Grandparents are a crucial link in families. They’re the keepers of family stories, the providers of lived-in advice. They have a unique vantage point that enables them to offer critical perspective for their children. Grandma and grandpa have been shown to boost the physical and emotional health of grandchildren as well as provide them with a strong moral compass. Grandparents in close proximity also offer important help when it comes to childcare. Its a symbiotic relationship, too: grandma and grandpa reap many health benefits from quality time with the family.
But grandparents and in-laws can, in certain families, be pretty big pains in the ass. They never admit to past mistakes. They play favorites with the grandkids. They undermine their grown children. They’re bad influences. In such situations, after words have been shared, it’s common for parents of young children to either directly or indirectly cut ties with or restrict time spent with grandparents. Cutting parents out of your life is a major decision, one that comes with a lot of consequences. But for certain parents it’s the right decision. Is it ideal? Absolutely not. But it happens.
So what are some reasons parents cut ties with their child’s grandparents? We spoke to a handful of moms and dads across the country to hear some of the reasons. Some discussed issues of accountability or non-stop guilt trips; others mentioned histories of bad blood. All of the stories, regardless of severity, speak to issues that cause problems in families that need to be discussed before they result in estrangement or just far less time spent with one another. Both parents and grandparents can learn a few things from these stories.
My Mother-in-Law Never Took Any Accountability
“My wife’s mother never admitted she was wrong. Not just in dealing with our kids, but in reminiscing about raising my wife when she and her sisters were younger. It’s classic gaslighting. My wife will bring up incidents from her childhood as points of discussion, and my mother-in-law will always play the victim or just outright deny everything. And it happened in front of our kids quite a bit, which means they always heard Grandma calling their mother a liar. Eventually we just had to taper off. It wasn’t healthy.” – Jim, 39, Oregon
My Mom Is a Bad Influence
“For me, it’s pretty cut-and-dry. My mom has been an alcoholic since I was a kid, and there’s no way she’s bringing that shit around my kids. So much of my childhood was ruined because she was unreliable, undependable, and just a terrible influence. She met the kids when they were born, and a few times after, but then fell back into her ways and we just had to say enough. Until she gets help, she’s not welcome in our home, or anywhere near the kids.” – Michael, 40, Kentucky
They Always Expected Us to Drop Everything For Them
“Grandparents aren’t royalty. But our son’s grandmother and grandfather sure acted like it. Every time they wanted to see the kids, we had to drop what we were doing and oblige. And if we didn’t, they got offended and raised hell. Or, if we made plans as a family, and didn’t invite them, they would lash out and say we were trying to keep them out of our son’s life. It just became too much, and we had to stop engaging with them. We still speak, but it’s measured and calculated, so we can try to keep things on an even keel and set boundaries without stressing ourselves out.” – Mary, 37, Ohio
They Always One-Upped Us
“Every birthday, every Christmas, every chance they got, my parents would deliberately try to buy our kids’ affection with ridiculously extravagant gifts. They legit tried to buy our daughter a pony. I didn’t know you could actually do that! I thought that was just on TV. And then, of course, when we said no, we were the bad guys. We told them that they could either obey our rules for gift giving, or take a hike. They didn’t take too kindly to that, so who knows if we’ll see them next Christmas?” – Andrew, 36, Michigan
They Wouldn’t Stop Guilting Us
“My wife’s parents did the thing where they’d be like, ‘Give Grandma/Grandpa a hug or I’ll get so sad and cry!’ Or, ‘Don’t you want Grandma/Grandpa to come to your special party?’ Our kids are 5 and 7, so they’re very susceptible to that sort of thing, and it’s a recipe for disaster. My wife hates it and thinks it’s annoying, but I think it’s borderline abusive. I’ve been in relationships where that happened to me, and it’s just unacceptable. Especially with kids. We let them FaceTime every now and then, because we can monitor that pretty closely, but we’re really not interested in letting them spend any lengthy time with the kids.” – Jeff, 29, Pennsylvania
They Undermined Us All The Time
“All the time. Almost like it was a sport to them. If we said we wanted our kids to do something one way, they would tell them to do it a different way when we weren’t around. If we established one set of rules at our house, those rules ‘didn’t apply’ at Nana and Papa’s. Not only were our kids confused, but they started disrespecting us and playing us against the grandparents. So, our first step was no more visits to Nana and Papa’s house unless my husband or I can be there the whole time. That way, at least we can be more vigilant and aware of what’s going on.” – Shari, 32, New York
My Mom Treated My Son Like He Didn’t Exist
“I have a son and a daughter, and my mother almost treated my son like he didn’t exist. She wasn’t mean, she was just inattentive. It was very clear to everyone — including him — that my daughter was her favorite. I don’t know what world my mom lived in where that wasn’t damaging to my son’s self-esteem. Maybe she was just oblivious to the point where she didn’t think he noticed. But he did. Now that we don’t see her as much, my daughter will say, ‘Mom and Dad told Grandma to go away because she likes me better!’ when she wants to be snotty. It’s a nightmare.” – Sam, 33, Connecticut
They Wouldn’t Stop Criticizing
“I got it growing up. ‘Why’d you get a ‘B’ instead of an ‘A’?’ ‘Why can’t you stand up straight?’ ‘Why’s your shirt untucked like that?’ It made me so incredibly self-conscious about everything. They still do it to me, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to let them do it to my kids, who are both in middle school. It’s such a sensitive, important age to developing self-esteem, and we don’t want our kids to have to deal with what we think is needless and unfair criticism. They’re going to be up against enough in middle school, I don’t need my parents adding to it day-after-day.” – Elijah, 37, Pennsylvania
My In-Laws Couldn’t Be Less Than #1
“Our kids have four grandparents. Two of them – my husband’s parents – couldn’t accept the fact that maybe our kids wouldn’t exclusively want to hang out with them all the time, when they have two other wonderful, loving grandparents. My parents didn’t care. They were grateful to be a part of the family, which is why they still are. But my in-laws just couldn’t be anything less than #1, which became incredibly obnoxious. And it’s why we don’t see them so much anymore.” – Allie, 35, California
“I hate to think this is a problem for a lot of families, but I think I know better. My parents are, for lack of a better word, pretty racist. And they’re not shy. So, it’s really a no-brainer. It’s not worth the risk having them around the kids when who knows what could come out of their mouths, and then be repeated by our kids. My wife agrees with me, but can tend to give them the benefit of the doubt. I’m strictly no tolerance when it comes to the issue. I don’t want that around my kids, my family, or myself.” – Connor, 36, Nevada
My Dad Spanked My Son
“This happened really recently, so I’m still dealing with the fallout. But, long-story-short, my son’s grandfather — my father — spanked him for misbehaving. My son is about to turn 6, and putting him in that situation will probably be a regret of mine for a long, long time. I don’t think there are too many sides to the story, so I’ve heard all I need to hear about what happened. For right now, my husband and I are not speaking to my dad. It’s been about a month, and he’s yet to apologize – he barely even acknowledge what he did. So, who knows? It’s going to take a lot for us to trust him around our son again.” – Kelli, 38, Ohio