Grandma’s Prerogative?

Mark and I with Rilyn and Landon this summer.

It was 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 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/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. That 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 is using cloth diapers so I’m learning 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 the kids.

Other practical ideas 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. My dad always says, “When in Rome, do as the Roman’s do.” That’s a good way to think about it!

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 leave 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!


Join the newsletter

Subscribe to get Jill's latest content by email.

Powered by ConvertKit

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

24 thoughts on “Grandma’s Prerogative?

  1. I love this~ I am constantly thankful that my parents and Tracey’s parents have been so respectful of our boundaries and have also been tremendous helps to us as we brought babies home and have been raising them!

  2. What happens when the grandparents don’t agree with this? We do our best to accommodate them without compromising our valued areas but that requires constantally being around to make sure we remain the parents and them the grandparents (for instance: they feel grandparenting requires stricter discipline than we give and take every chance to enforce it). We try to remind them they can now enjoy the joy of having raised kids and now being the grandparent who gets to have fun and not worry about the discipline, cleaning, nutrition, everyday things of having kids. And yet they continue to pull the grandparent card… what happens wjen they dont agree with you!?

    • Becky, unfortunately that may be where you have to set boundaries. If you don’t like the way they handle your kids when you are not around, you may need to determine that they can’t watch your kids. Of course, that could greatly impact your life so you’ll have to determine how important this is to you. It could also be a place you choose to give grace and allow the differences, determining that the added discipline won’t really hurt your kids. It all depends on how important this particular issue is to you. Only you can determine that. 🙂

  3. Oh, this post goes straight to my heart. My husband’s parents are divorced, so there are even more grandparents to consider! It’s a blessing, but it was hard at first. I felt bombarded almost, and finally- I just started taking a stand. They may not always agree and that’s fine, I just want to be respected for the decisions that my husband and I make for our kids. But it is a TOUGH road- most definitely! Great post! 🙂

  4. My mother-in-law lives in the same town, and before our first child was born (almost 21 years ago!) she and I had a talk. I was an at-home mom at the time but was considering working one day a week. I also knew that she would want to spend LOTS of time w/her grandbaby and we were happy about that as we knew she’d respect our boundaries. However, I didn’t ever want her to feel that we were taking advantage of her or that she *had* to have the baby at her home if she had other plans or it just wasn’t a good day.

    I said to her “I know we will want you to watch our baby when he/she is here. I would like you to promise that it if, when we ask you to, you don’t want to for any reason, you will tell us. You don’t have to have a reason and we will understand and it won’t cause hard feelings. Then we won’t hesitate to ask. And there will be times we’ll get a babysitter too, and I don’t want you to feel bad about that. We need to have some babysitters who are familiar with the baby for times you can’t babysit. It is NOT because we don’t want you to be around the baby. Let’s agree to be honest with each other and TALK ABOUT IT if there is anything that bothers either of us.”

    She agreed, and we’ve always had a good relationship. We disagree on some things but are able to talk about them. By talking about it ahead of time we were able to prevent hurt feelings.

  5. My parents always made us eat everything on our plates before we could leave the table. No exceptions. When we had our kids my husband and I decided that we were NOT going to do that. During their “picky toddler” years we went to visit my mom and dad, and I anticipated tension unless I expressed this to them. I decided to talk with my mom before we went, and told her that we did not make the kids clean their plates; we encouraged them to take small amounts (mom was famous for dishing out huge portions) and only eat until they were full, but they were not required to eat every single bite. Thankfully she understood and agreed.

    Before the trip I also talked to the kids, explaining that it was important to take SMALL portions — they could always ask for more — and at least try everything (so as not to hurt Grandma’s feelings). If they were full they could say, “It was very good but I’m stuffed, so no thank you” when offered/encouraged to take more.

    By making expectations known before the trip we prevented problems.
    We’ve always had trouble setting boundaries with my father-in-law. For years we went to his and my mother-in-law’s home for holiday meals. They almost always turned out to be stressful and unpleasant for many reasons. Finally we decided that we wouldn’t go anymore. I explained the reasons to my mother-in-law and since then holiday meals have been at our house. Every single one of them, every single year–with in-laws invited of course. Father-in-law has tried to insist they take place at their house, but I’ve either replied that I want to give MIL a break or that things got too stressful at their house. It’s not always easy to set boundaries, but can be very necessary for peace.

