A modern lifestyle brand redefining motherhood

Debate Club: Is the Role of Grandparents to Spoil Their Grandchildren?

Go Ahead and Spoil!

Fiona Tapp

Some rules are non-negotiable, the kind of rules that keep children safe and well, the kind of rules that keep our home clean and tidy, and the kind that ensure children are polite, considerate, and kind.

As long as my child’s well being is being promoted, and he is happy and healthy, I am pretty flexible with anything that goes down at Grandma and Grandpa’s house.

My reasoning for being lax about his weekends away are varied, but include my honest assessment that I should be grateful when someone else cares for my child. We all need time away from our children from time to time, whether it’s for some much needed head space or simply because you need to work. Having a reliable person to watch your child is a luxury, and if it’s free of charge as well, you really have hit the jackpot.

To complain and whine about small infractions of your usual household rules when you’re being given a gift that many parents without extended family would kill to have is really very petty.

Parents that demand their rules are followed when their children stay with other adults often claim that they don’t want to confuse their child by having different rules for different households. But this reasoning is completely invalid.

I worked as a teacher for over a decade and can tell you with certainty that my child and yours are easily able to differentiate between varying expectations of their behavior and conduct in different settings. Just as there may be one rule for home and one for school, children are able to expertly navigate between different sets of rules and parenting styles.

When your child is with another trusted adult, you need to acquiesce control to them and allow them to make their own decisions. So many moms try to micromanage every aspect of their child’s life, which can be quite damaging to their relationship with their grandparents. As long as your child is cared for and healthy, does it really matter if they eat a little junk food or watch a little TV?

Staying with the grandparents is often a rare treat. A short break from the usual rules can’t really do any harm. Rather, it helps to develop loving family bonds and memories of enjoying time with their grandparents.

Part of being a grandparent is not having all the day-to-day parenting worries of raising children and instead focusing on the fun bits, which is precisely why many grandparents claim to enjoy being a grandparent more than they enjoyed being a parent. Grand-parenting is, in essence, the very best bits of parenting with all the daily slog and responsibility removed.

So why not just let them enjoy it?

I can’t help but think that by supplying your parents or in laws with a list of rules and regulations they must follow when they watch your child is hugely insulting. After all, they did successfully manage to raise children of their own.

So I say let them be spoiled. That’s what grandparents are for.

When Grandparents Spoil it Undermines the Parents

Kathryn Trudeau

As the car pulled into the pet store, I felt that I’d already won half the victory. To this day, I’m not sure how I convinced my Grandma to take me to the pet store, but I feel like it probably had more to do with my Grandma wanting to make me happy and less to do with my excellent skills of persuasion.

I started the begging requests for a white kitten, but my pet mission was nonetheless successful as I walked out of the store with Cookie, an olive green parakeet. I couldn’t have been happier. My mother, on the hand, was not so pleased by this addition to the family. At the time, I didn’t realize how something as sweet as my little bird could be such a source of contention, but now with the experience of being a parent myself, I get it.  

Grandparents, as awesome and special as they are, need limits on their spoiling.

I absolutely believe that children need their grandparents in their lives, if possible. I’m merely discussing the limitations of a grandparents’ role. Here’s the bottom line: While close relationships with grandparents yield many positive benefits, the relationship becomes less beneficial when the grandparents have an “anything-goes” mindset and/or free reign power.

In fact, there are many benefits for a grandparent who grandparents without free reign spoiling abilities.

Prevent sabotage

Okay, Jenny. Your mama is gone. You can watch TV now. Even though you’re grounded, you can watch a little at my house. It’ll be okay.

Nothing sabotages parental authority quicker than a grandparent who completely overrules a parent’s rules or wishes. It might seem so innocent to indulge in an extra TV show or dessert, but deliberately disobeying parents teaches Jenny that, not only can she disobey a parent’s rule, but she can also be sneaky about it. This often sends conflicting messages to children.

When grandparents spoil children within parameters (i.e. parents’ rules), they cannot sabotage the parents’ authority.

Weakening the family value system 

Once Jenny learns that it’s okay to be sneaky to get around the rules, the whole value system of the family becomes compromised. Whether or not the grandparent intended to, Jenny is taught that it’s okay to sneak, lie, and disobey parents. With habits like that, the sturdy value system of a family is at risk.

On the other hand, when grandparents reinforce the rules of parents, it helps to fortify the value system of the child. Supporting the parents instills a sense of integrity and honesty within the child.

Safety

Rules (all rules, from house rules to rules of the road) are designed with one thing in mind: safety. When grandparents spoil children with reckless abandon, the child’s safety can be threatened. I have witnessed this on three occasions.

  • A grandma who allowed her grandson to have root beer floats for breakfast, which seemed like an innocent-enough treat. But the excess sugar caused problems with the boy’s medication.
  • A grandmother who felt inspired to take extra care of her grandson by giving him a daily vitamin. Because she had taken this matter into her own hands without talking to the boy’s mother, the child received double the dose.
  • A grandfather repeatedly gave almond milk to a baby despite the parents’ requests not to, insisting it was a treat and better for the baby. Not only is almond milk not recommended as baby formula, but the parents quickly lost trust due to this form of “spoiling.”

How to spoil within the limits of parents’ rules

Before I have every grandparent knocking on my door, I want to reiterate that I do believe grandparents are incredibly valuable. Grandchildren who are close to their grandparents benefit from their wisdom, stories, and relaxed demeanor. Grandparents are role models and a source of tremendous, unconditional love.

But the truth is, grandparents do not need to raise grandchildren. They can take excellent care of grandchildren without stepping on the toes of the parents.

Spend more time than money

When grandparents consistently arrive for a visit with a toy, it increases expectation for the future. Pretty soon, the child is going to answer the door saying, “Hi Grandma, what did you bring me?” Limiting toys and treats will keep them special and not expected.

Follow parents’ rules

A grandparent who supports a parent teaches a child just how important it is to obey parents. This lesson will continue to be especially important as the child grows up and is tempted to break even more rules.

Love abundantly

A grandparent cannot say “I love you” too much. In fact, there’s no limit on how much a grandparent can love a grandchild. Having another source of unconditional love in a child’s life improves his or her mental and emotional wellbeing.

Children who grow up feeling loved are more likely to handle stress better as adults, engage in more close, healthy relationships, and be more well-adjusted.

A little goes a long way

Like all things in life, moderation is key. A treat here or there is a special way to surprise a child.

Parents of young children have a lot on their plates, from being new at parenting to learning how to discipline children with love. It can be frustrating when grandparents’ spoiling overrides their rules or wishes.

But if grandparents spoil within the parents’ rules, life is not only easier for the parents, but the message sent to their children is loud and clear: Both parents and grandparents offer abundant, unconditional love, are all part of a strong family unit, and everyone has a place in that family structure.

Who said motherhood doesn't come with a manual?

Subscribe to get inspiration and super helpful ideas to rock your #momlife. Motherhood looks amazing on you.

Motherly provides information of a general nature and is designed for educational purposes only. This site does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.Your use of the site indicates your agreement to be bound by our  Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. Information on our advertising guidelines can be found here.