I am just dealing with it for fear of upsetting her. Any advice for dealing with grandparents living really close is appreciated! 🙂

    • Maggie, your mom has probably used her emotions to manipulate all of her life. It’s a form of passive-aggressive behavior and because no one wants to rock the boat, it’s worked well for her. Laying down boundaries is never easy and it often gets harder before it gets easier. But if you want to set some boundaries, you’ll need to not allow yourself to be manipulated by your mom’s emotions. That said, I would encourage you to 1) talk in a time of non-conflict, 2) affirm what you love about having grandparents close, 3) state what you are asking them to do in response to what you need for your family.

      • Thank you SO much for your response, Jill! I appreciate that and think you got it exactly right! Thank you so much for the advice – will be praying God can give me the courage to follow through on those things.

  5. My frustration with Grandma’s prerogative comes (mostly) in the form of gift giving. My husband and I are very frugal with our money, both from our strong convictions about being good stewards and the fact that we are raising 4 children on a farmer’s income. We have asked numerous times for my mom to keep her gifts to one nice gift per child on birthdays and Christmas. She consistently has ignored our requests. I even told her since she was adamant about spending a set dollar amount, to just buy a nice gift, and put the rest of the money towards helping us buy our community pool membership for the summer. She has helped us with the pool membership, but she still buys bigger and more expensive gifts than we do, and has made comments about the fact that we only get our children 3 gifts each at Christmas. It makes me feel small and insignificant. I enjoy buying my children things, but I resent the fact that it feels like she’s trying to “one-up” us buying big or many gifts when we prefer to keep things simple.

    • Robin, one mom I know who has the same issues, talks with her kids ahead of time about who they can share some of their gifts with each year. They anticipate the opportunity to bless someone else with what they are given.

  6. Robin – that is unfortunate. We had a little of the similar issues in early years when we had only a few kids (when we got up to 10+ even my parents saw the wisdom in the “less is more” approach to gifts – LOL!) But anyway when we had our first few they wanted to shower the kids with gifts. Not only were we trying to be more frugal for the same reasons you suggest but also their other grandmother who loved them dearly was on a very small, tight fixed income (social security only) and so her gifts tended to be simple things like homemade mittens, yet given with much love and we didn’t want the kids to think she loved them less than the other grandparents. It was a struggle but we finally got the message across. But in the meantime, we took all the gifts into our “custody” and did not allow the children to have them all at once. So we’d give them one for their birthday and save the others for another time. THis spread it out and lessened the impact of the hurtful messages.

  7. Very thoughtful article…I would like to say something from the other side. As a Mom, I think we also have to be careful that we are respectful to Grandma and Grandpa and their thoughts and feelings. I have been blessed to live close to my parents, so my children can see them often. When they watch my children so my husband and I can have a night off, I do give some loose guidelines regarding food and bedtimes. However, giving a list of rules that I expect them to follow seems a bit overly strict and selfish in my opinion. They are watching my children for free and love them dearly. I feel like I need to trust them to provide good care and allow them some flexibility for their own schedules and needs. Grandparents are such a huge blessing from God for our children. If both sides (grandparents and parents) act with love and respect, a lot of these issues can become less important as we love our little ones.

    • Margo, I completely agree with you. Most moms that run into trouble aren’t leaving a list of rules to follow. They are just sharing a couple of things to keep the kids routine and they are running into challenges with just the one or two things they ask grandparents to keep. Love and respect are definitely the keys on both sides.