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

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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.

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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.

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As mamas, we naturally become the magic-makers for our families. We sing the songs that make the waits seem shorter, dispense the kisses that help boo-boos hurt less, carry the seemingly bottomless bags of treasures, and find ways to turn even the most hum-drum days into something memorable.

Sometimes it's on a family vacation or when exploring a new locale, but often it's in our own backyards or living rooms. Here are 12 ways to create magical moments with kids no matter where your adventures take you.


1. Keep it simple

Mary Poppins may be practically perfect in every way, but―trust us―your most magical memories don't require perfection. Spend the morning building blanket forts or break out the cookie cutters to serve their sandwich in a fun shape and you'll quickly learn that, for kids, the most magical moments are often the simplest.

2. Get on their level

Sometimes creating a memorable moment can be as easy as getting down on the floor and playing with your children. So don't be afraid to get on your hands and knees, to swing from the monkey bars, or turn watching your favorite movie into an ultimate snuggle sesh.

3. Reimagine the ordinary

As Mary says, "the cover is not the book." Teach your child to see the world beyond initial impressions by encouraging them to imagine a whole new world as you play―a world where the laundry basket can be a pirate ship or a pile of blankets can be a castle.

4. Get a little messy

Stomp in muddy puddles. Break out the finger paint. Bake a cake and don't worry about frosting drips on the counter. The messes will wait, mama. For now, let your children―and yourself―live in these moments that will all too soon become favorite memories.

5. Throw out the plan

The best-laid plans...are rarely the most exciting. And often the most magical moments happen by accident. So let go of the plan, embrace the unexpected, and remember that your child doesn't care if the day goes according to the schedule.

6. Take it outside

There's never a wrong time of year to make magic outside. Take a stroll through a spring rainstorm, catch the first winter snowflakes on your tongue, or camp out under a meteor shower this summer. Mother Nature is a natural at creating experiences you'll both remember forever.

7. Share your childhood memories

Chances are if you found it magical as a child, then your kids will too. Introduce your favorite books and movies (pro tip: Plan a double feature with an original like Mary Poppins followed with the sequel, Mary Poppins Returns!) or book a trip to your favorite family vacation spot from the past. You could even try to recreate photos from your old childhood with your kids so you can hang on to the memory forever.

8. Just add music

Even when you're doing something as humdrum as prepping dinner or tidying up the living room, a little music has a way of upping the fun factor. Tell Alexa to cue up your favorite station for a spontaneous family dance party or use your child's favorite movie soundtrack for a quick game of "Clean and Freeze" to pick up toys at the end of the day.

9. Say "yes"

Sometimes it can feel like you're constantly telling your child "no." While it's not possible to grant every request (sorry, kiddo, still can't let you drive the car!), plan a "yes" day for a little extra magic. That means every (reasonable) request gets an affirmative response for 24 hours. Trust us―they'll never forget it.

10. Let them take the lead

A day planned by your kid―can you imagine that? Instead of trying to plan what you think will lead to the best memories, put your kid in the driver's seat by letting them make the itinerary. If you have more than one child, break up the planning so one gets to pick the activity while the other chooses your lunch menu. You just might end up with a day you never expected.

11. Ask more questions

Odds are, your child might not remember every activity you plan―but they will remember the moments you made them feel special. By focusing the conversation on your little one―their likes, dislikes, goals, or even just craziest dreams―you teach them that their perspective matters and that you are their biggest fan.

12. Turn a bad day around

Not every magical moment will start from something good. But the days where things don't go to plan can often turn out to be the greatest memories, especially when you find a way to turn even a negative experience into a positive memory. So don't get discouraged if you wake up to rain clouds on your beach day or drop the eggs on the floor before breakfast―take a cue from Mary Poppins and find a way to turn the whole day a little "turtle."

Mary Poppins Returns available now on Digital & out on Blue-ray March 19! Let the magic begin in your house with a night where everything is possible—even the impossible ✨

After a pregnancy that is best described as uncomfortable, Jessica Simpson is finally done "Jess-tating" and is now a mama of three.

Baby Birdie Mae Johnson joined siblings Ace and Maxwell on Tuesday, March 19, Simpson announced via Instagram.

Simpson's third child weighed in at 10 pounds, 13 ounces.

Birdie's name is no surprise to Jessica's Instagram followers, who saw numerous references to the name in her baby shower photos and IG stories in the last few weeks.

The name Birdie isn't in the top 1000 baby names according to the Social Security Administration, but It has been seeing a resurgence in recent years, according to experts.

"Birdie feels like a sassy but sweet, down-to-earth yet unusual name," Pamela Redmond Satran of Nameberry told Town and Country back in 2017. "It's also just old enough to be right on time."

At this moment in time, Simpson and her husband, former NFL player Eric Johnson, are probably busy counting little fingers and toes , which is great news because it means Simpson's toes can finally deflate. She's had a terrible time with swollen feet during this pregnancy, and was also hospitalized multiple times due to bronchitis in her final trimester.

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We're so glad to see Simpson's little Birdie has finally arrived!

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Spring is officially here and if you're looking for a way to celebrate the change in the season, why not treat the kids to some ice cream, mama?

