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Susan Adcox

When Grandparents Are Uninterested

By March 5, 2009

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While stereotypical grandparents dote on their grandchildren, there's a different breed of grandparents out there, according to an article in the New York Times, "When Grandma Can't Be Bothered." Apparently some grandparents are happier grandparenting from a distance, both physically and emotionally. Some of the parents complain that the grandparents don't even know their grandchildren.

I can't imagine grandparents not wanting to spend time with their grandchildren. On the other hand, some complaints from parents quoted in the article centered on grandparents not helping enough--not pitching in when babies were born, not contributing financially and not providing child care.

Here's my take: unless the parents obtained a commitment ahead of time, they should not expect the grandparents to serve as full-time caregivers in lieu of day care. They shouldn't expect financial support unless it was promised ahead of time. On the other hand, I think grandparents should spend time with their grandchildren, including providing occasional babysittiing. And I feel sorry for grandparents who don't get to know their grandchildren while they are children. They grow up so fast! What do you think? Comment below, or vote in my child care poll.

Read more from the grandparents' point of view:

Then read the parents' side:
March 13, 2009 at 9:58 pm
(1) Nana says:

We can’t imagine not being a part of our grandchildren’s lives. Poppy and I are very involved. They live 30 minutes away. We have a lunch date with our gandchildren every Saturday and then go to a park or spend quality time together at their home. We phone frequently and send letters and cards a couple of times a month. We use webcams and free programs to visit via the Internet and create activities to do together. The other set of grandparents live the same distance away, but only visit on birthdays and holidays…and never call to talk to them. When they do get together, they expect the girls to warm up to them just because they are “grandparents.” Some parents just don’t get it. I wonder, did they get it when they were parents?

June 12, 2011 at 9:30 am
(2) Beth says:

Keep up the good work! The relationship that you have with your grandchildren will be carried on when they have grandchildren. There isn’t a better gift you can give a child than your time and attention:)

March 13, 2009 at 10:25 pm
(3) SusanAdcox says:

That’s a great idea to have a standing date with your grandchildren. I have three sets of grandchildren, so have to rotate between them except for those rare occasions when everyone can get together at once. I do feel very fortunate that my most distant grandchildren are an hour away. But you are correct that even grandparents have to earn their love!

June 21, 2011 at 7:52 pm
(4) Lindsey says:

My parents live 10 minutes from us and rarely see our two girls. When we had our second daughter my parents came to the hospital and spent ten minutes there. My father refused to hold our second until she was 6 months old. She is now seven months and he has held her three times. Within the first ten minutes of seeing the girls, my mom insists to take a picture of her with them on her Iphone and then ignores them for the remaining twenty minutes we are with them. My oldest, a three year old, has caught on and throws a fit every time my mom now asks to take a picture. Its all a show. My mom gets sad when my oldest doesn’t want to hug her or say hello to her when she calls. Kids pick up on it pretty easy, even when parents don’t say anything!

September 28, 2011 at 12:01 pm
(5) Lisa says:

My parents shocked me when they were less than interested in seeing their first grandchild. He is now 4 months and my mother has seen him 5 times – twice she dropped by our home and three times, she has accidentally ran into us out shopping in our small town. My father has seen his grandson once and took no interest in him during that visit – he kept pushing my mom to hurry up or they were going to be late for their dinner plans. Even though we only live 15 min apart, I have offered several times to come by their home so they could see the baby. Each time I have been turned down for no valid reason. My husband says I should give up on them and go on with my life but its hard. I feel like I’m being treated like a teenager who accidentally got pregnant – I’m 32, my husband and I were married 5 years before baby came along!

