What Grandparents Can Do When the Parents Are Overindulging by David Bredehoft

In my past post, I addressed the issue of grandparents overindulging their grandchildren. In this post, I am flipping to the other side of the coin; grandparents who are concerned about adult children overindulging their grandkids.

Grandparents Are Walking a Tightrope

Seeing parents overindulge grandchildren puts grandparents in a very delicate position. On the one hand, they are worried about the long-term effects that childhood overindulgencehas on children, and on the other, they don't want to be seen as interfering with their child's parenting decisions and create a disagreement over how to raise their grandchildren. Most of all they don't want to lose precious time that they have with their grandchildren. According to a 2020 C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll, 6% of parents report major disagreements and 37% minor disagreements with one or more grandparents about their parenting choices. Losing time with a grandchild is a real risk. Overall, 15% of parents limit the amount of time their child sees some grandparents. These limitations are more common when grandparents do not respect parenting choices.

Say Something or Say Nothing. Do Something or Do Nothing.

As a grandparent, what do you do when you see your grandchildren being overindulged? When asked most grandparents say, "I don't say anything. They don't want my advice."

"But being passive means being a bystander; a person who coondones by saying nothing is not helping. So grandparents use the Test of Four and screw up their courage and look for direct or indirect ways to be effective, to find a chink in the armor of the New Normal. They avoid getting into a control battle, and they strive to keep the channels of communication open. They support good parenting whenever they see it."  Clarke, et al., 2014

5 Things Grandparents Can Do

If parents see grandparent's advice as interference, perhaps they can hear it from another source.

  1. Give them a trusted reference. "I found an interesting website about children and sleep. It highlights some effective ways to manage bedtimes. I thought you might be interested."
  2. Invite them to a school program, a lecture, or a meeting. "I am going to a talk about technology and brain development. I hope you will come with me."
  3. Ask them to watch a TV program or an internet program. "I learned a lot about managing screen time during a pandemic from a TV show I watched. You can view it on demand. After you watch it, tell me what you think about it."
  4. Encourage them to listen to a podcast. "I know you listen to a lot of podcasts. Here's one I think you may be interested in."
  5. Give them secondhand information. "Joyce was telling me about a friend whose granddaughter's room is a mess. The girl's mother labeled four boxes: trash, mend, give away, and keep. The mother helped her daughter sort all of her clothes. The system worked well."
  6. Ask a trusted friend to talk with them. "Do you feel OK about talking to Jerry about why it is important for the kids to be in school every day?"

If Nothing Seems to Work

Sometimes grandparents feel helpless and nothing they have tried is working because the overindulgence patterns are so firmly embedded in the family system. What then?

  • Be available
  • Find a support group
  • Use the help of a good family therapist
  • Find a grandparent coach near you

Remember, "Raising children in the pervasive sea of New Normal-overindulgence is not easy. They need your love and support, however you can give it." Clarke, et al., 2014

Practice aloha. Do all things with love, grace, and gratitude.

© 2020 David J. Bredehoft.


Clark, S. J., Freed, G. L., Singer, D. C., Gebremariam, A., & Schultz, S. (2020, August 17). When parents and grandparents disagree. 36(5), 1-2. C. S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health.

Clarke et al. (2014). How much is too much? Raising likeable, responsible, respectful children –from toddlers to teens- in an age of overindulgence. New York, Da Capo Press.

© David J. Bredehoft, Jean Illsley Clarke & Connie Dawson 2004-2022;  bredehoft@csp.edu