Becoming a grandparent can easily rank among the happiest and most meaningful experiences in someone’s life. And while grandparents may dream of spending holidays together and becoming a beloved fixture in their grandkids’ lives, the reality isn’t always such a rosy picture. So if you’re a parent and you want to make sure you treat your parents right, read on to discover what things really get on grandma and grandpa’s nerves—even if they’d never admit it.
Many grandparents love being able to have a special, non-parental bond with their grandkids—even when it means going a little overboard. So they find themselves struggling when they’re “not allowed… to break the rules on occasion,” says Tara Egan, Ed.D., owner and parent coach at Charlotte Parent Coaching, LLC, and author of Better Behavior for Ages 2-10. Think “having extra dessert, treating them to a gift, or staying up a little later.”
“The older generation often feels that the younger generation is spoiled, entitled, and indulged,” says Egan. In fact, according to AARP’s 2018 Grandparents Today National Survey, more than half of grandparents think of themselves as expert sources regarding morality and values.
While parents are allowed to have their own sets of rules regarding their kids’ wellbeing, many grandparents will find themselves frustrated when their children act as though they don’t know what they’re doing when it comes to taking care of kids. After all, if they’re grandparents, they probably managed to keep at least one person alive until adulthood.
Though it’s unlikely that most grandparents will insist on a finishing school for their grandkids, it’s likely to irritate them if they don’t see manners being reinforced. And yes, even if it seems antiquated, that might just mean sending physical thank you cards following holidays and birthdays.
Want a surefire way to annoy a grandparent? Ask them for advice and then act like it’s ridiculous. “My kids ask for advice and then they don’t follow what I tell them works,” says parenting coach Maggie Stevens, author of The Parent Fix: When Parents Change…Kids Change and a grandma herself. “It drives me crazy because I have experience in areas they need help, but they refuse to acknowledge that expertise.”
So, you ignored your own mom’s advice, but were happy to listen to some stranger on the internet’s opinion on how to parent? “Grandparents want to be useful and helpful, but parents today are less likely to ask or take advice,” says child psychotherapist and parenting expert Jen O’Rourke, MA, MFT. “This can leave grandparents feeling confused about their role.”
Sure, grandparents may not have the strict rules about toys, treats, and bedtimes that parents often do, but that doesn’t mean their houses have “anything goes” policies.
“One of the biggest issues I have—and many of my grandparent-clients have—is their home being left a mess after the adult-children and grandchildren leave. Food spills are left on the floor, toys are scattered all over the house, and a mess of dishes and cups cover the kitchen,” says clinical psychologist Melissa Jones, who runs the Family Centered Life blog. “All of this causes stress on the grandparents because now they have a mess to clean up after spending all day or all afternoon playing with, babysitting, and/or entertaining children and grandchildren.”
Lots of grandparents love doing art projects with their grandkids. That said, they’re a whole lot less thrilled when those art projects make their way onto the walls, floors, or that new set of cream-colored couches.
That child-led parenting approach you’re taking with your kids—including letting them set their own bedtimes or choose their own meals—is unlikely to fly with grandma or grandpa. “Poor parenting skills are an area of annoyance and stress for grandparents,” says Jones. In fact, according to the aforementioned AARP grandparents’ survey, 77 percent of grandparents surveyed said that today’s parents are too lax with their children.
While free-range parenting may not be most grandparents’ style, that doesn’t mean helicopter parenting looks much better to them. According to the AARP, 49 percent of grandparents polled said that today’s parents are too overprotective of their kids.
If grandma or grandpa was raised with more than their fair share of discipline at home or was strict with their own kids, it might pain them to see their grandkids being raised with a more laissez-faire attitude. “Today’s grandparents worry that their grandchildren won’t ‘turn out right’ for lack of consequences and discipline,” says family therapist Raffi Bilek, LCSW-C, director of the Baltimore Therapy Center.
Most parents just want the best for their kids, but sometimes, to grandparents, all those expensive after school lessons, new outfits, and pricey toys can look like they’ll lead to spoiled kids in the end.
While it’s certainly nice when grandparents want to watch their grandkids for free, assuming that that will always be the case can be a major source of contention.
Consider that double the number of seniors that were working in 1985 are working today. It’s true: According to a 2019 report from Capital One and United Income, 20 percent of adults 65 or older are still in the workforce. So it may not be feasible for grandparents to watch their grandkids without some financial incentive.
While grandparents may be eager to spoil their grandkids, that doesn’t mean they should be expected to foot the bill for things all the time. So, how much are grandparents shelling out these days? According to AARP, grandparents spend an average of $2,562 on their grandkids each year.
Yes, those constant requests to “borrow” some cash—knowing full well it’ll take you a lifetime to pay it back, if you ever do—are more than a little annoying.
With the (often-exorbitant) spending that goes along with being a grandparent, it’s no surprise that some grandmothers and grandfathers aren’t too thrilled when their grandkids don’t ever wear those outfits they bought them. Those ruffly dresses and baby bow ties weren’t free, you know!