February 17, 2012 at 9:41 am
(6) Sheryl says:

Thanks for noting this issue. My mother is an isolated person with emotional issues with closeness and every time we talk about visiting it becomes a drama (she lives 2 hours away). We are not horrible people and we do not expect childcare of her, I just wish that she showed more interest in getting to know her very adorable and fun 4 year old grandkid. I think they both miss out. The real downside is every interaction is centered around my mom and her invisible emotional issues so that even trying to plan a simple visit is time consuming and usually involves lots of reassurance, and apologies for minor past transgressions-often followed by a one hour drop in visit before she makes a swift exit. Or a last minute text to say ‘no’ after we plan our weekend around seeing her. When my daughter was a newborn, she visited–but somehow I managed to offend her so she left one morning in a huff, without saying goodbye and without explanation (as if my having a baby is all about her). I think she uses my interest in her being a grandmother to extract all sorts of attention from me, without real interaction. It is consuming and exhausting–like having a second child. I sometimes feel resentful that she consumes energy instead of providing support, my life is busy with work and childcare—and I dont find this a normal pattern of behavior, so it’s hard to have a template to know how to deal with it. (hence my pathetic google search).

February 17, 2012 at 10:06 am
(7) grandparents says:

It’s not “pathetic” to look for advice and support on the Internet, especially when your situation is so different from the idealized (and often unrealistic) families that are portrayed in the media. I certainly believe that your mother is missing out on a relationship that could enrich her life tremendously. I think she must have some deep-seated issues that cause her to be wary of forming a relationship with her grandson. But her reaction is not as unusual as one might think. Visit the forum for more discussion of uninterested grandparents.

June 1, 2012 at 2:09 am
(8) amy from idaho says:

My dad does not really know my children. He does not spend time with them, does not call, does not show up for choir concerts, swimming meets, or basketball games. I think I’ll start sending back the presents he sends twice a year.. my 2 sons (one is now an adult) just want his attention and to know they are loved! Where is the love?!

August 24, 2012 at 11:28 pm
(9) Jonathan says:

My mother does not want to be bothered with my children. My father, who is still married to her, loves to spend time with my daughter. My mother wears the pants in the family, and my father does whatever she says. My mother most always requests that we take our children to her house, which is an hour away from where we live. She refuses to keep any toys, children’s books, videos or even a crib for that matter at her own house. She does nothing to make sure that my 2-year-old gets a nap when she is there. She won’t even change the environment a little to make the children feel more comfortable there. I come to pick her up and my daughter still has on the same diaper that I put on her when I dropped her off. My mother refuses to come to my house to watch my children. Once my wife fell while she was pregnant and had to be sent to the hospital. My mother refused to pick up my daughter at the hospital because she said that she had “company coming over.” Later i found out that the company was my youngest sister and my brother-in-law. I finally had enough of it and said some things to her that more than likely have burned my bridges. I cant say that I feel remorseful for what I said because it was in fact the truth. She is a very selfish woman. In a way I’m not completely surprised by this behavior. When I was growing up, she made little time for us and would frequently say: “I can’t wait for you to be free, white, and 21.”

December 26, 2012 at 5:39 am
(10) Carly says:

It makes me so sad to read some of this stuff. My kids are now 21 & 19 and only see their Grandparents once or twice a year. My parents moved a about 3 hours away when my eldest was around 7, away from 4 kids and 6 Grandchildren. They don’t know any if their Grandchildren at all, and when they do meet, it’s so awkward and stunted that everyone just feels relief when it’s over. My parents don’t even know what my kids do for a living!! My parents have always been emotionally indifferent to their own kids, so I guess I should have not expected anything else. The only good thing to come out of this, is that when I get Grandchildren, they will be the most loved in the world. I want to be as involved as I possibly can, and someone they can always rely on for comfort, love and a good old laugh :)

December 31, 2012 at 4:11 pm
(11) B says:

I could write the book on disinterested grandparents: my husband’s mother and husband, who live a distance away, rarely bother with ANY of their grandchildren, including our daughter and my BIL’s three kids. (MIL’s husband dislikes chlldren, even though he was a father and is estranged from his three daughters and their children.) Even before kids came in the picture, my MIL made it clear that she did her job raising her three sons and that grandparenting wasn’t a priority. They send cards over the holidays and birthdays, but their gifts are pretty skimpy at best. (I don’t mean to be petty, but they are not poor. A shirt from Kohl’s at Christmas does not constitute an acceptable gift from Nana.)

