Have you ever felt like you or your partners’ parents are disrespecting you and your parenting?
Whether it’s the bedtime [evening routine] of your little one or which [first birthday party food] to pick, all too often it can feel like your toes are being stepped on. The question is, how do you navigate this sensitively and retain boundaries, without hurting the feelings of those around you?
Let’s take a closer look at what it actually means to be a toxic grandparent, and why some grandparents often undermine parents.
Signs That Your Parents Or Parents In Law Are Disrespecting You
Once you enter the world of parenthood, you’ll know by now that, all too often, those around you may have plenty of opinions on how to raise your brood. While advice and support are always welcome, sometimes it can feel a little too overbearing. It may not just be pearls of often outdated wisdom on how to raise your kids, but disrespect towards your parenting can take many forms. In severe cases, you may even feel you have a toxic grandparent on your hands.
Are You Being Undermined?
Let’s not forget grandparents have a unique and special role in your child's life, part of the role often comes with little extra leeways such as a few sweets here and there or a few extra treats. Besides, time spent together can be a precious and valuable time where wonderful memories are created. In an ideal world, grandparents make your life easier, you respect them, and everyone feels valued and included.
Don’t forget grandparents are familiar with the parenting role, and it may be hard for them to take a step back once your little one has arrived. Especially if this is their first grandchild, they aren’t familiar with seeing how you will run the show, and they may genuinely think they are giving you a break by stepping in. Communication is vital, and empathy is crucial to keep things positive.
Problems can start to arise when grandparents interfere with parenting persistently; they may undercut your views, or intrude with their own. Over time such situations can take their toll on your mental health. Another way of being disrespectful is the case of grandparents who don’t care about their grandkids.
There are many situations which can lead to you feeling disrespected. Pressuring you into having more children, forcing you to choose a specific name, even if it means breaking a family tradition by not doing so, and continually posting on social media your children without your permission are all signs. Palming your child off and allowing anyone to handle them, forcing your child to eat all their food, being relaxed about car safety, giving haircuts without your permission or using unsafe sleep practices are all total no go zones.
How they handle your children may also be worth looking at for signs of overstepping the mark. It is not okay for them to scare your children with old wives tales as they may lead to a genuine phobia. It’s also not okay for them to reinforce gender stereotypes and antiquated beliefs on your children.
If you do feel that you are being disrespected you will have your reasons for feeling this way, and it’s important to open up to them about how their actions are making you feel, why you would like them to have a unique role in your children’s life, and why you need to work together to achieve that.
Spotting The Signs Of A Toxic Grandparent
Whether its food, general diet, medication, bedtime or screen time when a grandparent comes between you and your rules, it can leave you feeling stuck in the middle. This is especially the case if the behavior is persistent and not just the odd forgivable one-off here and there. As to why grandparents undermine you, be aware it edges into the realm of toxic grandparenting if there is an evident lack of respect for your parenting authority. In the view of grandparents, and given their experience as parents, they genuinely feel they know what’s best and nobody can tell them otherwise. It’s essential to recognize the signs of a toxic grandparent, and the difference between this and a grandparent who may genuinely not realize they are doing anything wrong.
A toxic grandparent may make you feel guilty to try and manipulate you or your kids into what they want, ultimately it is a form of control and can affect your mental health. They will often play the victim to make you feel like the guilty one in the relationship. One classic way of doing this is by highlighting how much they did for you or are currently doing for you, and how you need to appreciate it. Another common sign is they may deny having made any parenting mistakes with you, lines such as “you’re over exaggerating” or “I don’t remember that at all” may be integral here, particularly if you are talking about a painful experience. Remember this is a form of gaslighting.
In some cases, grandma and grandpa might try to buy the love and attention of their grandkids. While grandparents may often love to spoil their grandchildren, it may be crossing into the boundaries of toxicity when they don’t talk to you about the extravagant gifts in-store, or if they are intentionally trying to outdo you or other family members. They may use excessive presents as a way to manipulate you or make you feel like you owe something.
