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Written by Caroline Meyer

It can be lovely having grandparent involved in raising their grandchildren. They can also offer a lot of support to their own children when it comes to taking some of the work off their hands, even if it is only babysitting on occasion so you can have a date night. Many grandparents take on the role of carers during the day while parents go to work. This can strengthen a family bond and offer the child security as well as peace of mind for the parents to know their little ones are in good hands.  Most grandparents love to get involved and bond with the grandkids. Single parents will also often need to rely on a parent to help out with raising their children so they can take care of other duties sometimes. This can be an amazing experience for parents, children and grandparents and can work very well in most cases. For most families, this is part of a happy, healthy upbringing.  While this is true for most, it is not the case for everyone. 

Sometimes the relationship can be toxic and can lead to a breakdown of the family bond. This can be devastating but sometimes breaking away from parents that are not a good example for the grandkids can be a much healthier option emotionally and mentally. The toxic relationship can be due to actual abuse but could even be due to something such as the grandparents trying to undermine the parents when it comes to disciplining and raising the children.  

Here are some examples of toxic grandparents that may be more harmful than supportive.  While many grandparents are loving and enjoy improving the lives of their kids and grandkids, this is also not true all the time. We would hope that grandparents can be non-judgemental and supportive of their children and grandchildren, but not everyone has wonderful grandparents. Some grandparents can be very difficult and can make things unpleasant for you and your offspring. 

One example is the grandparent that does not respect your decisions when it comes to raising your children. They will go against your rules and methods of discipline. They may go overboard in spoiling your children, which may seem harmless, but can cause chaos. It can undermine normal routines and even cause health issues especially if many sugary treats are given during the day. It can be a little annoying when your child has a sugar rush now and then or is overtired due to not sleeping during the day, but you could probably still see past this. Grandparents that wilfully do the opposite of what you have decided for your children, who try and enforce their version of parenting on your kids and even argue with you in front of the kids may be doing more harm than good. Some of this may come from cultural or religious beliefs that you may not agree with. If the grandparents are not prepared to raise your children according to your beliefs, you may want to remove them from spending long periods of time with the grandparents to avoid confusion and conflict.  

Another issue which is similar to the undermining grandparent is the controlling grandparent. This is when the grandparent assumes control of the parenting decisions and believes they have the rights to make decisions for the children without your input or despite your input. They see the parent as being their child and the grandchildren as being an extension of this relationship. The grandparents try to parent both you and your kids. This can be a very toxic relationship and may or may not be able to be repaired. Grandparents that are too controlling often will not be prepared to change and the best option is to have your children spend less time with them or remove them from the care of the grandparents for any length of time. It is okay for your parents to disagree with your parenting choices, but it is not okay for them to override you in front of your children. You are the parent and raising your children is your responsibility. You have the final say in this. Sometimes these types of grandparents may also use financial support as a way to control you. They may offer financial support but threaten to withdraw it if you do not do things their way. This can even be more difficult if you are living with your parents due to financial difficulties. Get out of this situation as soon as possible. 

Another toxic habit of a few grandparents is when they prefer one grandchild over another. While it is understood that connections are made on a closer basis with someone than with others, when it comes to the grandchildren, it is not okay to play favourites. Grandparents may be closer with some of the grandchildren simply due to the amount of time they spend together and that is understandable. What is not acceptable is comparing one grandchild with another or running down a grandchild in a hurtful way or only praising and supporting some of the grandchildren while not offering the same support for the others. This can be damaging and hurtful to the children and have a long-term negative effect on their self-esteem. 

You may also come into contact with grandparents that can be overbearing and demanding. They may insist on spending time with the grandkids more often than is practical. They may make unplanned visits and disrupt the household routine. They may also get annoyed if you don’t follow their advice or make decisions that they have no involvement in. They may also insist on taking care of the kid when the parent is unable to even if the parent has made other arrangements or is not comfortable with leaving the kids with them for long periods. These types of grandparents do not respect boundaries and their demands can cause a lot of conflict and mental stress.  

Then there is the dissatisfied grandparent. They have extremely high expectations for their grandkids but do not show much support for the parents. They demand that the grandkids excel and have nothing but the best. This may sound great but it can place quite a strain on the parent to give the child everything their parent expects as well as for the grandkids to live up to unreasonably high expectations. You may be able to get these types of grandparents to back off and explain how you are raising your child.  

The grandparent that throws on the guilt. These grandparents will lay on guilt based on their own health, emotional or mental wellbeing. They use this guilt to try and control you as a parent as well as the grandchildren so they get their own way.  This can be very stressful when you love the person who is playing the victim. They will make you out to be selfish when the truth is that they are displaying extremely self-centred behaviour. This can be harmful to you and your children’s mental health.  

When you are made to feel uncomfortable mentally, emotionally or physically by your parent or your children are suffering as a result of extended contact with their grandparents you might want to look at taking a step back and distancing yourself from their toxic behaviours. 

Everyone wants their parents to offer a positive impact if they are involved in their grandchildren’s lives. When grandparents have a negative impact or undermine how you want to raise your children, it can be painful to break ties with them until they can change their behaviours, but it may be necessary for your health and that of your kids. You can try and resolve the issues and conflicts but at the end of the day, you are the parent of your children and you decide how you want them raised. Walking away may be better than years of mental and emotional abuse.

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