Kids Dislike Grandparents or Vice Versa

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Elderly mother who doesn't like grandchild

March 2006

I've read in the archives about grandkids who don't like their grandparents, but our situation is reversed: my 96-year-old mother (frail, but very clear-headed) doesn't like her only grandchild! She was not all that enthusiastic about being a grandmother in the first place, but dutifully saw my daughter a few times a year, baked cookies for her, etc. Now that my mother lives in the same town that we do, and now that my daughter's a teenager, the situation has deteriorated.

My daughter is a little casual in her treatment of my mother (we have talked about this), but my mother can be outright cold to and about her. I know this relates to my mother's own complicated family issues; she tends to view most relatives as all-good or all-bad. My daughter shrugs it off; sometimes I can, too, but it hurts all the same. I stay calm and tell my mother I'm going to change the subject when she says something unpleasant, but it still bothers me when she slams my daughter for some petty reason. (My older brother was in a state juvenile facility at that age.)

This is clearly generation-gap stuff, but I think there's something more as well--jealousy/resentment on her part, etc. Knowing what I do of her family's patterns, I can see that her attitude toward her grandchild is part of it. Unfortunately, bringing up such matters with my mother, however gently, is seldom productive; she is defensive about her family background and about her parental skills. I don't expect her to change--I just want to cope better. Any suggestions from readers who have been in this situation or something similar? Anonymous

I feel for you and wonder how much your mother's attitude takes you back to your childhood - when you may have felt some coldness on her part? My mother also is not a happy grandmother. Despite having six children, she can only have one or at most, two grandchildren over at a time and plops them in front of the T.V. She definitely believed in the ''children should be seen and not heard'' adage. I noticed that a lot of my anger towards her was because I was reminded of how little she nurtured us, protected us, cherished us. I have finally come to accept that she just ''isn't into us'' and let it go at that. I also limit my son's exposure to her attitude - I recommend you do the same. You can't change your mother, but you're right, you can learn how to deal with it and one way is to protect your daughter by avoiding those who should and don't unconditionally love her. anon

I've been in a similar situation to yours with younger children, in relation to my father; he's pretty explicit about his dislike of kids, and makes it clear he'd just as soon see me or my brother on our own rather than with any of his 7 grandkids. He too had a troubled family and upbringing.

My brother used to get very upset about this, but my response has been just to leave my father alone, and not try to make a relationship work that isn't likely to. Some adults are just not cut out to be grandparents. It's sad for the kids, and sad for you, and even sad for the grandparents in a way, but I think it's worse to try to foist the children on them and hope that some grandparentish emotion shows up. At least it my Dad's case it's pretty well a lost cause. And it's hurtful for the children to feel that kind of rejection.

Like your mother, I think, one issue for my father is that he wants more attention for himself. He is not as old as your mother, but in part I just feel: well, fine, that means you will see less of me (maybe twice a year), but maybe when I see you I should just be by myself, and we don't even have to talk about the kids much. I don't see this as 'giving in' to his limitations, but just finding a way to work with them, keep the peace, and stay positive with someone who is aging and frail and not likely to change.

In our family, we do have one other grandparent who is very involved (my mother) and some grandparents at a distance who are half and half -- mildly critical, but send birthday cards. So I guess you try to find a good relation with an older relation where possible, and if there's no one like that in your own family there can sometimes be sort of surrogate grandparents, I've found -- older friends, or parents of friends of ours -- who can have a loving and less complicated relationship that can enrich the lives of the kids. Good luck! I sympathize. anon

I don't know if this helps, but my daughter is an only grand child and her elderly grandparents are very critical and we wouldn't dream of having them watch her, nor would they want to. I don't even try to understand it. I do know they love her very much, but aren't able to show it in a nurturing way. They are in their 90's, and have friends that are active with their own grandchildren. anon

I want to make sure I read your posting right. Your mother is 96 years old? I'm not surprised by her behaviour, and to be blunt, think you might be in a bit of denial about her age finally catching up with her, no matter how lucid she may seem.

My grandmother seemed to have her act totlly together, and it was several years before we realized that things weren't totally as they appeared. And we are a very close family that spent a lot of time with her. I think when you see an elderly person often, the changes are gradual and don't make such an impression on you. And also, irrational anger can be a sign of alzheimers.