Even when my MIL recently graced us with her presence this year (her first visit in almost 4 years) I was hurt that she did not bring any token gifts for the grandkids or plan any special one-on-one outings with the kids (whose ages are 13, 9, 8 1/2, and 6). And when my daughter asks why Nana hardly visits, I just shrug my shoulders and say, “I don’t know.” (I really don’t.) I am thankful that my own parents, and my DH’s stepmother (yes, stepmother) and her boyfriend, who also live a distance from us, are what real grandparents should be.

March 17, 2013 at 7:04 pm
(12) Aly says:

My stepmother has never offered to help out with my daughter ; only to give me cash for a babysitter. She has always helped her two sons and who have two children going out of her way to help them and babysit.. She has always turned to conversation to the other grandma… oh she can help out. I am a loss for words…. she always says positive things about her granddaughter but really one hour for dinner and a game doesn’t really mean you are getting quality time with her. She only lives down the street too. I am a single mother and her answer is well… I had to get a babysitter now you do it… Not a real loving grandmother at all.. I wonder if I have ever done anything to her to have her make this SOLID boundary. 5 years and has never babysat…it just breaks my heart.

June 8, 2013 at 7:29 am
(13) Drumth says:

Both sets of grandparents have disappointed my husband and I. My parents moved full time to Florida when our kids were 11 and 8 and rarely came back to NJ to visit. That was 8 years ago. My in laws live 10 minutes away and even though my mother in law shows some interest in her grand kids, my father in law ignores them and shows NO interest in their lives or interests. When I worked full time, child care was an issue in the summer months. Not once, did my in laws offer to help out or take their grand kids out to do anything! Now that our kids are teens, they see the void. My mother in law is devastated that their grandfather does not have a place in their lives. Oh well, where was he for the past 19 years? She didn’t see this? As for my parents in Florida, my mom passed away and my dad is still there. Such is my life.

November 13, 2013 at 10:23 am
(14) Molly Skyar says:

Dr. Susan Rutherford (clinical psychologist) says that sometimes some grandparents don’t feel adequately prepared to deal with young kids at their age; either emotionally or physically. Some might intuitively launch in and help if a mother is feeling overwhelmed, but others might need some direction and prior discussion if they come over to help out with the grandkids: http://ConversationsWithMyMother.com/advice-for-grandparents-how-to-help/ It’s all about communication.

December 16, 2013 at 5:18 pm
(15) Kim says:

Hey all you worthless grandparents out there! If you think sitting on your as5 is more important than establishing a relationship with your grandchildren – then you are partially responsible for the erosion of the family unit in America. Family involvement does not stop when you retire. It’s a life long venture.

If you don’t want grandchildren, then don’t have children. Your responsibility as a grandparent is established when you give birth to your own kids – because someday they will have kids! Expect it!

My Mother is just like Sheryl’s Mother. Mental problems, isolated, no interest in my son (her grandson).

I’m a single Mother and I moved to Houston to be close to my family because they promised to help me and spend time with my son and babysit so i could have a break every now and then. My mother has baby sat two times and my Dad one time in 10 months.

I feel like I got Jipped. My parents were not great loving attentive parents and they are practically non existant grandparents. My 3 year old son shows more love to them than they show to him!

I feel deeply hurt and resentful that they do not want a relationship with my son. A grandparent’s role is to enjoy their grandchildren – teach them – tell them stores – pass down traditions….I strongly feel this is eroding the family unit – at least it is eroding mine.

