What to Do When the Grandparents Disagree With Your Parenting

Younger woman and older woman arguing on the couch

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It is amazing to watch your kids bond with their grandparents. The people who raised you are now part of your own parenthood journey, which is an incredible experience. Grandparents provide an abundance of wisdom, experience, and love, and the relationship with their grandchildren is unlike any other.

Of course, there are going to be times when the grandparents have a little too much to say about how you are raising the kids. It is only natural—they have done it before! That said, it can be frustrating when you feel like your parenting style is being questioned or disapproved (especially by your own parents).

"Parents and grandparents disagree on a variety of parenting basics, such as diet, bedtimes, and basic rules," explains Amy Morin, LCSW, psychotherapist and author of the best-selling book "13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do." Usually, the situation can be resolved with a simple conversation, but other times, the tension can cause bigger issues.

Amy Morin, LCSW

Parents and grandparents disagree on a variety of parenting basics, such as diet, bedtimes, and basic rules.

— Amy Morin, LCSW

Here, we take a look at some of the most common parent-grandparent disagreements and the most effective ways to resolve them.

Common Disagreements Between Parents and Grandparents 

In an interesting survey, The C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health found that almost half of parents have a conflict with grandparents over parenting style. They discovered the biggest disagreements include:

  • Discipline (57%)
  • Meals/snacks (44%)
  • TV/screen time (36%)
  • Manners (27%)
  • Health/safety (25%)
  • Treating some grandchildren differently than others (22%)
  • Bedtime (21%)
  • Sharing photos/information on social media (10%)

The survey also found that among parents who asked a grandparent to be more consistent with parenting choices, 17% claimed the grandparent refused their request. Parents were also more likely to limit the grandparents' time with the children if they refused to respect parenting choices.

In Morin's experience as a psychotherapist, screen time is one of the biggest and most common issues. "Grandparents are likely to worry that kids are spending too much time on their digital devices," she explains. She adds that grandparents are also likely to think parents are too strict when it comes to after-school activities and homework rules.

Generational Differences

A key factor that determines a grandparent's opinion on parenting is the generation in which they were born. Most grandparents fall into one of three categories:

  • Gen X (Born between 1965 and 1979)
  • Baby Boomers (Born between 1946 and 1964)
  • Silent Generation (Born 1945 or earlier)

When it comes to older generations, grandparents tend to have different views on topics like discipline, education, nutrition, and sleep habits. Perinatal psychiatrist Carly Snyder, MD, explains, "For example, the mom is adamant that baby sleeps on their back, [but] grandma feels [the] baby is more comfortable on their stomach (and ‘all her kids slept that way and were fine’)." Grandparents tend to overlook updated recommendations from pediatricians and defend the way they parented in the past.

Another issue that may arise is a disagreement about nursing. "Many more babies were formula-fed years ago, and mom’s focus on breastfeeding may not make sense to grandparents, especially if breastfeeding is not going well," says Dr. Snyder. "It’s not uncommon for grandparents to be unintentionally harsh by not appreciating why breastfeeding matters to mom and why she may be rigid about how [the] baby is fed." 

How to Handle Disagreements With Grandparents

Confrontation is not fun for anyone, but unfortunately, disagreements with grandparents will not just go away on their own. "It's important for parents to establish healthy boundaries," says Morin. "While grandparents may mean well by offering their opinions, criticism about parenting rules can take a toll on everyone." Here is what you can do.

Amy Morin, LCSW

While grandparents may mean well by offering their opinions, criticism about parenting rules can take a toll on everyone.

— Amy Morin, LCSW

For Minor Issues

When it comes to minor issues such as screen time, meals, or bedtimes, the best way to tackle grandparent disapproval is to have an open, honest discussion. Here are a few tips for approaching the conversation:

Tackle it early. As soon as you start noticing a line being crossed, address it before it turns into a bigger issue.

Speak calmly and gently. If you are feeling angry, try giving yourself some time to cool down. "It is understandable for parents to feel criticized or undermined when grandparents refuse to follow their requests," explains Dr. Snyder. "But letting emotions get involved too heavily may blow the issue up unnecessarily."

Reassure the grandparents that you appreciate their care and concern. Morin suggests a statement such as, "I am grateful that you love the kids enough to want to weigh in when you think we should do something different. But, we have made decisions based on what we think is best for our family and your advice is not helpful right now." 

Clearly communicate your boundaries. What was it specifically that crossed the line? Why is it important they respect your decision? Try to keep your explanations as simple and straightforward as possible.

Keep an open mind. "Grandparents can be a wealth of support, information, and guidance—they have done it before, successfully—so try to give the alternative approach a chance if it is not potentially dangerous," Dr. Snyder explains.

At the end of the day, the best thing you can do is pick your battles. "Grandparents have a different relationship with kids and it is important to let that relationship grow and thrive," says Snyder.

 For Major Issues

"In extreme cases, parents may need to restrict access to the children," explains Morin, "If a grandparent is breaking serious rules when parents are not around, a first step might be to not allow them to be alone with the kids. If they keep sharing their opinions or insist on breaking rules, it may be important to limit their contact."

Some examples of more serious disagreements, according to Dr. Snyder, include vaccine status and safety measures (especially SIDS prevention). "Parents have to establish what matters to them and stick to their convictions—when it comes to safety issues like back-to-sleep, no blankets in cribs, and so forth, there should be no room for discussion," she says.

Carly Snyder, MD

Parents have to establish what matters to them and stick to their convictions.

— Carly Snyder, MD

When it comes to vaccines, she points out that, historically, grandparents and other visitors were asked to receive pertussis and flu vaccines, but it now extends to the COVID-19 vaccination. It is important to make your child's health the top priority, even if it means taking a step back.

"Parents should hold firm to their demand that grandparents get vaccinated before seeing baby—if grandparents are unwilling to following safety-based requests (that are based on best practices per the pediatrician), then parents have to make the tough decision to withhold time in person and connect only via zoom," adds Dr. Snyder.

A Word From Verywell

There is a unique, irreplaceable bond that's formed between grandparents and their grandchildren. While it's important to help grow the relationship, it's also helpful to establish healthy boundaries. After all, you are the parent! You ultimately know what's best for your child. "There is a time and place to gently express a difference of opinion, but once it has been said, grandparents should back off a bit," concludes Dr. Snyder.

Most of the time, grandparents are simply trying to help—and that is okay! A simple conversation and an open mind are all you need to get things back on track. That said, when it comes to more significant issues (vaccines, crib safety, etc.), it is not only okay to stand your ground, but necessary. As times change and pediatric recommendations are updated, grandparents should respect and appreciate what is best for your little ones.

"Kids often pick up on [the] tension between parents and grandparents and it can affect them," explains Morin. "They may feel anxious if they know there is some discord and they may feel uncertain about who they should be loyal to." 

While it's not always easy, try to remember that you are in charge of your child's upbringing, and at the end of the day, their well-being is what matters most.

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  1. C.S. Mott Children's Hospital. When parents and grandparents disagree. Updated August 17, 2020.