Does this sound familiar?  You finally get your kids on a sleep schedule and the ‘one cookie only’ rule is strictly enforced.  And then…they go off to spend a weekend with the grandparents and it feels like all hell breaks loose.  Your kids return home with tales of staying up late to watch the end of Frozen and eating not one, but TWO scoops of chocolate ice cream. You feel like you’re back to square one again. What’s a frustrated parent to do?

Let’s face it, grandparents treat kids very differently than parents do. This is both a blessing and a curse. Unless grandma or grandpa is around on a day-to-day basis and participates in raising your kids, they tend to be more relaxed around the rules.  They are quick to spoil and slow to discipline. This pattern can completely disrupt your child’s normal routine and (potentially) make your job even harder. Grandparents often live by the motto “I get to spoil them and send them home”, and it shows.

Pick Your Battles

The trick to being a parent is knowing when grandma’s behavior is actually impacting your child, and whether or not it really needs to be addressed. When it comes to grandparents, “pick your battles” is sage advice. It’s all going to depend on your individual child. Some kids may be more adversely affected by disruption than others. These kids need routine and consistency.

Age also plays a factor. Older kids tend to understand that grandpa’s visits are a “special” circumstance, and they don’t change the rules long term. Whereas a younger child might not grasp this. Consider all of these things when deciding whether you want to take action or not. Oftentimes, letting kids deal with a shake-up to their normal routine can be a good thing. They build the skills necessary to roll with the punches. Then your kids get to learn how to get back on track after the disruptor (grandma or grandpa) has left the building.

Solutions Not Problems

If you decide that a grandparent’s permissiveness is causing a problem, address it neutrally. Most grandparents are not trying to undermine you, they are just trying to enjoy their grandkids. They see spoiling them as a right of passage. When talking to grandma or grandpa, focus on the solution rather than the problem. You’ll be more apt to get a better result.  

If you want to be sure Jane is in bed by 9:00pm tomorrow, let grandma know and explain why. “I want to be sure Jane gets into bed by 9:00 so she gets a full night’s sleep and is rested for school.  Can you be sure to turn of the TV and get her into her room by then?”

This will be more well received than, “Jane has to be in bed by 9:00, but you let her stay up later than that. You need to stop breaking the rules.” The latter is going to put grandma or grandpa on the defense. It could also cause them to be more wary of visiting or watching the kids in the future.

Plus, you don’t want to position yourself as the mean-spirited Grinch who never lets the kids have any fun, while grandma and grandpa are the rule-breaking heroes. Grandparents are known for their spoiling tendencies, it’s what makes their visits special. As long as they’re not doing anything egregious, in which case you want to address it, we say no harm, no foul.

Special Memories

Most kids have special memories of that time grandpa slipped them a $10 bill, or when grandma let them eat frosting right out of the can (we do!).  It’s not such a bad thing. Grandparents are usually coming at this from a place of love. And we think most kids can use a little more love in their lives, don’t you?

Do you deal with overly-permissive grandparents? How do you address it? Share your thoughts and comments in our Relationships Community.