Becoming a grandparent is one of the great joys in life. You get to enjoy the little one’s first steps, partake in family vacations, and be there to watch your children enter a new phase in life as parents. At the same time, you get to sidestep all of the pesky downsides of actual parenting—the nightly wake-ups, the sleep training, the report cards, that whole puberty thing, and having to save for college tuition.
But that doesn’t mean grandparenting is entirely a walk in the park. And just because the relationship between grandparents and grandchildren is a special one doesn’t mean it comes without its issues. After all, for many grandparents, getting a little too enthusiastic about getting to relive those glory days of parenting can earn you the ire of your grandchild’s parents—and possibly have adverse effects on the child’s life in the long run.
Don’t let that be you. Before you start spouting know-it-all-advice, come home with a golden retriever, or take your grandkid for their first tattoo, make sure you know these 40 things grandparents should never do.
Birth is a miraculous thing, but, for many people, it’s also a particularly private one—and can involve some intense recovery. While you might want to be there for the birth of your grandchild, it’s imperative that you only show up at the hospital if asked.
“It’s important for grandparents to respect the parents’ values and standards and not to overstep boundaries or undermine,” says Rabbi Shlomo Slatkin, MS, LCPC, Imago therapist and co-founder of the Marriage Restoration Project.
Is that tiny sailor suit you brought for your new grandchild adorable? Sure. Is it also more than a bit rude to insist upon the new parents dressing their child in it? Definitely.
While you may want your preferred items to get worn by your new grandkid, it’s not your place to insist that they’re wearing something you like for their first family photos. If the outfit is a gift, treat it as such: the parents and kids get to choose the rules about when and where it gets used.
While new parents may be eager to shed the weight that they gained during pregnancy, it’s never fun to have someone else start a conversation about it.
If you wouldn’t tell someone to lose weight apropos of nothing, it’s not appropriate to do it during the particularly vulnerable time after they give birth, either.
Even if you have a family tradition of passing down names generation after generation, that doesn’t mean your own children will continue the trend. In fact, the more you suggest a name—or even, god forbid, insist on a name—the more you’re guaranteed to annoy not only your child but also your child’s spouse. At best, your suggestions will be ignored. At worst, resented.
Coming home to a clean house after having a new baby is undeniably nice—if you’ve requested it personally. Finding out that your mother-in-law has folded your lacy underwear, however, is not.
No matter how ridiculous you might think a parent’s request to wash your hands one more time or get your flu shot might be, it’s their prerogative to ask you. And if you choose not to comply, don’t be surprised when they don’t let you around their precious little one.
You may think you’re a baby whisperer, but if your grandchild starts crying for their parents, don’t insist upon continuing to hold them. That trick that always worked to stop your own offspring from crying when they were little isn’t foolproof, and keeping an upset child from their main sources of comfort will likely only make the problem worse.
If your grandchild’s parents insist upon avoiding time-outs—or has a specific policy regarding the discipline of their child—it’s up to the grandparents to follow that procedure, too.
That means abiding by their rules, no matter how silly they may seem to you. Just because you spanked your child and they turned out fine doesn’t mean you get to decide that the same goes for your grandkids.
Your children may have slept as babies on their bellies in cribs full of stuffed animals and blankets, but if their parents insist upon using only AAP-recommended sleep practices, it’s the grandparents’ job to stick to them, too.
Don’t just assume that everything will be fine because you have anecdotal evidence to support your position—if they say the baby goes on their back in an empty crib, that’s how they need to sleep, even at your house.
With the ever-rising cost of childcare, it makes sense for some families to have one parent stay home, while for others, maintaining their lifestyle means both parents working. Even if you have strong opinions about who is juggling what, you’d be very wise to keep them to yourself.
Every family is different, so the things you did as a parent won’t necessarily fly when you have grandkids. As a grandparent, you’re beholden to your grandchild’s parents’ rules, and you’d be well-advised to stick to them if you want to keep spending time with those little ones. After all, even if you think you really nailed the parenting thing, your own kid probably has a slightly different opinion of how their childhood went down, anyway.
Potty training can be a particularly difficult time, but it’s important you follow the rules to a T, lest you set your grandchild back. While it may be more work for you, it will definitely be easier in the long run when you’re not dealing with a six-year-old in diapers.
Sure, everyone in your family may have had a christening or a bris, but that doesn’t mean your kids will necessarily continue that tradition. And certainly don’t sneak off to have any of those rituals done without their parents’ consent: a little holy water may seem like no big deal to you, but don’t be surprised if that’s the last activity your grandchild’s parents let you do with them.
While grandparents are notorious for indulging their grandchildren, that doesn’t mean you should take every opportunity to load them with sugar. Not only is having ice cream on a daily basis not a doctor-recommended practice, but also doing so can also make it difficult for parents to get their kids to return to a healthier diet when they get back home.
There are plenty of big life lessons you might want to share with your grandkids, but doing so without their parents’ permission is likely to land you in hot water. As much of a boon as it might seem to explain death or procreation to your grandchildren, if their parents don’t think it’s the right time, it’s your job to hold off.
