Question: Do Grandparents Have the Right to Spoil Grandchildren?
Grandparents often joke that their job is to spoil the grandchildren and then send them home, but some grandparents take their right to spoil grandchildren seriously. What type of behavior constitutes spoiling, and does such behavior put grandparents on shaky ground?
Spoiling means different things to different people. It may mean buying things for the grandchildren, giving them special food treats or being lenient with them. Each type of behavior has specific risks. Read on for a fuller explanation and some quotations from parents about how they feel about their children being spoiled.
Super Shopper Grandparents
When grandparents enjoy shopping and giving things to the grandchildren, parental reactions may range from appreciation to outrage. Here are some of the ways that grandparents may go wrong:
- They buy too many things for the grandchildren. In addition to other objections, parents may not have room for the number of items purchased by the grandparents. "My son's closet and five storage containers are bursting at the seams!"
- They buy inappropriate items. They may buy items that are too old or too young for the grandchild in question, or not suited to the child's tastes and interests. This is especially problematical as it indicates that the grandparent doesn't really know the grandchild. "Half the time the toys bought by my mother-in-law are not age appropriate. They are for an infant or for a 6-year-old, and he is 16 months!"
- The grandparents' gifts outshine the parents' gifts. This can be an issue during the holidays. "We told the grandparents that we were restricting Christmas gifts to four items, and we asked them to cut back as well. My mother-in-law showed up with seven gifts."
- They buy expensive items for the grandchildren. Sometimes the parents don't want to be burdened with safeguarding an expensive item or being blamed by the grandparents if it gets damaged. Sometimes they are just philosophically opposed to large amounts of money being spent on the children. "Gifts from my parents end up in the top of my closet because I know otherwise they'll get broken and I'll be treated like an irresponsible parent."
- The things they buy for the grandchildren don't reflect the parents' values. Items that parents may object to include video games, movies, toy guns and toys with a strong gender bias. "My in-laws try to buy the grandkids' affection by giving them expensive electronics, when we would rather that they have toys that encourage them to be active and creative."
- The grandparents spend money on the grandchildren that the parents would rather have placed in savings or put to other use. Perhaps the parents would like for the grandparents to finance music lessons, summer camp or sports activities such as travel teams rather than spending money on toys, or perhaps they would prefer a contribution to college savings. "Experiences are much more valuable then a closet full of toys, so give the gift of experience."
Why do some grandparents have a strong urge to give their grandchildren sweet treats? It probably goes back to their own childhoods and how love was demonstrated to them. If you are such a grandparent, you will need to practice showing your love in other ways. Generally speaking, most parents won't mind if grandparents give the grandchildren occasional treats as long as they promote healthy foods for the most part. They will probably object to the kids being loaded up on sugar right before they go home or right before bedtime. Some parents, however, have stricter rules about food, and grandparents must be especially careful to stick to the rules. Giving a grandchild a forbidden food is a serious breach of parental authority and bound to result in family conflict. It doesn't matter whether you agree with the parents' dietary rules. You must uphold them. "Of all the ways of spoiling grandchildren, I have the biggest problem with food, because the grandparents are ruining my daughter's healthy eating habits."
Conflict is often generated by grandparents who refuse to uphold the parents' standards for behavior. This behavior is unacceptable, especially if the grandparents instruct the grandchildren not to tell their parents. Such behavior goes far beyond "spoiling." It is instead teaching the grandchildren deceitfulness and lack of respect for the parents. Another way that grandparents may go wrong is by comforting children when they are being corrected. "When my mother-in-law is around, my son screams when I reprimand him. Then she jumps in to save the day, making me the bad guy."
Occasionally grandparents don't intend to break the rules but are unsuccessful in getting the children to cooperate. For example, the parent says to put the grandchild to bed at eight, but the grandchild resists falling asleep, and the grandparent is unable to make it happen. In such cases, the grandparents get an A for effort, even if they are not wholly successful.
The Bottom Line
For every parent who complains about overindulgent grandparents, there's a parent who wishes that the kids got more attention from the grandparents. If you are a loving grandparent who occasionally makes a mistake, you are sure to be forgiven. If giving the grandchildren toys, treats and privileges just gets you in trouble, consider other ways of showing your love. The best grandparents don't give a toy and watch the grandchildren play. They play with the grandchildren. They give their undivided attention and unconditional love. That's one type of spoiling that no one can object to.