A toxic grandparent may also have a clear favorite grandchild and ignore others. They may also make insensitive comparisons to others such as, “your sister is much better at music than you” or heartless comments such as, "he will never do anything with his life". Another red flag is selfish grandparents who may want your children’s attention all for themselves, and they feel they are entitled to spend as much time as they wish with your children.
A toxic or narcissistic person may have several emotional deficits that culminate in a very ego-centric world-view. These views include the idea that people are just tools, and that includes children. Children are naive, and trusting which makes them easy targets for those with these personality traits. Behaviors can be so deeply rooted in these individuals, and they are entirely unable to recognize they are doing anything wrong. One way is to view narcissistic grandparents’ behaviors is as a scale, from mild to major self-absorption with major meaning these signs are happening consistently. Remember, a grandparent should never do any of these things.
How To Deal With It
There are many ways to deal with narcissistic grandparents signs, and these pointers here will also support you in airing concerns with non-toxic grandparents who have overstepped the mark.
Be Open With Them
It’s important to let them know how their actions make you feel and the effect on your children. It might seem natural to open up a dialogue, but often we assume those closest to us know exactly how we feel, or we may be afraid of upsetting them. Gently speaking to them and explaining the repercussions on you and your kids is an excellent place to start. For example, you can explain to them that you don’t want your children to get around your rules and go straight to them, and what the repercussions will be. You can also inform your children that the same home rules apply when they visit grandma and grandpa too.
What To Do If A Boundary Has Been Crossed?
Being open with them also applies to overstepping boundaries. Let them know they have overstepped the mark with phrases such as, “I appreciate your knowledge on this. I will definitely ask you if I need support.” Or, “I know you may see it another way, but I’d appreciate you following the way I do it on this one.” One good idea is finding time together to include them in any parenting classes you are attending, so they understand how advice may have changed over the years. It also helps if you give them a role, so they feel they have a way to effectively support and contribute to the family dynamic.
Don’t Go It Alone
If you believe it would be better, you can bring a third party to the discussion when it comes to grandparents overstepping boundaries. It can be your partner, a close family member or friend. In some cases of ongoing toxic grandparenting, you may wish to visit a therapist to help you work through the challenges and develop a positive family relationship.
Actively Listen And Acknowledge Them
If you can’t see eye to eye on the same topics do your best to remain calm and not take it personally. Listen and process their views and explain why you have made the parenting choices you have and why you want to stick with them. A good tip is to validate how they feel and tell them you understand their views and but yours come from a different place. You can round up by telling them how important they are, and thanking them for the love and support they give.
Create Clear Boundaries For You And Your Child
Boundaries with parents and grandparents are really important. At the end of the day, you are the parent, and while your child is young, you decide what’s the best for you all. If you believe your child needs a particular routine, way of eating or isn’t to have a specific toy, inform grandparents of your choices, and ensure they stick by your rules. You may wish to discuss rules for grandparents with your partner and ensure you are treating both sets of grandparents equally.
If you have exhausted all options but it’s just not working out, perhaps it’s time to reduce your communication. Limit communication for a while, though remember persistently withholding grandchildren from grandma and grandpa can be very hurtful, for both grandparents and grandchildren. Taking a step back with grandparents disrespecting parents rules can be one way to navigate your way out of the situation. You may wish to take a planned break and resume contact with supervised communication from a therapist. In extreme cases, you may be considering cutting off your parents' or in-laws' communication altogether. Be sure to explore this with your loved ones and speaking with a therapist will help you decide if that’s the best option for you.
Ultimately parents and grandparents working in harmony together is the goal. Try and let go of minor or obvious comments such as, "he should be wearing socks in this weather" and not let criticism affect you. Do build your support network around you, and share ways to manage the dynamic with your partner and other family members.
If you found this article helpful, then why not take a look at our survival tips for a first time dad or look at [how often grandparents should see their grandchildren] too?
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