Getting kids to bed is difficult enough as it is without having someone breaking the bedtime rules and letting them stay up until all hours. If you want to stay on your own kids’ good side, it’s important to make sure their kids adhere to their bedtimes, even if you think staying up late once in a while couldn’t hurt.
Haircuts—especially first haircuts—are a big deal to a lot of parents, so giving an impromptu buzz cut to your grandkid probably won’t fly.
And considering that haircuts have a lot of cultural significance to some families, taking your grandchild to the salon without permission could lead to some serious turmoil with your own kids.
You may not think your children are parenting their kids right, but that doesn’t mean it’s ever okay to tell your grandkids that. It’s important for kids to see their adult role models as members of the same team—and, at the very least, you should remember that virtually anything you say about a kid’s parents will end up repeated to mom and dad.
Whether it’s their first time eating ice cream or their first trip to a movie in the theaters, it’s important for grandparents to ask before taking their grandkids out for a major life experience.
Just like you might have been sad to miss your own child’s first steps, you never know what milestones are a big deal to a kid’s parents until you ask.
There’s enough of a raging debate on the internet and in public spaces about the relative benefits of breastfeeding versus formula feeding, so there’s no need to add to it personally.
There are countless factors behind why someone might choose to do one or the other, including medical issues, work schedules, and personal preference, so inserting your own opinion into the conversation will only add to a parent’s frustration.
If your grandchild’s parents tell you to give them a frozen washcloth or baby-safe pain medicine to relieve their teething issues, it’s important to adhere to those rules. If they come back and find their child weeping as you rub whiskey on their gums and put potatoes in their socks, don’t be surprised if you’re not asked to babysit again.
Yes, an additional showing of The Little Mermaid might get your flailing toddler grandchild to calm down, but, in most cases, so would ignoring that tantrum. And if you’re giving into your grandkids’ tantrums, you’re only making it harder for their parents to deal with them via their own methods at home.
While the debate over how much screen time is too much will likely rage on ad infinitum, one thing is clear: if your grandchild’s parents say there’s a set amount allowed, you should follow the letter of the law.
Sure, you may not think that there’s much of a difference between organic food and the less expensive stuff your kids were raised on, but that doesn’t mean you can simply ignore how your grandkids’ parents want them to be fed. Silly as it may seem to you, if they say that organic cheese puffs and fruit snacks are better than traditionally-grown vegetables, it’s your job to oblige.
You may think that your grandchild looks absolutely adorable wearing nothing but tutus or clothing with cartoon characters on them, but if that’s not what their parents want them to wear, it’s important to respect that. After all, there will be plenty of opportunities to buy your grandkid clothes over their lifetime, but you won’t necessarily get the chance to do so if you start ignoring their parents’ rules at an early age.
Is it fine to tell your grandchild that you like their new haircut or love the way they did their makeup for Halloween? Of course. However, when you focus too much on their appearance on a daily basis, it can create an obsession with maintaining a certain standard for their looks, or make them feel like a failure when they fall short.
A few gifts on birthdays or holidays is fine, but if your grandkids are getting new toys every time they come to your house, don’t be surprised when their parents ask you to stop. Aside from the fact that you’re setting up unrealistic expectations for the grandkids at a young age, you’re also clogging their home with crap. “While a grandparent’s job is to spoil the grandkids, their agenda can conflict with that of Mom and Dad and can lead to a clash,” says Slatkin.
While many grandparents are undeniably important members of their families, it’s important to recognize that this doesn’t mean they’re automatically invited to everything their grandchild does. Sometimes, that means the new family making memories of their own without you in tow—and that’s okay, even if it stings a little at first.
Pets can be wonderful companions, but they’re also an expensive long-term commitment. If you want to get a pet your grandchildren will adore, get one they can come visit at your house—don’t just show up with a golden retriever puppy with a red bow on its neck at their birthday.
While you may think your grandchildren are perfect angels compared to their parents, comparing the two won’t go over well. Every family is different, and inviting comparisons between your kids and their kids will only make everyone involved feel less worthy.
It might be nice to imagine that your grandkids will be celebrating the Norman Rockwell-style Christmases with you that you’ve always imagined, but don’t be surprised when that’s not the case.
If you’re not the only set of grandparents, your grandkids may have to divide their time between homes at the holidays. And, of course, not every family wants to continue the religious or cultural traditions of their parents, so ask first before buying that Santa suit.
Joining the Clean Plate Club may have been essential for your own kids, but that doesn’t mean your grandchildren have to follow suit. In fact, research from the Ohio State University Center for Clinical and Translational Science suggests that how a child is fed—and not just what they’re fed—is a major influence on childhood obesity.
Just because you did something a certain way when your kids were growing up doesn’t mean that you should keep repeating those same choices with your grandkids—especially if you found that doing so had adverse outcomes. Your kids and your grandchildren are different people, and simply repeating your own previous parenting patterns doesn’t account for how the times have changed—or who your grandkids are as individuals.