You might think that naming your baby is a decision best left to you and your partner, but the odds that your parents or in-laws agree with you are slim. In fact, according to a survey from parenting website Mumsnet, just 31 percent of the 2,000 grandparents polled thought that naming the grandkids was none of their business.
Don’t expect on a ringing endorsement from your parents about that uncommon name you gave their grandkid. According to the same Mumsnet survey, 28 percent of grandparents took issue with their grandkid’s name for being “too odd,” while 15 percent had a problem with it being “made up” or “unconventional.” (Apologies to all the Khaleesis out there.)
Parents often want to be there for all of their kids’ firsts—their first trip to the park, their first movie, their first haircut—but not allowing grandparents to participate in some of those milestones can be a real problem. After all, if they’re watching the grandkids, it stands to reason they might want to make those special memories, too.
Those trips to the beach, vacations in Europe, and nights spent camping in national parks probably look pretty fun to your kids’ grandparents, too. Even if they can’t go, it never hurts to ask!
Just because grandma or grandpa wants to babysit doesn’t mean they want to do so at the drop of a hat. Unless you want to strain your relationship, don’t expect that you can drop the kids off unannounced at a grandparent’s house every time you want to hit the movies or have date night.
When grandma said she was happy to watch the kids for the weekend, she definitely wasn’t counting on your half-blind 100-pound Cane Corso being part of the deal.
Want to annoy a grandparent in your life? Call them by their name. According to AARP, 70 percent of grandmothers are called some form of “grandma,” 60 percent of grandfathers are called some form of “grandpa,” and just 5 percent of grandparents are called by their first name.
Not raising your kids to put their boots out for St. Nick at Christmas or attend services on Yom Kippur may seem like no big deal to you, but to many grandparents, not having those cultural traditions passed down can be seriously hurtful. Roughly 90 percent of grandparents polled in AARP’s survey said that it was important for grandkids to learn about their heritage.
When your parents were kids, there were only a handful of channels on TV and they stopped running any programming after a certain point in the evening. Today, kids can watch TV, play games, and use social media on an ever-expanding array of devices at any hour of the day—and make no mistake, that doesn’t always seem like such a good thing to grandma or grandpa.
Want to keep your relationship with your kids’ grandparents civil? Then keep those harmonicas, talking dolls, karaoke sets, and race cars where they belong: at your house, not theirs.
It’s always exciting when grandparents get to teach their grandkids to excel at something. Less fun, however, is when mom or dad takes credit for those accomplishments. After all, it wasn’t them walking Jake through guitar chord charts or taking Ellie to the park to ride her bike every afternoon for years!
Don’t expect grandparents to always read between the lines. How are they supposed to know that “only one treat” means “but it has to be made with no refined sugar and can only be consumed before 7:00 p.m.?” And speaking of sugars…
While it’s clearly important to keep food allergies and intolerances in mind, putting strict food rules in place for no apparent reason is enough to rattle otherwise-unflappable grandparents. After all, is organic homemade mac and cheese really that much better for them than the boxed stuff from the store?
Sure, bobby socks and Peter Pan collars may not be the norm when it comes to kids’ clothing these days, but seeing a three-year-old wearing a shirt that says “h*** on wheels” might not get you grandma or grandpa’s seal of approval, either.
Want to avoid the wrath of your kids’ grandparents? Always send them over with a sweater, even if it’s August and so hot you could practically fry an egg on your car’s bumper. The kid won’t wear it, but at least you tried.
A surefire way to get on your parents’ bad sides? Making them the bad guy with your kids. The next time you tell your child that they can’t play on their Nintendo Switch in the car, remind them that it’s you making that decision instead of saying, “Grandma said we’re not allowed to use electronics at her house.”
Of course, little ones can’t be left alone at home when they’re ill, but that doesn’t mean their grandparents are eager to play medic to them all day.
All that quality time grandparents spend with their grandkids does more than give them a close bond—it also puts them at serious risk for catching everything kids get, from lice to strep to once-eradicated diseases that have returned with a vengeance, like measles.
Just because grandma doesn’t have her own TikTok account doesn’t mean she’s completely tech-illiterate!
One of the biggest pet peeves grandparents have? Seeing their children play things fast and loose with their kids’ futures. Watching grandkids get new electronics and expensive clothes while their college funds have practically no cash in them can have even the most understanding grandparents feeling more than a little stressed.
Sure, safety standards have changed since the days when you could put a toddler in the front seat and have nobody think twice about it. But when you start installing baby gates throughout your parents’ house without asking first, that might make grandma and grandpa a little miffed.
Reminder to anyone who thinks it’s cute to have their kids ask strangers at the park if they’re 100: Not all grandparents are 100!
Can you completely understand the desire to squeeze a chubby little baby thigh or stroke their soft cheeks? Absolutely. Does that mean any grandparent is eager to have a stranger at Target reach into the stroller they’re pushing to do that to their grandkid? That’s a hard no.
Perhaps the biggest grievance among grandparents? Not hearing from their grandkids enough. (And yes, that means, if yours are still around, you should give them a call ASAP.) And if you want to be a better grandparent yourself, make sure you avoid these 50 Things Grandparents Should Never Do.
To discover more amazing secrets about living your best life, click here to follow us on Instagram!