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Dealing With Overindulgent Grandparents

How can I encourage my parents to stop spoiling our children? Grandma and Grandpa give my kids whatever they ask for, sometimes in complete disregard of my wishes. I don't want to alienate my parents, but I've got to do something. Any ideas?

Every grandparent may occasionally have a tendency to overindulge his or her grandchildren. The problem, of course, is that they’re usually not around to bear the brunt of the problems created by such indulgence. Kids love visiting grandma’s house if it’s a place where the word “no” is seldom heard and where treats are dispensed that are normally considered off-limits at home. To a certain extent, there’s little harm in this as long as it’s understood that such occasions are to be regarded as exceptions to the rules.

Sometimes, however, the situation can be more serious. Your reference to grandma’s and grandpa’s “complete disregard of your wishes” leads us to suppose that you may be facing something bigger than the mere doting permissiveness of adoring grandparents. As a matter of fact, the circumstances you’ve described could be symptomatic of much deeper issues. If your mom and dad are deliberately denying you your authority as a parent, you need to take decisive steps to address the problem – and soon. Naturally, we can appreciate the fact that you want to broach the subject in a loving, respectful way. As you say, you don’t want to do anything that would jeopardize the positive relationship you have with your parents.

We’d suggest that you and your wife get a baby-sitter and schedule a dinner out with your parents. Begin the conversation by letting them know how much you love and appreciate them. Then move on to explain that something’s come up that you’d like to discuss. We recommend picking one or more of the following alternatives as the basis of your discussion.

  • The first and best choice is to confront your parents lovingly. Tell them that you are working hard to raise children who love and honor God, and that you’re trying to help them understand the importance of obedience, discipline, and proper respect for authority. Do this after establishing a teaching system with your kids, so that the system establishes the standard – not you, and certainly not your parents. Explain that although you appreciate their kindness and generosity toward your kids, you are beginning to feel that they are undermining your efforts by their actions. It would help if you can name specific incidents. Relate the details and tell them how this situation made you feel as a parent. Provide reasons for the rules you maintain at home and help them understand why you feel it’s important for your children to be held to a consistent standard. If you can provide a word picture they can relate to, it might help them better understand your feelings. Perhaps you can even ask your parents to participate with you in holding the kids to the system. That may enable you to point out the behavior that’s challenging you.
  • A second idea is to present your parents with an alternative to giving large, expensive gifts. For example, you could ask them to set up savings accounts for your children. At some point the kids could share with their grandparents how they used the total of the gifts given to them. Or you could ask your parents to put the money in a college fund. You could also request that they spend time, rather than money, on your children. A relationship with grandparents is a blessing that kids can never purchase.
  • Third, the grandparents could choose to give gifts, but you would establish a limit on the amount to be spent on the gifts. That way you won’t take away the pleasure they get out of giving, and they won’t thwart what you want to teach.
  • Finally, you may wish to provide your parents with a list of the kids’ needs (school supplies, clothes, etc.). This may help them give more practical gifts.

Before having this conversation, we’d encourage you and your wife to spend some time in prayer. Ask the Lord to soften your hearts toward your parents and help you see things from their perspective. If they grew up in depressed circumstances or lower-income homes, they may be simply trying to heal their own hurts and compensate for their own childhood deprivations by lavishing luxuries on your kids. It’s difficult to say how they will react to this discussion. They may feel hurt for a while, but it’s critical that you address the issue before even greater resentment is allowed to build.

If you want some helpful input before tackling this challenging assignment, contact our Counseling department for a free over-the-phone consultation.


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