I think it's unrealistic to try to reason with an elderly person. You're not going to change her at this point and should just try to let it all go as much as you can. anon

13-month-old is scared of grandfather

November 2002

Our boy since the very beginning has been scared of his grandfather (my dad). He cries when my dad comes near him and turns away when my dad wants to hold him. My dad has tried feeding and playing with him but to no avail. I'm assuming this is a stage and he will outgrow it but I'm curious if anyone else experienced this and how did you handle it? It's breaking my dad's heart.

My son was scared of my dad for the first couple of months - my dad has a full beard and smokes cigars, and while my son is used to the beard, he won't go near my dad if my dad has just smoked a cigar. A good friend of mine is an ex-smoker -- she quit when we figured out that my son didn't like the smell of the smoke on her clothes. Now he dives into her arms. Jwheelis

We had a very similar situation with our daughter for 1 plus years, with her grandmother. Her grandmother was very determined to win her grandaughter's affection, but it was a long, slow process. She initially screamed upon sight of her grammy, and would not be held, preferred no real contact, until maybe after 1 hour plus interaction with Mom present. We made the mistake of trying to leave her with grammy only to arrive home to hysterical screaming.

With patience, your child may decide eventually to like the grandparent, but do not force them together, especially if he continues to display real fear or discomfort. Instead, act as a buffer and stick around during visits. While this may be difficult for a loving grandparent, they should be considerate enough to not force the child's comfort level until they demonstrate that they are ready. Our daughter now adores her grammy and has no real memory of their rocky beginnings together. been there

My younger daughter was distrustful of many people--including my mother--when she was younger. My mother tried every approach we suggested, including simply ignoring my daughter with the hopes that she would go to my mother of her own accord. It broke my mother's heart, but nothing worked except time. When my daughter was 2 and more social, she gave Grandma a chance. They're good buddies now and most of us don't even remember how ''prickly'' my daughter was at that age. kzm

Does your father have a beard? We have noticed that our baby does not like our fathers very much either and we think it is because of their beards. If he does have a beard perhaps he will feel better knowing that it is not that your son doesn't like him but that he finds the beard a little scary. Berkeley Mom

My daughter was scared of my mom when she had her glasses on. Make sure it's not something like that that he can easily change before you make it more serious. anon

19-month-old cries when grandma visits

Our 19 month daughter has an extremely adverse reaction to my husband's mother. Grandma lives nearby and likes to come by about once a week to visit. We prepare for the visits by saying Grandma is coming to visit, how fun! etc. Even before Grandma walks in the door, when my daughter sees Grandma getting out of the car or hears her coming up the steps, my daughter will start to cry and grab our legs. She often is shy around new people or people she hasn't seen for a while (including my parents), but nothing as dramatic as this.

Realizing our own potential culpability, we have tried to eliminate all discussions about my mother-in-law when my daughter is awake. We're trying to think of possible bad experiences they may have had, but are hard pressed. We haven't left her with Grandma to babysit for a while (maybe more one-on-one time would help?). Grandma usually shows up with presents (toys, clothes) despite our protestations (we have given up protesting). Also, the visits often happen on Saturday mornings when I'm at the gym.

Any advice? This is very hard for my mother-in-law, and for us. Thanks

We had this problem too. Are you leaving her a lot with your mother-in-law? My husbands mother visits us often and we (my husband and I) made the mistake of taking the opportunity to go on dates. My daughter quickly associated grandma with mommy and daddy leaving and protested in the same manner as your daughter. We have made a concerted effort to do fun and mundane (grocery shopping)things with grandma altogether, it's working but we see that it will take a lot of time and effort my daughter to feel secure again around grandma. Hope this helps and good luck.

