To Have the Most Access to and the Best Relationship with Your Grandchildren, Always Go First to the Parent of Your Grandchildren Who is Your Child About Any Issue

I initially wrote this blog post a few years ago. One long (we never say old) dear friend has a new baby grandson who lives nearby with her son, his father, and her daughter-in-law, his mother.  Dealing with a daughter-in-law, and even a son, especially who are new parents with their first child, is a delicate proposition, so this post is so important to renew.

This Grandma has several mantras, which you can see by reviewing the archives of this blog.     Grandparenting should be all joy and no responsibility. See the first post on this blog, “How to be the Best Grandma in the World with the Most Joy and Least Responsibility.” 

Another mantra is to honor the gatekeepers, the parents of our grandchildren, and treat them as adults deserving of our respect.  They control access to our grandchildren.  Keeping them happy is a primary goal of a grandparent who wants a relationship with grandchildren.

Because each adult is a unique individual, we must cater to the needs and desires of each adult individual who is the parent of a grandchild.  This sounds like we as grandparents are compromising our values and subrogating our needs and desires to cater to the parents of our grandchildren.  In a sense, that is so.  However, the bright side of the next mantra is we can make our grandparent lives easier if. . .

We always go to the parent of the grandchildren who is our child first about any issue to have the most access to and the best relationship with our grandchildren.


First, let’s discuss our own child as the parent of our grandchild.  Sometimes, we are stuck in our view of the parent of our grandchild as they were as a child.  We need to get over that when they become the parent of our grandchild and be a little more careful as to how we address issues with them too. However, if we offend the parent of our grandchild who is our own child, they are more likely to forgive and forget.   After all, they survived our parenting.  After all, they dealt their whole lives with our foibles and idiosyncrasies, and our character flaws.  Everyone has them.  Each family has its own culture, traditions, rituals, and skeletons hidden away.  The parent of our grandchild who is our own child, may not like these, may not want to follow these, but is used to these and knows what our expectations are.  We have history.  The parent of our grandchild who is our own child may not like us, but has learned to love us anyway.  We still should not cross the line of being truly offensive at any time or on any issue, but if, because of our character flaws, we do, we can apologize and hopefully, eventually, the parent of our grandchild who is our own child may forgive us.

Next, let’s discuss the in-law parent of our grandchild.  No matter how close we may become to the in-law parent of our grandchild, we do not have a lifetime of history with them.  If we offend the in-law parent of our grandchild, they are less likely to forgive and forget.  They have not dealt their whole lives with our foibles and idiosyncrasies, and our character flaws.  Each family has its own culture, traditions, rituals, and skeletons hidden away, and they have their own family’s as part of them, not ours which will be foreign to them.  The parent of our grandchild who is our own child, may not like these, may not want to follow these, but is used to these and knows what our expectations are, but the in-law parent may not.  The in-law parent of our grandchild may not like us, and may never learn to love us either.  We still should not cross the line of being truly offensive at any time or on any issue, but if, because of our character flaws, we do, we can apologize and most likely, the in-law parent of our grandchild may not forgive us or may forgive us after a lengthy period . . . but may never forget.

The parents of our grandchildren, as the parental unit or even as strangers who have a child together, may or may not agree as to the family culture, traditions, and rituals they want for their family, intact or separately.  We grandparents seem to forget they must contend with two sets of family culture, traditions and rituals of the family in which they were raised, or three or four, depending on divorces and blended families.  Grandpa and I recently met a charming twenty something from California, whose parents, between them, had fourteen marriages, and several children, all from different marriages.  She moved to Africa.  Contending with multiple family cultures, even just two, may be overwhelming for the parents of our grandchildren, especially when they have children of their own.

This Grandma has been using the term “family culture.”  To this Grandma, the term “family culture” means the uniqueness of each family.  In my forty years of experience dealing with families, and tens of thousands of families, I have yet to meet two families that are identical.  It is what has made my professional careers so interesting.  However, it is what makes navigating the landscape as a grandparent so difficult.

This Grandma religiously reads newspaper advice columns and collects those to comment upon.  I love “Ask Amy,” the columns by Amy Dickinson.  I usually agree with her advice, but there are two columns which illustrate why we should always go to the parent of our grandchildren first about any issue to have the most access to and best relationship with our grandchildren.  In the first, this Grandma feels Amy Dickinson should have given this advice and didn’t.  In the second, she got it exactly right but did not say how to talk to the parent.

The issues raised in her columns are common ones with regards to grand parenting.  The first, from the August 6, 2017 Sun-Sentinel, was titled, “Grandparents Want Time With Little Ones.”  “Anxious Grandma” complains about her daughter-in-law who she says wants nothing to do with her, and seems to keep the three grandchildren from them.  Grandma complains that the in-law parent of her grandchildren refuses to visit, especially on holidays, refuses to allow them to babysit or take the three children on outings.  From the text it seems that the in-law parent and their son have been married for ten years and have had the three children in ten years, so the three children, three boys, according to the text, are under age 10.  When they visit, she barely seems to tolerate the grandparents, according to “Anxious Grandma” and she continues to write, “Honestly, in the10 years they have been married I have never said a mean word or offered advice.  I say nothing to my son.  I know he sees her treatment of us and feels guilty, but fighting about it isn’t worth it to him.”

