Grandparenting: Who’s In Charge?

Ayden 2007

Rich and Our Grandson Ayden on Our Wedding Day. September 2, 2007. 

One of the oddities of becoming a grandparent is that sometimes, your (adult) children tell you what to do. And sometimes that thing they tell you to do is not what you want to do. How do you sort out the best course of action?

Last week, we launched a discussion about grandparents, parents, and children and about all the different kinds of bows (or knots!) that form family ties here in the early decades of the twenty-first century. It seems the range of ribbons and ropes shaping extended families has never been so broad as it is today. I shared an experience from my own adventures in Lala Land (my grandlittles call me Lala).  I wrote:

A few years ago, one of our grandchildren committed a significant breach of the rules at his school. And as it happened, he executed the serious infraction just a week or two before his birthday. His mom told us: “He forfeits his birthday this year. No presents!” 

Prior to this unfortunate event, Rich and I had discussed our purpose as grandparents. After a few heart-to-heart talks and prayerful consideration, we came up with a guiding principle:

As long as our children are fit as parents, our most important  job  as grandparents is to support them in the decisions they make as parents. Sounds pretty simple, straightforward, and sensible, doesn’t it?

Yeah, we thought so too.

So you can imagine my surprise when the first thought that formed upon hearing this announcement was We’re his grandparents and we’ll give him gifts whenever we want to! 

I managed to stifle that thought before it grew words and flew out of my mouth, thankfully. Instead I said I’m so sorry this has happened. May we send him a card? 

It hurt to refrain from offering the boy a birthday gift. But undermining his parents’ disciplinary actions would have been a big mistake.

Demonstrating that we do not respect his parents’ authority in their family is, in our view, a grave error. 

How about you? Grandparents, have you been in the position to either support or disregard your children’s parental choices? What happened?

Parents, do your own parents and your in-laws support your decisions as parents? Are there changes you would welcome in that element of your family life?

Looking back to your own childhood, were you ever in a position to pit your parents against your grandparents? How did that work out?

rabbit conga

Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right.

2 Honour thy father and mother; which is the first commandment with promise;

3 That it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth.

4 And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

Ephesians 6:1-4 (KJV)

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 last week 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. I’m with you and Rich. As a mimi, I do sometimes stretch the rules (as I wrote about that here: ), but never when discipline is the issue. There have been a couple of occasions when one of my grandsons couldn’t go with me somewhere because he was being disciplined. It made me sad, but I supported my son and his wife’s decision. My husband’s aunt, who fostered many children over her lifetime, once said in response to how many presents to give a child, “I thought all children really need is love.” And that is a gift we can freely give without ever breaking or bending the rules.

    • Patricia, respecting the parents’ role and decision can mean giving up something we were anticipating, but it is the healthy decision. You make such a good point about the gift of love. Thanks for sharing that!

  2. Oh, dear LaLa. You are so wise. I love your question about whether you could send a card. Perfect!

  3. Such important advice. I agree our biggest job is to support our kids as they parent our grandchildren. It doesn’t mean they’ll do it perfectly or the way we’d do things, but if they’re loving parents, it’s a huge gift. Our daughter and her husband cut off visitation with his mother because she constantly went against their rules and undermined their parenting. They politely asked her to stop, warned her they couldn’t bring the kids over if she wouldn’t support their parenting/rules. She chose to continue. They followed through. They’re sad about it, but it was actually a health issue with one of the children that she thought she knew more about than they did. So unfortunate.

    • Linda, that is a sad story. And sometimes those situations grow and fester and poison entire families. It’s heartbreaking. Thanks for sharing your story. I hope you’ll be back next Tuesday.

  4. Of course, you’re right, but sometimes it’s very difficult to “zip the lip”. In answer to your final question: I tried it once and it worked out well for them . . . I got restriction (house arrest) for a month.

    • Oh, yes, it can be a struggle to keep one’s counsel! Regarding your effort to pit the parents against the grandparents, it sounds like you have a story to tell us. We’re listening . . .

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