In other countries (and maybe here too), the grandparents understand the importance of passing down wisdom and experience and stories to their grandchildren. I envy those people who have parents who spend time with their grandchildren. My heart breaks for my son. I think these uninvolved grandparents are selfish and should be ashamed of themselves. THey are truely pathetic.

February 8, 2014 at 2:30 pm
(16) really says:

Tell me … how often do you do meaningful things for your parents?…and I don’t mean dumping your kids on them.

Have you mowed their lawn? Painted a room in their house? Picked up their medicine when they’re sick?

Chances are you don’t do much, but expect them to bend over backwards. My kids only come around when they want something … advice … money … etc.

So naturally, when they have kids and come around throwing what grandparents “should be” in my face, I’ll remind them of what a good child “should be” and how short they fall of that expectation as well.

February 9, 2014 at 7:12 pm
(17) uninterested for a reason says:

I agree with “Really.” I was over-excited when my 1st grandchild came along. I babysat, helped financially and basically kissed up to my daughter-in-law to see my granddaughter. Every time she didn’t get what she wanted, she punished me by not allowing me to see my grandchild. So now there’s a new baby, and I’m scared to bond with this child because it will give the daughter-in-law more leverage … and my son has to go along with it because he has to deal with her.

February 18, 2014 at 2:07 pm
(18) No grandparents, less mess! says:

I sometimes get sad and a bit envious when I see doting grandparents help take care of their grandchildren. My husband and I have none on either side. Thankfully, I never expected any help and so, we save for daycare and sitters. I think my husband had some hopes once, but those were quickly squashed. His parents have seen our almost 2 year old son once in his life, We simply can’t afford to have them come because we would have to buy their tickets, pay for rental car, pay for groceries, take them out to eat, listen to their bickering, etc… Of note, they are retired and actually have plenty of money (i.e. summer homes, etc…), it’s just that they expect to be guests and to be hosted, otherwise, they will not bother. We have realized that we are glad that they stay away. They are obviously stingy, fight all the time and his mother in particular is moody and full of snide comments. Who needs that? Their absence is a true blessing in disguise. They are missing out on their fun, laughing, singing, bundle of a grandson. Oh, as for my mother, she is alright about seeing my son, but won’t touch him for unknown reasons. Obviously, we can’t have her babysit if she won’t touch him. Oh well. For those with great grandparents, count yourself lucky. For the rest of us, just forget about what other grandparents are like. You don’t have them and you won’t. At least you have cool kids! People generally do not change, especially if they are in their 60s. Just remember to be different to your own grandkids. I know that my grandkids will be superspoiled :-)

March 1, 2014 at 5:24 am
(19) babies? bah humbug says:

From my experience, parents who were loving and emotionally supportive with their kids are going to be the same for they’re grandchildren. Others were subpar parents and will be the same for their grandkids. Bottom line, some folks are so self absorbed and narcissistic that they really should not be either. They probably had children (perhaps like Mr. Really) with the primary expectation of, “this thing is going to grow up and take care of ME when I’m old…what a good investment! Like stocks! They’re going to pay me back, with interest ofcourse.” But then they didn’t invest their own love or compassion into their own child. They are surprised when the kids are grown and just as emotionally distant as the parents were, but when it comes to family you harvest what you sow.

March 11, 2014 at 10:04 pm
(20) Lindy says:

My in-laws are horrible grandparents! My mom-in-law lives in a different state and has seen her Only Granddaughter, who is 16 now, 2 times since she was born. It is not due to money or time or either. One thing she does do is send money to her all the time, but never wants to know how she is or even talk to her on the phone. My father-in-law lives 10 miles from us, and has never spent any time with my daughter other than at Christmas, when it seems he is seeing her out of guilt. He spends most of his time with his adult children from his second wife and their grandchildren, and makes sure they share all of it on social media. My parents both died when she was 8, and she remembers how involved, loving, caring, grandparents they were and is very hurt about this. I overheard her telling someone her grandparents were all dead and she didn’t have any. I later asked her why, and she started crying and said Grandparents love you, and want to spend time with you. All I could do is hug her. I’m so pissed off and sad…I don’t even know what to do