My son also initially had a neg. response to gramma ......I think he initially felt know how grammas can rush a child not realizing that the child doesn't know who gramma really is or the significance of her role in the family. I'd say for the next couple of times, have gramma visit but not pay much attention to the child....just to you...then little by little, I bet your child will warm up.

another thought....perhaps your child associates gramma coming with your going to the gym and becomes clingy b/c of that? good luck!

my toddler had a similar reaction to his stepsister, who sometimes babysits for him. Once he figures out that we aren't going anywhere, and Liz is going to be with us, not replace us, he usually relaxes. The grabbing of your legs (to keep you there) seems to indicate a similar reaction by your daughter. Unfortunately (since it sounds like grandma isn't your favorite person) more contact, both with and without your presence is probably the answer. One possible positive side effect of that is that she might run out of presents.... good luck

It could be something as simple as her perfume or a certain way she hugs her- too tightly? Or tickles her? Small things can make a HUGE impression on a toddler. My toddler is sensitive to strong smells- even pleasant ones like perfumes. My friend's daughter would squirm away from me and act distressed when I tried to hug or tickle her- I quickly learned to kneel down and talk quietly to her or just start playing with her dolls- She soon opened up to me. Or perhaps your toddler makes the association with Grandma coming and you being away at the gym. My heart goes out to you- Good luck!

You mentioned that Grandma's visits usually happen when you're not there. Perhaps your child associates the visits with your absence and that is the source of the distress, rather than Grandma, herself. Could you arrange to have Grandma come visit a few times when you're not going to leave, to see if your child can get comfortable with all of you at home together? If you can establish that, then maybe it will be less distressing to your child if/when you go back to leaving when Grandma comes. Good luck!

I've dealt with this same situation with both my girls, although it was more severe with the first child. At six months, she was crying everytime her grandma held her, and it got worse as she got older and was able to express that she didn't want her grandma to sit next to her in the car etc. What I narrowed it down to was her grandma's propensity to swoop on her, and try to hug, kiss or hold her without giving her time to warm up to her. Or worse, when grandma would ask to give her a kiss, my daughter would say no, and grandma would give her one anyway! (She lives long distance, so there's a lot of stored up need to bond intensely on the grandma's side.) The ONE time that a visit went very smoothly is when my husband had a long talk with her beforehand and convinced her not to try to kiss or hug her until my daughter was ready. By the second day of that visit, my daughter was initiating contact with her and it was delightful. Unfortunately, grandma couldn't keep it up on subsequent visits, so we had a few years of stress until my daughter got old enough to deal with it. There's really no problem now with my older daughter. I'm pretty sure that my anxiety over whether grandma would swoop again made it worse. We also had trouble, but to a lesser extent, with my mom. Grandma also showers the presents too, and we've been unable to control it either. We just hide the presents now when we can, and sometimes give them away before they're opened. I'm convinced that all that anxiety to bond with the grandchild is a set up for disaster, at least with kids of my temperment. At times, it slipped over into feeling like Grandma was trying to compete with me for my kids' attentions--ouch. It was hard to set the appropriate limits for my mother-in-law (a little easier with my mom), and give the relationship time to develop, but I think that's what it takes. My older daugher was always very charming and warm with my father, and I think it's because he never tried to kiss or hug her unless she came over. He just interacted with her verbally and had fun with her from a safe distance until she warmed up. I always felt like I was right to defend my daughter's right not to get kissed against her will, but it was uncomfortable. After a while, I figured that if grandma wouldn't listen to us, then she would have to deal with the consequences. We would stop our daughter from being outright rude, but allow her to decide what level of contact was ok. My personal advice would be for your husband to talk to his mother and try to get her to allow the kid to work through her feelings and try to take the pressure off the situation. Don't expect her to be loving if she doesn't feel like it. As I said, it's gotten better. My older daughter is now 7 and it hasn't been an issue for several years now. Of course, the last time grandma babysat, my younger kid got so mad she vomited on her...but that's another story. It's true that your own feelings can complicate the situation, but listen to your instincts. Hope this helps

My daughter who is nine now did the same thing to my mother. She despised her...said mean things...didn't want to be near her. My mother was always kind to her and I could never figure it out. My mother always played her cards right...never got upset...never pushed the issue. I finally decided that there must be something in those little minds that feel threatened by someone being OUR (the parent's) mother...that they are afraid that we belong to someone else. Anyway, over time, my daughter is now closer to my mother than any of the grandparents...more than to those who tried to buy her love with gifts (my mother is not a shopper). I think the fact that she never pushed it and just checked in with my daughter...never tried to buy her off... just let her know that she was there. It worked...hang in there. Hope that helps.