4-Step Formula for Handling Difficult Grandparents

{When Keeping the Peace is an Art Form}

Handling Grandparents Successfully

Grandparents: Handle with Care

I’d like to congratulate those of you with healthy, constructive relationships with your baby’s grandparents.


*waiting for those three people to leave*

Now, for the rest of you.

Those who are finding handling grandparents a bit more… challenging.

First of all, it could be worse. 

You could be dealing with a grandparent like Robert De Niro. 

Secondly, you’ve got me.

Your on-site social worker.

Who’s been trained in the art of digging people out of family dysfunctions. 

Get Perspective

The first thing you need to do in order to build and keep good relationships with your baby’s grandparents, is to gain a fresh perspective.

They are not just old people who think they are soooooo much better than you.  (Even if they act like it.)

If you’re not sure what type of grandparent you’re dealing with, check out this Grandparent Guide I wrote for the Fussy Baby Site!

They are normal (sometimes insecure) people who want to know they are valued.

They want to share what they’ve learned.

They want to be respected by their children. 

Sometimes that last one can cause them to do some pretty stupid things.  (I’m sure you can think of a few.)

But stripping away those things, they really DO deserve some respect.

They’ve done this “parenting thing” once before, and regardless on how you feel they did, they did DO it.

You’re alive.

They survived.

That should earn them at least one little gold star sticker. 

So, take a deep breath, acknowledge that they do have positives, and let’s plunge on.

Affirm – Petition – Affirm

Okay, so your mother is repeatedly doing something that is against your wishes.

Confrontation is inevitable.  Or there’s going to be a blowout.

How do you handle this?

Take the APA Approach.  Affirm – Petition – Affirm

Affirm – Start by thanking her for all her help, listing an example of how much your son loves her.

Mom, thanks so much for watching Tristan while I went to the dentist.  He loves spending time with you, and it’s such a big help to know I can call you.  I’m so lucky to live close by.

Petition – Share what you’d like her to do (or not do) and how that negatively hurts your baby (not you, her grandchild is the focus here).

I know that you really love spending time with him, but can you wait until he wakes up before holding him?  If his nap is cut short he gets really fussy  and then struggles to sleep through that night.

Affirm - Listen to her response, re-emphasizing if you need to how this would serve the baby.  Then follow up with a thank you and another affirmation about how important she is in your baby’s life or include her in an activity.

Thank you so much, Mom!  That will help him so much.  We were going to take a walk this afternoon, would you like to come with us and feed the ducks?

Affirm – Remind – Petition

Okay, so let’s say that conversation goes well.

But next week when she comes over to watch him for a couple hours while you do some shopping, you discover she’s done it again.

Enter Affirm – Remind – Petition

Affirm – Show your appreciation for her help today.

Thanks Mom for helping me today with Tristan.  Taking him out shopping would have been a nightmare.

Remind – Nonchalantly remind her of what you previously discussed.

We did talk about letting  him sleep the entire nap through. Do you remember that? How waking him during the day before he’s ready causes him sleep problems later in the evening?

Petition - Ask again that she not do (or do) what you need.

Okay, well I would REALLY appreciate it next time if you’d let him finish the nap completely.  Even if he makes little noises, can you leave him in there until his eyes are fully opened in the monitor?

Boundary – Affirm

So what happens if it happens AGAIN?

It’s time for a boundary.

Just as you must respect her for the hard parenting work she’s done, she must learn to respect YOU and the hard parenting work you’re trying to do.

Boundary - Change your plans, adjust your expectations, and figure out how to prevent this issue from happening again.

Thanks Mom for offering, but I really need Tristan to sleep well tonight.  So I’m going to run my errands in the morning with him.  (Or I’ve arranged to drop him off at a friends, etc.)

Affirm – Follow up with a gesture or comment that reaffirms that she is an important part of your life, and you still want to involve her.

Want me to stop by for a quick visit on my way to Target?  Or do you and Dad want to come over for supper tonight?

Wait a few weeks, and then try again to see if she’s re-considered your request.  If not, repeat the Boundary-Affirm step again.

The Nuclear Option

Is there ever a time when you have to pull out the Big Red Nuclear Button of no-contact?

Unfortunately, yes.

When do you choose it?

Hopefully never.

Grandparents are important in your baby’s life.  They provide a “this is my generational family and I belong in it” feel that will help her in the teenage years of confusion.

That said, sometimes it’s necessary to pull the plug on bad grandparent influences for your children.

You want to break bad cycles.  Not repeat them.

People can change, so watch carefully for signs that perhaps the parents you knew aren’t going to be the grandparents your kids know.

Case in point: my grandfather, God rest his soul, was abusive in his younger years.  A fact I was shocked to learn after he died.  I have very fond impactful memories of my grandfather.  Time (and God) had mellowed him down to a gentle lamb by the time my cousins and I came around.

Judge your parents (and in-laws) on what the choices they are making NOW before you choose the no-contact nuclear option for your kids.

Once you use that nuclear button, it’s very hard to go back to build those relationships again.

So think carefully before pushing it.

Heather's signatureP.S. How have you learned to handle confrontations with grandparents? Give me your tips in the comments!

{Top Photo Credit: © Paul Prescott – Fotolia.com}

Elementary, and this article,
my dear Watson!

{Confession:  I’m only slightly obsessed with the BBC’s new version…}

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