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Six Reasons Why Grandparents Choose to Be Uninvolved

Parents May be Able to Address Issues, Improve the Situation

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Conventional wisdom holds that people of a certain age, especially women, can't wait to be grandparents. That's one of the most persistent of grandparenting myths. More accurately, most people do enjoy their new status once they have adjusted to being grandparents. Still, there are those who choose to be uninvolved in their grandchildren's lives. They are called uninterested, uninvolved, disengaged and sometimes something worse, especially by the parents who expected them to play a more active role. Before they are judged, however, it's best to explore the reasons why they may have made their choice.

1. Grandparents Have Other Interests.

Some grandfathers love fishing almost as much as they like grandparenting.
Photo © S. Adcox

If grandparents are retired, they may enjoy having the leisure to pursue their own interests. They may be frequent travelers, or they may have chosen the RV lifestyle and be living on the road. Maybe they are golfing or fishing or pursuing other avocations.

Suggestions for Parents: This type of disinterested grandparent is the hardest to work with, because they simply haven't put the grandchildren very high in their list of priorities. Having a fit when they miss an activity may make them less likely to show up next time, on the grounds that they don't need the drama. Just be sure that they are informed about family occasions and the grandchildren's activities. A shared family calendar can help with this. Then let them know that they are welcome to join the festivities at any time. Sometimes grandparents of this type come around when the grandkids are older and can share their interests. That can happen if parents haven't cut all ties.

2. Grandparents Have Many Responsibilities.

Being a family caregiver can cut into the time grandparents have available for grandchildren.
Photo © Peter Zander / Getty

Some grandparents are still balancing work and family obligations. In the most extreme cases, grandparents may still have children at home and may already be dealing with aging parents. Such individuals are sometimes said to be members of the club sandwich generation, because they are dealing with the needs of multiple generations. Although they may love their grandchildren and want to be closer to them, they may have difficulty making time for them.

Suggestions for Parents: Don't wait for the grandparents to initiate a visit. Don't drop in, but do the planning for the grandparents. Short visits may be best. If the grandparents keep the grandchildren, follow these suggestions to make babysitting as easy as possible. Be especially certain to pick up the grandchildren on time. If the grandparents are caregivers for older relatives, switch assignments occasionally. You take a turn with the older relatives so the grandparents can be with their grandchildren.

3. Grandparents Have 'Been There, Done That.'

Many parents are switching from traditional child care to grandparent child care.
Photo © Meredith Heuer / Getty

Some grandparents may be uninterested in grandparenting because they see it as a repeat of parenting. They have dealt with spit-up, temper tantrums and potty training, and they don't want to do it again. Sometimes it isn't the work that puts them off, but the stress. They may feel that a grandchild is just one more person to worry about, and the more involved they are, the more they will worry. A grandparent who had some really tough times parenting may react in this manner, but so may someone whose parenting days were mostly successful.

Suggestions for Parents: This is another situation that may take care of itself. Never underestimate the power of a grandchild to win a grandparent's heart. You may be able to help the process along if you make it clear that you don't expect the grandparents to do the heavy lifting. Tell them that their job is just to have fun with the grandchildren. Chances are that the situation will resolve itself.

4. Being Responsible for Grandchildren May Frighten Them.

Grandparents and grandchildren can enjoy traveling by car together.
Photo © Bromberger Hoover Photography

Keeping a grandchild safe is a serious charge. Some grandparents don't want to babysit or to drive with a grandchild because they are insecure about their ability to keep the grandkids safe. Consider these factors:

  • Child care procedures have changed a lot since most grandparents were parents. They may realize that they aren't up to speed on car seats, safe sleeping and other practices.
  • Grandparents aren't as fleet or agile as they once were. They may worry about falling with the baby, or being unable to chase down a fleeing youngster.
  • Most grandparents have occasional forgetfulness. They may worry that they will forget something crucial.

Suggestions for Parents: Admitting their insecurity is difficult for some grandparents, so they may make excuses for not taking care of grandchildren rather than being forthright. A parent may be able to uncover the real reasons by gentle questioning. Grandparents who are truly impaired should not be left alone with children, but there's no reason why they can't spend time with their grandchildren with others around. In the case of a grandparent who doesn't have a serious problem but simply lacks confidence, a grandparenting class may help.

5. Money May Be a Concern.

Conflict about money sometimes results from frugal grandparents.
Photo © Jose Luis Palaez

Some family disputes are rooted in money matters. In many cases, however, financial issues are more subtle but are still there. Grandparents may absent themselves from family occasions because they are always expected to pick up the tab. Young family members often think that the grandparents should pay because they are better off financially. While that may be true, most grandparents are either living on a fixed income or are facing that situation in the near future. They feel that they must closely guard whatever savings they have. It may be easier to maintain a distance from family members than to face criticism, spoken or unspoken, for being less than generous. In addition, grandparents tend to be frugal and to disapprove of some of the ways in which the younger generations spend money.

Suggestions for Parents: If you sense that money is an issue, avoid putting the grandparents in a position where they will feel pressured to spend a lot of money. Have a meal at home instead of going to a restaurant. Go on a camping vacation instead of to a pricey resort. Or simply pick up the tab yourself once in a while. Make it clear that you are interested in the grandparents for themselves rather than as a source of funds.

6. Family Dynamics and Drama May Be a Deterrent.

The grandparent scam is a phone scam targeting grandparents.
Photo © John Howard / Getty

When parents complain about uninvolved grandparents, they often mention that the grandparents aren't that way with all of their grandchildren. That's an indicator that the problem may not be with the grandparents themselves. The family whose children get short shrift may be a constant source of controversy and drama, and that may be what is keeping the grandparents away.

Suggestions for Parents: Look at your own behavior to be sure that you aren't driving the grandparents away. In order to have rewarding relationships with family members, you must be willing to make allowances for others, to forgive and forget. In addition, be careful about making accusations of favoritism. Because their grandchildren may vary widely in age, geographical location and family situations, grandparents should not be expected to treat them all the same. The focus should be on creating a unique relationship with each grandchild.

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