    I’m blessed to have a good relationship with my parents and mother-in-law; I’ve stood up to my very difficult father-in-law several times, calmly and objectively, and for the most part he leaves me alone. My point is, be honest with expectations/rules, etc. and if relatives refuse to respect your boundaries, do something to change the situation, even if that means grandparents are restricted in time with grandkids, etc. Your kids are your greatest priority!

  6. Thank you so much for writing this! Only a Grandma who is a highly respected Mother could write about this topic and be heard by both sides. You have found another audience for your ministry. I see you Professionalizing Grandmothering. The topic of in law relations is such a source of pain for so many. PLEASE write a book for Grandma’s, In laws or daughter laws.

  7. Jill-you are so very wise in sharing this! I am so truly BLESSED to have both a mom and a mother-in-law that understand this! I think they are better as they had issues with their MIL’s and vowed to not be that way. I try to have more lax rules with Grandma’s house. Just don’t give them too much juice (they have sensitive tummies and will end up paying for it) and don’t let them do anything that a reasonable person would deem unsafe…so far, so good. My family has been great about accommodating our sons’ special needs (one has SPD and is a pretty picky eater-and the other is lactose intolerant).

    I think the best thing you can do is ask a new mom how she wants help. And bring food you know she likes! Food is awesome! When I was sick last year, my parents took my kids all day so I could rest-my hubby had to work that Saturday (I had been hospitalized for 2 days with dehydration) and brought a full pot of soup back! I was so thankful for that!

  8. “Grandma’s prerogative” has caused my family such great pain for the past 15 years – since my oldest was born. It has been used by my mother-in-law as a license to wreck havoc in our family. Grandma can do whatever she wants since she does not see my kids frequently. She has come so close to completely destroying my family so many times and now her grandchildren, now teens, can see the unnecessaty stress she brings with every visit! She is the picture of James 1:2-3 in my life – she is the trial that sends me running to my Savior for wisdom and patience and refuge!

  9. What wonderful Grandparents you are! I hope I can remember and be like this for my children when I become a Grandparent. My own parents, in-laws and extended family were a bit over whelming with my first born. It is hard to have the first grandchild on both sides of the family!!

  10. You are absolutely, perfectly spot on! I am very thankful for parents and I laws who do their best to respect our wishes, and gracefully speak about it with us when they have concerns. This is especially important during that vulnerable, tender time when new babies are born! I am expecting my 3rd and have refined my “wishes” and expectations each time, LOL.

  11. Thank you so much for writing this!!! This means more to me than you know. I have never heard this opinion from a grandmothers perspective. I have a 2 year old daughter. My husband and i are having such a hard time with grandparents respecting our wishes when it comes to our daughter. At times it makes me feel as though Im being selfish, although I know my daughter and what is best for her. I know now that Im not asking too much of my parents when requiring my daughter to have a specific bedtime or even requesting that she does not eat certain foods. They are both smokers as well. I dont think they have followed my requests even one time in 2 years. It is actually to the point where we do not allow them to babysit without us there. So sad. But I know now that Im not overreacting by standing my ground. This is so encouraging for me. Thank you for writing this!

  12. I just don’t understand why a MIL would be unrelenting in verbal attacks to her son, DIL, and grandchildren, even when she fully knows that it causes such immense pain to where they must remove contact? I don’t understand where this kind of behavior could come from when she claims to love her family, and also claims to be a strong Christian? It is just so painful, frustrating, and confusing to her family that wish to love, honor, and respect her, but cannot be in her presence without someone being wounded (or even open gifts, email, or mail without finding a terrible letter inside.) How does this family love her as Christ would have them love her? Do they turn the other cheek and forgive 70 times 7, or knock the dust from their feet and move on?

    • I’m so sorry for the pain you have experienced. I think there is a middle ground here between turning the other cheek, forgiving, and walking away. You can honor her with healthy boundaries for your family limiting the amount of time you see her. One thing to think about: Can you see that she is a wounded person herself?