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The Three Grandparent Gangs: Which One Are You Dealing With?

Ahhhh… grandparents.

Such a loaded gun noun.

For some, they are best described as “free unlimited babysitting”.

For others… just  “it’s complicated”.

I thought that since a road trip to Grandparent Land may be on your agenda, this would be the perfect time to expose the different Grandparent Gangs and offer some suggestions on the best ways to approach each one.

Before I do, though, let me confess:  I’m not going to reveal what type of grandparent gangs my hubby and I are working with.

I’m not that stupid.

They read my posts.

(Hi, Mom!)

I’m writing with the female pronouns, but the classifications can be applied to Grandma or Grandpa in varying degrees.

“The Spoilers” Grandparent Gang

The “gang signs” of Spoilers are simple to spot:

This type of grandparent is a blessing and curse at the same time.  On the one hand, you need (and rely on) her help.  On the other, it’s exhausting to have to fight to be the parent.

This type of grandparent requires a lot of affirmation.  Here’s your formula to regain the “parent” title:

  • Affirm – Start by sharing how much you appreciate her help and how much your baby loves her.
  • Petition – Ask what you’d like her not to do (or do) and why it’s best for the baby we all love.
  • Affirm  – Share something she did that was especially helpful and ask her to hold the baby or play for a little while together.   (This reinforces that you have made a request, but still want her to be a part of your baby’s life – which is her major fear.)

If you’ve done this a few times and she’s still resisting your right to be the parent, be “busy” with the baby for a few days.  Then pay a visit and try it again, affirming, petitioning, affirming.

Smart Gift Ideas for Spoiler Grandparents

She probably have every personalized Grandma mug and T-shirt on the planet, so you’ll want something she will cherish, but doesn’t already have. Something like these phone cases, or an impressive piece wooden artwork.

“The Gotcha” Grandparent Gang

The Gotcha Grandparent will talk as if being a grandparent is the most important thing to her in the whole world…

Until you need something.  Then she’s too busy.  (HA! The joke’s on you!)

Since she talks like The Spoiler, it’s easy to start picturing her like Mrs. Claus: waiting with her ample bosom, frilly apron, and round spectacles to gush all over your baby and let you have a few hours rest.

Then reality hits like a ton of bricks and you start wondering when all those promises are going to start being fulfilled.

The best way to handle this type of grandparent is to lower your expectations to the ground.  (If you don’t, bitterness will seep in and ruin everything.)

Make a decision not to ask for things but to wait for offers instead.  Then, if she does offer to help (hooray!) have a backup plan just in case she doesn’t follow through.

Smart Gift Ideas for Gotcha Grandparents

The Gotcha Grandparent really does love your baby.  She’s just not the “Mrs. Claus” baking-cookies-with-the-kids type. That’s okay.

For her, it’s the emotional connection she feels with her grandkids that she values.  So look for gifts that will remind her of that special connection: figurines like this rocking mother, or a piece of  beautiful jewelry she can wear.

“The Stranger” Grandparent Gang

Even though she would LOVE to be the Spoiler, or even the Gotcha, she’s too far away to be involved in the daily tasks of grandparenting.

So, for all intents and purposes, she’s left with the most depressing gang of grandparents: The Stranger.

Handling this gang only requires a LOT of just one thing: intentionality.   You’ve got to call, text, email…anything to help your baby and The Stranger connect as much as possible.

Smart Gift Ideas for Stranger Grandparents

The best gifts for The Stranger Grandparent will be those that allow her to step into your child’s life as much as possible.

Give her a copy of my eBook, The Milestone Markerand let her follow along as you celebrate all the tiny milestones he is mastering!

Or let her be a part of your child’s bedtime routine with a recordable story book or recordable stuffed octopus to sing a few bars of a favorite family lullaby!

The Importance of Grandparents

No matter what grandparent personality types you’re dealing with, make the effort to keep them involved in your growing infant’s life.

Grandparents provide children with perspective and legacy.

They give your child a sense of “I’m a part of something bigger than me.” That inclusiveness is a strong protection during the teenage years.

So when she’s hormonally-confused at 15, trying to figure out where she belongs, she’ll remember that she fits into this legacy. Her generational family.

Not on Speaking Terms?

Not every grandparent relationship is roses.  Some are downright thorny.

If you’re relationship with your parents (or your spouses) is floating off into the abyss, find an older authority figure (other than you) that would be willing to step in and play the Grandparent roll.

This way, when she’s convinced you know nothing (which will happen in about fifteen years), she will have someone other than her fellow anguishing teens to turn to for advice and help.

How do you keep your relationship humming smoothly along? Which Grandparent Gangs do you think you’re dealing with?

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7 thoughts on “The Three Grandparent Gangs: Which One Are You Dealing With?