DQ locations across the country (but not the ones in malls) are giving away free small vanilla cones today, March 20! So pack up the kids and get to a DQ near you.

And if you can't make it today, from March 21 through March 31, DQ's got a deal where small cones will be just 50 cents (but you have to download the DQ mobile app to claim that one).

Another chain, Pennsylvania-based Rita's Italian Ice is also dishing up freebies today, so if DQ's not your thing you can grab a free cup of Italian ice instead.

We're so excited that ice cream season is here and snowsuit season is behind us. Just a few short weeks and the kids will be jumping through the sprinklers.

Welcome back, spring. We've missed you!

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The woman who basically single-handedly taught the world to embrace vulnerability and imperfection is coming to Netflix and we cannot wait to binge whatever Brené Brown's special will serve up because we'll probably be better people after watching it.

It drops on April 19 and is called Brené Brown: The Call to Courage. If it has even a fraction of the impact of her books or the viral Ted talk that made her a household name, it's going to be life and culture changing.

Announcing the special on Instagram Brown says she "cannot believe" she's about to be "breaking some boundaries over at Netflix" with the 77-minute special.

Netflix describes the special as a discussion of "what it takes to choose courage over comfort in a culture defined by scarcity, fear and uncertainty" and it sounds exactly like what we need right now.

April 19 is still pretty far away though, so if you need some of Brown's wisdom now, check out her books on Amazon or watch (or rewatch) the 2010 Ted Talk that put her—and our culture's relationship with vulnerability and shame—in the national spotlight.

The power of vulnerability | Brené Brown

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If Marie Kondo's Netflix show got people tidying up, Brown's Netflix special is sure to be the catalyst for some courageous choices this spring.

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My husband and I recently had a date night that included being away from our son overnight for the first time since he was born three years ago (but don't let your heads run away with a fantasy—we literally slept because we were exhausted #thisiswhatwecallfunnow). It was a combination of a late night work event, a feeling that we had to do something just for the two of us, and simple convenience. It would have taken hours to get home from the end of a very long day when we could just check into a hotel overnight and get home early the next day.

But before that night, I fretted about what to do. How would childcare work? No one besides me or my husband has put our son to bed, and we have never not been there when he wakes up in the morning.

Enter: Grandma.

I knew if there was any chance of this being successful, the only person that could pull it off is one of my son's favorite people—his grandmother. Grammy cakes. Gramma. We rely so much on these extended support systems to give us comfort and confidence as parents and put our kids at ease. Technically, we could parent without their support, but I'm so glad we don't have to.

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So as we walked out the door, leaving Grandma with my son for one night, I realized how lucky we are that she gets it...

She gets it because she always comes bearing delicious snacks. And usually a small toy or crayons in her bag for just the right moment when it's needed.

She gets it because she comes with all of the warmth and love of his parents but none of the baggage. None of the first time parent jitters and all of the understanding that most kids just have simple needs: to eat, play and sleep.

She gets it because she understands what I need too. The reassurance that my baby will be safe. And cared for.

She gets it because she's been in my shoes before. Decades ago, she was a nervous new mama too and felt the same worries. She's been exactly where we are.

She gets it because she shoos us away as we nervously say goodbye, calling out cheerfully, "Have fun, I've got this." And I know that she does.

She gets it because she will get down on the floor with him to play Legos—even though sometimes it's a little difficult to get back up.

She gets it because she will fumble around with our AppleTV—so different from her remote at home—to find him just the right video on Youtube that he's looking for.

She gets it because she diligently takes notes when we go through the multi-step bedtime routine that we've elaborately concocted, passing no judgment, and promising that she'll follow along as best as she can.

She gets it because she'll break the routine and lay next to him in bed when my son gets upset, singing softly in his ear until she sees his eyelids droop heavy and finally fall asleep.

She gets it because she'll text us to let us know when he's fallen asleep because she knows we'll be wondering.

She gets it because just like our son trusts us as his mom and dad, Grandma is his safe space. My son feels at ease with her—and that relaxes me, too.

She gets it because when we come home from our "big night out" the house will be clean. Our toddler's play table that always has some sort of sticky jelly residue on it will be spotless. The dishwasher empty. (Side note: She is my hero.)

She gets it because she shows up whenever we ask. Even when it means having to rearrange her schedule. Even when it means she has to sleep in our home instead of her own.

She gets it because even though she has her own life, she makes sure to be as involved in ours as she can. But that doesn't mean she gives unsolicited advice. It means that she's there. She comes to us or lets us come to her. Whenever we need her.

She gets it because she takes care of us, too. She's there to chat with at the end of a long day. To commiserate on how hard motherhood and working and life can be, but to also gently remind me, "These are the best days."

After every time Grandma comes over, she always leaves a family that feels so content. Fulfilled by her presence. The caretaking and nourishment (mental and food-wise) and warmth that accompanies her.

We know this is a privilege. We know we're beyond lucky that she is present and wants to be involved and gets it. We know that sometimes life doesn't work out like this and sometimes Grandma lives far away or is no longer here, or just doesn't get it. So we hold on. And appreciate every moment.

As Grandma leaves, I hug her tight and tell her, "I can't thank you enough. We couldn't have done this without you." Because we can't. And we wouldn't want to.

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