Grandparenting: When It’s Hard to Honor Your Father and Mother

Great grammy Sawyer

My Mother-In-Law Beth Meeting My Grandson, Sawyer, Age Ten Weeks. January, 2011.

It happened one Christmas. My daughter Elaine, who was eight or nine, and I were among the guests at my grandfather’s house. We lingered at the table, deconstructing the endless ephemera that, in my family, goes with coffee.

We were a congenial group of ten or twelve, relaxed, sated, and relieved that the day’s hoopla was about to conclude without any major catastrophes. The buzz of small talk flitted about the table.

Then my grandfather, patriarch of the gathering, uttered the “N” word. More specifically, he said, “I never had use for any ni&&$#.” As so often happens, his horrifying comment came just as all other conversations at the table ebbed, so everyone heard his words. Clearly.

My daughter looked at me, questioningly. I gave her my yes that was awful and we’ll talk about it later look. My mother and my aunt exchanged glances and studied the napkins in their laps. After two beats of awkward silence, our casual conversations resumed, tinged with a desperation that hadn’t been there a moment earlier.

In the car on the way home, I delivered the speech I’d been rehearsing in my mind.

Great-Grandpa should not have used that word, I told my confused girl, who adored her ‘Pa, as we all called him. You and I know that we decide what we think about people based on how they behave, not what they look like. He’s wrong. Sometimes people we love do wrong things. We don’t have to like those wrong things just because people we love do them. Do you have any questions? 

Can I have some ice cream when we get home? She said.

I heaved a sigh of relief, made a mental note to revisit the topic with her in a few days, and merged on to the freeway that would carry us home.

How about you? How do you respond to grandparental behavior that is distasteful or potentially dangerous to your child? Have you needed discuss a family member’s unlovable behavior with your child? How about conduct that could place your child in harm’s way: Would you permit your child to visit at grandma’s house if grandma drinks excessively? Please share with us.

Extra reminder: My lovely mother-in-law pictured above was not the subject of this post. 

rabbit conga

Grandchildren are the crown of old men,
And the glory of sons is their fathers.
Excellent speech is not fitting for a fool,
Much less are lying lips to a prince.

Proverbs 17:6-7 (NASB)

rabbit conga

Something New: On Tuesdays, we’ll be talking about families and the joys and challenges that arise when we stretch across three (or more?) generations (child, parent, grandparent). The conversation began on January sixth  and we’ll continue until we run out of things to say. Everyone is welcome, and I hope to hear from each generation’s perspective.  I’m a grandmother now (praise be to God!), but I’m still a parent, and I’m still a child (my father is still living). And I remember my childhood, which included four loving grandparents.

Please join us.


  1. Ouch! You handled that lovingly and gracefully, Shelia. I can think of a situation that involved my mother that didn’t fully develop until after her death. Mother never accepted my brother’s daughter – mostly because my brother denied that she was his. It was painful. They all lived in the same neighborhood and same community for the rest of their lives. Overtime (decades), it became obvious that the girl was my brother’s daughter and eventually he agreed, but by then, she was in her 30’s, my father had died, and my mother had dementia. My brother’s wife is one of the most loving and gracious women I know, and has been the model for most of us as she has worked faithfully to bring April into the extended family. I now had a niece and my children had a cousin with who we wanted to nurture a relationship while still honoring the memory of my parents – the only grandparents my children knew. We were honest with our children – giving them the facts as we knew them and trying to help them understand my mother’s perspective at the time (she wanted to believe her son). as well as helping them to imagine the hurt April surely experienced in that rejection. It’s an ongoing redemptive restoration process.

    • Wow, Patricia. Thank you for sharing that experience. I love that the redemption and restoration is happening, after all those decades. I’d say you’re all pretty loving and gracious. Blessings.

  2. Sheila, well written article. You handled the touchy situation appropriately, and reinforced the fact that we don’t always agree with members of our family, but we treat them with respect, and love them anyway. Learning to “agree that we disagree” on a topic is a major milestone in getting along with family members, because most of the time we cannot change their mind nor will we change ours.

    • I still have to remind myself that loving someone doesn’t ensure that I’ll agree with that individual on everything. It’s a hard lesson, but God gives me ample opportunities to review. 😉 Thanks for your kind words!

  3. We haven’t had issues like that with grandparents, but with my BIL and his wife. They are not fond of my children (or any children, to be fair), and visits to their home have to be carefully managed. We have had several situations where one of my children has been treated so badly by my SIL that it amounted to bullying, over very minor behavioural issues. We were so flabbergasted at my SIL’s behaviour that we didn’t take issue with her at the time… but we apologised to our children afterwards, and told them that we would not let them be treated like that again. She must have realised somehow that she had crossed a line, because she hasn’t behaved quite that badly again. Their first grandchild was born this week, so we are waiting with great interest to see how that relationship goes… and really hoping, for all involved, that they manage to love this little girl, instead of barely tolerating her presence as they do with their niece and nephews.

    • Donna, thanks for your comments. What a challenging situation! I was blessed with a loving family, so the situation you describe isn’t one I’ve had to face. I’m amazed by therange of experiences people are sharing here. I hope it continues.

  4. We have adopted Chinese daughters. I was concerned about their acceptance with my extended family. By God’s grace, if anyone had issues, they did not say anything within our hearing. In fact by the ones we see regularly, no problem at all.

    • Linda, I am so glad to hear that. It is hard for me to imagine having to consider that possibility. Although I am aware of someone in the extended family who doesn’t really accept extended family who are “not blood.” 🙁

Leave a Comment