  1. The paternal grandparents in our family are definitely “gotchas” – really hard to deal with without becoming bitter, so thanks so much for your advice. Sometimes it’s hard not to walk around with a knot of mild resentment inside of you, which quickly turns to crippling guilt when they do follow through on something nice. I loved your point about perspective and legacy though, it’s definitely given me a new viewpoint on the situation.
    By the way, sorry for going kind of comment crazy. Found your blog yesterday when at my wits end trying to troubleshoot the Sleep Lady Shuffle, quickly fell in love with your honesty and common sense, and have been losing myself in your posts since!x

    1. Lol, I love it when readers go comment crazy!! It adds to the flavor of the blog and offers readers other voices other than my own. (Which is always a big bonus!) So thanks for commenting, I really do appreciate it. So glad to hear you’ve been enjoying the blog, so please let me know if I can help in anyway! (And I’m also glad you found this particular post helpful, grandparents can be such a difficult subject!)

  2. My mother in law is definetly a spoiler grandparent, with a strong tendancy to decide everything for us, even if WE are the (first time) parents. Other than that she is a good person, but she just tends to be too much from time to time.
    When my husband and I announced my pregnancy, and at the time I was only 6 weeks pregnant, she decided she would have a room in her house painted for the baby. She didn’t even ask, it was already decided, because, and I quote “I am going to babysit him/her”. The fact that I am going to have a one year maternity leave to take care of my baby and not have him/her babysat all the time didnt seem to bother her at all. She had also already decided what her first baby gift was to be, something big I don’t even remember.
    Yesterday, and we are only three weeks later, my husband told me she had already bought toys for our little one. She tends to spoil all of her three children, but mostly with cheap things they don’t even want and they end up keeping the stuff to please her. My husband and I don’t want our kid to be spoiled. We agreed on the idea that a family full of love is much better than a room filled with toys and that grandparents must not be loved because they give tons of gifts. Plus, we want to have a say on what comes into the house, and we want to be able to breathe around here !
    I have already explained our philosophy to my parents and they fully agreed. But my husband tends to postpone the talk with his parents, his mother seems to get hurt easily. But I have this suffocating feeling Inside me everytime I think about all the things she will probably decide to give to us, and it makes me angry. And I know that if I tell her what my husband and I think, she will find me agressive, because I am usually more of a quiet person.
    I know she is utterly happy to be a first time grandmother, but I want to be happy to be a first time mother too !…. And right now I am not, her attitude makes me feel defensive towards whoever around me is a little too happy about my baby, it makes me feel like there’s trouble ahead.
    She was surely satisfied, when she had her kids, to be able to raise them the way she wanted, and I want my husband and I to have that too.
    All of this, while I still have seven more months to go before the baby is finally here. I try to stop imagining how it is going to be at that time, because it keeps me awake at night.
    Will I have to be a “mean daughter in law” and tell her our issues myself ? I’m not that close to her and my pregnancy made me much more impatient and sometimes agressive. But there’s anger piling up…….

    1. Claudia, that is such a tough position! Here’s the good news: your baby is never going to lack from love. Yours, hers, he/she is going to know the wonderful blessing of a loving home. That said, it is hard (especially with excited first time grandparents!) to walk that fine line. I usually get angry when I feel like I’m losing control of something, or that choices are being taken away from me. If you are similar, let me put that fear to rest: you are the mother, your husband is the father, and you will make the decisions for this baby. Let Grandma talk and prepare…but just because she’s painted a room, doesn’t mean she’s “owed” the right to babysit 24/7. Allow her to relish her excitement, and as the babysitter comment comes up, I would make vague comments like “it’s going to be new, so we’ll just see how things go”. Be very careful not to make any promises she can use later. 🙂

      As for toys…just because she gives them doesn’t mean you have to keep them all. 🙂 Keep a few of the more obvious precious ones, and then donate the rest. If there are floods and floods, she won’t notice when some are missing. Or, say “Why don’t we keep this at your house?” and let her wade through the mounds of stuff in her own home.

      If you do have to have a confrontation, follow the Affirm-Petition-Affirm formula: Start by sharing how much your appreciate her help and how much your baby loves her (the affirmation) then follow with what you’d like her not to do or do and why it’s best for your baby (the petition), and then end by sharing something she did that was especially helpful and ask her to hold the baby or play for a little while together (the affirmation).

      Family issues are always so delicate, Claudia! I hope this can encourage you that you have options, and things don’t have to be a certain way. It’s possible for you to be the parent, and still have a good relationship with Grandma! 🙂

  3. Yep! Even some of us Grandparents read your blog. In fact, I sent it to the mommies in my family. Thank you for your helpfulness , encouragement, and smiles. Merry Christmas!

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