Grandparenting – Drawing That Fine Line Between Love and Interference

Kathleen GansterChildwise: A column for parents of children from birth to 21

By Kathleen Ganster

The thoughts of grandparenting are usually of love, cookies, fishing and joy. But that isn’t how it always turns out.

The role of a grandparent can be tough. The grandparents may want to spend more – or less – time with their grandchildren than parents allow. And they may want to buy more things, give more advice or do more for their grandchildren than the parents want.

It can all be a delicate balancing act between loving enough and interfering with parenting.Childwise logo

And like everything else, open communication may help solve a lot of issues before they even begin.
Gretchen Crum, LSW, and a clinical program manager of the Child and Family Counseling Center, Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, provided some advice for grandparents and parents.

“It is a role change for everyone. All families go through it – talking about it helps to define what those roles are,” she said.

If the parents and children have had ongoing issues, they aren’t going to go away just because you add a cute, cuddly baby into the mix. Coupled with generational differences in values and believes and what should be a loving time can become stressful, said Crum.

“The trick is how do you communicate effectively and respectfully with these differences,” she said.

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Gretchen Crum

Before the baby is born, it may help everyone if the grandparent has a direct conversation with the soon-to-be new parents.

“You can say, ‘I’ve been dreaming about being a grandmother and I have this idea of how I see my role, but I really want to be supportive and respectful to you and your husband. How do you see my role?’” Crum suggested.

Of course, in a perfect world, everything would be discussed before it becomes an issue, but we don’t live in a perfect world.

Crum said that it can be particularly hard for a grandparent to see behavior that he doesn’t like either around or from his own children and grandchildren.

She gave an example of a single-parent who is dating a boyfriend who uses drugs.

“Don’t blame or criticize, because that will just push them away. You can say, ‘I’ve been worried about this and I know you must be worried about it too, but this might not be the best atmosphere for the kids,’” she said, “You both love the kids, so what can you do for them?”

The same advice holds true for families going through a divorce – grandparents need to be loving and supporting of both parents for the children.

Grandparenting for children of a single parent presents a whole the set of issues, said Crum, particularly if the parent is young.

“You may have had different plans for your child than having a child of their own right now, but criticizing doesn’t help anything,” she said.

Despite the best of intentions, there can also be issues where the grandparents appear to be overbearing or criticizing.

“Parents can set limits and boundaries for the children. But they should also be respectful and not criticize,” she said.

With parents’ busy lives, the grandparents may also find themselves in the parenting role more than they would like. It is a difficult role, because the grandparents may worry who will care for the children if they say no, said Crum. But it is acceptable to set limits on that end.

“Maybe you could say, ‘I think he needs to spend more time with you,’ or mention your concern that they aren’t spending enough time with their children,” Crum said.

Limits are good on all levels including eating, presents and behavior. What isn’t acceptable to a parent shouldn’t be allowed at a grandparent’s house. And it is acceptable to have your own house rules, explained Crum.

If the difficulties seem too big to handle between the parents and grandparents, counseling is always a good option. Crum suggested the Child and Family Center along with other resources for families.

For information about the Child and Family Center, visit or 724-933-3910 or toll free at 1-877-933-3910.

Do you have a topic you want Childwise to explore? Email Kathleen Ganster at

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