If your grandchild’s parents say sun hats at the beach, no makeup, and no piercings until college, it’s important you heed those preferences. While you might think it’s adorable to take your grandchild to get their ears pierced, doing so without their parents’ consent is a major violation of their trust.
You might want the inside scoop on what’s really going on in your grandchild’s home, from why that creditor was calling to why one of them was sleeping on the couch last night, but prying for information will rarely end well. Remember: kids love to repeat things, so anything you ask your grandkid will definitely make it back to their parents.
Just because you might prefer one of your grandchildren to the other doesn’t mean you should ever, ever make that known to them. Playing favorites will only make your grandchildren resent you and make your own children less-than-eager to have you watch their kids.
While it’s nice to imagine that you can give your grandkids the world, promising them things you can’t deliver will only leave them disappointed in the end. Keeping their expectations grounded in reality will serve you both better: they won’t be sad when you can’t take them to Disneyland every year and you won’t be burning through your retirement fund to get them everything their heart desires.
You probably have tons of stories about your grandchild’s parents that you’d love to share. That said, telling your grandkids embarrassing moments from their parents’ past will only cause resentment between you and their parents, especially when their kids start bringing up what you’ve told them as a means of getting their way.
Whether you’re smoking, drinking, cursing, or playing it fast and loose with the seatbelt laws, just know that those bad habits you’re engaging in now will get noticed by your grandchildren. And when their parents see their own children emulating those behaviors, don’t be surprised when your babysitting privileges get revoked.
While you may have a special bond with your grandkids, it’s important to remember that you’re not their actual parent. Though it may be difficult, taking a backseat to your grandchild’s actual parents when it comes to writing the rules about how they live and behave will keep everyone happier in the long run.
It’s understandable that you are completely enamored of the new additions to your family. That said, if you’re not immediately asked to be a constant fixture in your grandchild’s life, especially in the first few months of it, that doesn’t mean it’s time to start laying on the “you never know how many years I have left” lines. The first few months of a baby’s life are a struggle for the little one and parents alike, and guilt-tripping the new family about your lack of inclusion is only going to make you persona non grata in their lives.
Car accidents are a leading cause of death and injury among children in the United States and beyond, meaning car seat safety is no laughing matter. Even if kids were allowed to sit in the front seat or you played fast and loose with your own kids’ seatbelts or restraints and they survived, that doesn’t mean doing the same is ever acceptable with your grandkids. Don’t be surprised if you don’t get to drive them around any longer if you don’t abide by their parents’ rules on the road.
Your kids may have loved playing violin, taking taekwondo, or doing ballet, but that doesn’t mean your grandkids have the same tastes. Even if you offer to shell out the cash for lessons you’re sure will enrich their little lives, don’t expect your grandkids to participate in activities just because you want them to. With long days at school and a mountain of homework to come home to, odds are they’ve got plenty on their plates already.
While gender roles may have been clearly defined when you were growing up—and there may have been consequences for violating those norms at the time—that doesn’t mean you should force those antiquated beliefs on your grandkids.
If your male grandchild loves playing with dolls, let him play with dolls. Don’t tell your granddaughter that she should be the nurse when she’s playing hospital with her brother. And don’t make a big deal of a kid wearing pink or blue, even if it’s not typically associated with their gender. They’re just colors, after all.
Maybe you think public school provides a better foundation for kids than private. Maybe you can’t imagine your grandkids being educated outside a Montessori setting. Maybe you think that religious instruction is an important part of the school day. However, regardless of what you want for your grandkids, remember it’s up to their parents to get them educated—and private school or religious education may not fit with their budget or priorities.
You may have been able to take your kids on a vacation overseas and a trip to Hawaii every year, dress them in designer clothes, and send them to expensive sleep-away camp each summer, but you shouldn’t expect their parents to do the same.
Not every family has the same financial privilege, and expecting that your grandkids will live according your standards will only put undue pressure on both them and their parents.
That drum kit, video game, or vuvuzela horn may seem like fun presents to you, but that’s probably only because you won’t have to live in close proximity to the person playing with them. When in doubt, err on the side of silence.
Getting hugs and cuddles from your grandkids may be a wonderful feeling, but that doesn’t mean you should ever insist upon receiving physical affection. If your grandkids don’t want a hug, it may be disappointing, but forcing them to give you one anyway teaches them the wrong lesson about bodily autonomy.
Are mom and dad sticklers for politeness? If you’re watching your grandkids, it’s important that you make sure they’re saying “please” and “thank you” just as often as their parents expect them to at home.
You may want to get handwritten letters, weekly phone calls, and regular FaceTime requests from your grandkids, but don’t expect that they’ll be doing all the legwork on that front. If you want to keep in contact with your grandchildren, the onus is, at least to some degree, on you. So before you start lamenting how little you hear from them, try reaching out instead.
Not every family has the means or the desire to have multiple children, and for some families, like those struggling with infertility, fielding requests for additional grandkids can be a painful conversation. Before you say something that could potentially strain your relationship, just remember how lucky you are to be a grandparent in the first place.
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