March 14, 2014 at 11:09 pm
(21) Lyn says:

Grandparents that are not involved with their grandkids are just self-centered. I happen to be dealing with very similar situations. It does hurt when you see other grandparents so involved with their grandkids. Nothing I wouldn’t wish more for my kids. While they watch others get showered by love from their grandparents and vice versa, how do you think us moms feel? If you have children you have to keep in mind you will most likely have grandchildren, right? Then to decide to just skip that part and be self-centered?

I read a comment above about how her mother would take pics for show but show no real interest. My mother would do the same thing, and it would drive me crazy. She would hold the baby during holidays for show in front of the family, but show no interest at all for the rest of the year. I felt alone in this until I stumbled upon this chat. Good luck to everyone in life without grandparents. Hopefully one day they will just wake up !

March 14, 2014 at 11:31 pm
(22) Marie says:

My mother lives 6 hours away. My son just turned 5 years old, and she babysat for us while we went away on a weekend when my son was 3 months old. The only other time that she watched him was 3 months ago for two hours.

She takes her boyfriend’s grandchildren to rodeos and to the park, and they take them places with them to spend time together. I am at wit’s end with her because the last time she was here for his 5th birthday, she did decorate part of his cake. We had something going on that Saturday, and her comment was, she didn’t come here to babysit! This makes absolute zero sense. When my eldest brother’s children were very small, she watched them every single weekend. When my brother’s 3rd child was born, they didn’t have the grandkids as much! That was 20 years ago. My mother is only 66 years old, and since, she has taken up barrel racing and bought a hobby ranch, yet she makes it known what it costs to drive over.

Feeling irritated!

March 20, 2014 at 3:53 pm
(23) Kim says:

Hey Really,

I do plenty for my mother. I bought her computer. I taught her how to use it. I am her personal computer consultant and come fix her technical problems when she needs help.

I never say no when she asks for help. I help her with her phone. I help her get her photos printed or stored where she wants them. I take her to dinner on her birthday. I got her a nice christmas gift even though i am struggling financialy and she’s not. She got me some apple butter and some gluten free crackers.

When she almost passed out on the toilet, I was there to comfort her and help her get back on her feet. I send her emails with fun jokes or interesting articles – or I used to but i stopped because she never replies.

I was planning on taking care of her when she was too old to take care of herself but now I am seriously rethinking this.

By the way Really – love flows downhill. At least that’s what my Dad always says. Except there isn’t any love flowing down from my mother to my son – and it’s just not okay. It’s not okay, and no excuse is sufficient to justify deadbeat grandparents.

March 27, 2014 at 10:56 pm
(24) ____ _____ says:

Excellent website you have here but I was curious iif you knew
of any community forums that cover the same topics discussed in this article?

I’d really like to be a part of online community where I can get opinions from
other experienced indivbiduals that share the same interest.
If you have any recommendations, please let me know.
Thank you!

April 3, 2014 at 3:16 am
(25) Jimmy Rollins says:

Honestly, it souds like a bunch of kids whining about mommy and daddy don’t love me or my kids … boohoo. Has it ever occurred that some people due to their past or possibly just shy or reserve aren’t very outgoing? So what gives others the right to say they are wrong? Just because you want everyone to jump for joy and partake in your happiness doesn’t mean its best for the others. So typical of society.

Everything is self-centered in American society. Grandparents don’t show much interest? They must be horrid people or monsters. Could it be possible they raised their children and are tired and want peace and quiet? No, it must be because they are just mean. Look at all the posts. The majority talk about nothing but how bad their parents were when they were children and they are now not interested in their grandkids. Get over yourself and encourage your kids not to judge someone because they are shy, reserved, or just plain would rather be left alone. It ain’t about you precious.

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