Naughty nannas

Grand love ... They have an important role to play in your child's life, but grandparents can really push parents' buttons.
Grand love ... They have an important role to play in your child's life, but grandparents can really push parents' buttons.

It seems there’s a lot to vent about when we ask parents their thoughts on indulgent grandparents. But is it really so harmful for Nan to do a bit of spoiling? Is it worth arguing or even ‘punishing’ her by keeping visits to a minimum?

As parents, it can be difficult to be ‘vegetables and boundaries’ to our children while grandparents are all ‘ice cream and fun’ – especially if they were harsher on us when we were kids. But if you’re struggling with grandparents who indulge your kids, it might help to see things from your parents’ perspective.

When you were a child, your own parents may not have had the resources – time, money and sleep – to ‘spoil’ you as they do your children. Grandparents see this new time as a rite of passage, one in which they can enjoy their grandchildren in a very different way. As one grandma describes, “It’s all fun with no ultimate responsibility. For me, buying toys is a luxury I couldn’t afford when my own children were little. When I’m out and see something I know Stella or Xavier would love, I imagine the delight on their faces when they open a surprise from me.”

Another nan says, “I mind my two-year-old granddaughter one day a week. I know how consistent her parents are about her daytime sleep, but she’s so excited to be at my place that I can’t get her to sleep. I felt really guilty that she sleeps in the car on her way home, and then she’s up late for her parents. Then I realised that it’s only one day a week ... So now I’m more relaxed and just have fun with her, whether she sleeps or not. “

As parents, you need to set boundaries on a day to day basis. It’s your job to guide and teach your child, and right now – just as it was for your parents when you were a child – the buck stops with you when it comes to your child’s health and wellbeing. This can make it difficult to step back and think about whether Nan’s spoiling is undermining your parenting, or if it’s just part of a special connection between your child and her grandparents.

If you really feel that a grandparent is overstepping the mark when it comes to ‘spoiling’ your child, try to let them know how you feel – gently, of course. Remember that the relationship between a grandparent and your child is important in the long term, and so is your relationship with your parent or in-law. So you could try explaining, “Alfie behaves badly when he eats too many lollies, but he loves crackers and dip or peeling his own mandarins.” Nannas do like to carry treats in their bags, so try to guide her so it's something suitable.

If you'd rather Nan spent time with your child, instead of buying things for her, reinforce what a lovely time your little one had at the park or helping her cook, or suggest some activities you know your child enjoys. A more subtle way to inspire special activities, rather than material things, is to give Grandma an appropriate but beautiful activity book, such as The Little Big Book for Grandmothers.

Despite your best efforts, though, you may not be able to tame an indulgent grandparent. If all your efforts to rein in your ‘naughty nanna’ fall on deaf ears, perhaps you could simply take a chill pill and accept that a bit of spoiling, even if it seems over the top right now, probably isn’t doing any long term harm. And it may be creating some very special memories for your children, too.

Phillipa, a mum of four kids who are now all teenagers, says that her children’s grandparents lived a long way away from her family. “We didn't get to see them much, so when we did, it was good for them to give the kids lots of attention. My father-in-law used to give them chocolate before tea and wait for me to rouse, but it was one or two weekends a year, so why not?

“My dad used to give the kids jelly snakes, which is how they still remember him. And my parents would give the kids dessert even if they didn't eat their vegetables; my dad would say ‘ice cream fills a different hole to peas’, and ‘you can’t spoil a child with love’.”

For Jessica, mum of an eight-month-old, grandparents are best at over-the-top shows of affection. “Some of my fondest memories of my yiayia involve her feeding me blocks of chocolate while I snuggled on her lap and listened to her stories. Spoil away, I say – it's every nan's right! I hope my mum spoils my daughter as she grows… well, in moderation, of course.”

Pinky McKay is holding a free tele-seminar on Wednesday, July 18, 2012. The topic is "Mother stress, anxiety and being overwhelmed: secrets to beating burnout and being your best you as you blitz through the pressures of modern mothering." Register here.

This story Naughty nannas first appeared on Essential Baby.