Aha!  “Anxious Grandma” has not had a honest discussion with her son but projects his feelings!  Amy Dickinson’s recommendation is that grandma and grandpa have a conversation with both the son and daughter-in-law, “respectfully asking if there is a specific reason they seem so hesitant to let you play a larger role in the lives of their children,” or even draft an email about this, saying something like, “We’d love to be more involved in their lives, and hope you can help us to find ways to do that.  If there is something you think we need to do differently, please let us know.”


If there is a way to push the daughter-in-law away farther, this Grandma cannot think of one.  It seems that the grandparents, from the text, live 2 ½ hours away from the grandchildren, but it does not say their age, only that they have four adult children.

Taking care of three boys under the age of ten is exhausting and difficult.  It does say that grandpa and grandma just visited and the oldest of the grandchildren wanted to go home with them, and mom says no.

It does not say the quantity, quality or pattern of the visits by grandma and grandpa.  In this Grandma’s opinion, the first thing that “Anxious Grandma” and grandpa should do is look at their own four adult children, because saying in the text they are not likely to have more grandchildren, the family culture, traditions and rituals of their intact family may be an issue to the daughter-in-law and she does not want her children to have such exposure except on a limited basis with the father’s family.  How often does her family get together?  Pick one holiday and speak to the parent who is their child about setting aside one holiday annually to share. Second, they should examine themselves.  Are they really capable of taking three boys under age ten alone, and if they repeatedly want only the oldest, that may cause issues too.  See, post, “Grandparents’ Favoritism Is Real In Many Families and Its Consequences May Last Generations” 

The grandparents really do not know what is in the minds of the parents and the person they should speak to is their own son.

When “Anxious Grandma” finally understands the issues, she can then address them with her son, and have her son help the grandparents find a way to become more involved, whatever that means for the grandparents.  To be involved, one must have knowledge as to the lives and schedules of the family and grandchildren.  Once they know when soccer games are, for example, they should figure out how they can go to observe and be present for these and other activities of the grandsons.  It may be that the daughter-in-law has a hobby or activity she does. Grandma and grandma should discuss visits with their son and the grandsons, without the daughter-in-law, when the daughter-in-law does or can do she does not have time to do raising three boys.  Visits must be beneficial to the entire family and there are ways to do this, but it may mean the grandparents putting themselves out more and in ways they have not yet considered.

Amy Dickinson’s second “Ask Amy” column in the Sun-Sentinel, on August 19, 2017, “Granddad Dreading Time With Grandson,” deals with an impending family annual reunion with adult children and grandchildren.  He dreads being with his single mom daughter and her child, his eight year old grandson, due to the grandson’s behavior at meals and otherwise, saying, “Often, when out in public, he still throws tantrums until his mom bribes and threatens, and finally gives in.”  “Pappa” states that the child behaves when with grandpa and his uncle (who also is a father of two daughters, grandpa’s granddaughters).  “Pappa” wants to know if he should intervene and remove the child and talk to him, or ignore the behavior.  Amy Dickinson says that the grandson “is a challenging child, for sure, but he is still a child, in challenging circumstances.”  She recommends that the grandfather and uncle spend alone time with the child and roll model appropriate behavior and praise his good behavior.  She recommends that there be a new ritual at dinner time, that it start with each person saying what was the best thing in that day.  All great advice, and the best yet, “your daughter is the one you and your son should speak with (privately).”

Thank you, Amy Dickinson!

YES, but this Grandma adds more.  “Pappa” needs grandparent lessons.  See post, “Grandpa needs Grandma Lessons.” 

“Pappa” should speak to the parent of the grandchild who is his child, but carefully planned with the help of a professional.  Remember, access to the grandchild is most important, and the response of the mother may be to withdraw access, if it sounds like criticism of her parenting.  The mother must be unhappy about the behavior and must be overwhelmed too, or does not have skills to cope with the child’s behavior with the family.  It may be the child’s father, not discussed or mentioned, may hate the child spending this annual week at the beach with the mother’s family, and the child is reacting to this, that behaving and enjoying himself is being disloyal to his father, not invited.  “Pappa” learning more by listening, first consulting a family therapist for one hour on how to talk to the mother of his grandchild may help the entire family. It may be that the advice is for “Pappa” to talk to his daughter alone, or with the son present.  Remember, family dynamics are complicated, and grandparents do not want to make them more complicated.

The good news is that the eight year old will get older and change, hopefully for the better.

Simplify!  Speak only to the parent who is your own child about any issues. Sometimes, consult a family therapist for an hour before you even do that! Grand parenting is supposed to be all joy and no responsibility, but no one said it was easy or without hard work in balancing all the family units, family culture and dynamics, rituals and traditions, skeletons hidden, foibles and idiosyncrasies, and character flaws.

Grandchildren are the reward for our surviving the hard work of raising children.  We grandparents want the most access to and the best relationship with our grandchildren for that bring us



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