“My parents are disappointing grandparents” is a heartbreaking admission to make. It makes life harder for you as a parent and it robs your children of some uplifting family time.
This is a situation worth trying to fix, then.
In this guide, we’ll take a look at what you should expect from your parents in their role as a grandparent, plus how to cope if they’re not meeting these expectations.
In my role as a life coach, I am often helping people connect better with those closest to them.
That’s why I’m keen to share this guide with you.
So, let’s dive in.
What Are The Signs Of An Uninvolved Grandparent?
It’s fair to say that your parents don’t owe you anything. They have their own lives to enjoy and there are no laws stating they have to take care of their grandkids and be your free babysitter.
However, it’s also fair for you to expect them to want to see their grandchildren.
So, at what stage, is it fair to label them as an uninvolved grandparent?
Grandparents Don’t Make Effort
If you’re always pushing them to visit their grandchildren, it’s fair to say they’re being less of an involved grandparent than you would like.
They’re Constantly Declining Invitations
If they’re declining invitations to spend time with their grandchildren more often than not, that’s another fair definition of ‘uninvolved’. This is especially true if they’re not making legitimate excuses or suggesting alternative dates.
Grandmother Has No Interest In Grandchildren
If you share stories about the kids and their grandmother shows little interest in hearing them, that’s a clearer sign of her not wanting to be involved with your kids. The same goes for the grandfather, of course.
They Don’t Try To Engage The Grandchildren When They Do Visit
It’s natural for grandparents to want to play and have fun with their grand-kids, especially if it’s your first child and their only grandchild. If your parents are distant around your kids, that’s another sign they don’t want to be involved.
What Do You Do With Uninvolved Grandparents?
Here are some ideas to help you turn things around with your parents, so they feel more inspired to be a bigger part of their grandchildren’s lives.
1. How To Deal With Unfair Grandparents
You might think it’s ‘unfair’ that one set of grand-parents are less involved with the family than you’d like, but if you bring this attitude towards them, you’re unlikely to make much progress.
Remember, they don’t owe you anything. They have their own life and have already given up many years raising their own children.
If you get angry or try to shame your parents into spending time with your kids, you’ll probably be met with more resistance. It’s not a good approach to make them feel guilty.
It’s better to be on their team trying to fix whatever’s stopping them spending time with your children.
2. Ask Why They’re Not Spending More Time With Your Children
Sometimes, it’s as easy as asking what’s wrong. So, do this in a friendly and non-aggressive manner.
The common reasons are that they’re exhausted from working (if they’re not retired yet) or that they’re busy doing other things in their free time. This is a particularly common answer if you’re not in the same city, and you’re asking them to drive a few hours to a destination many miles away.
But there are other reasons that grandparents might not be brave enough to admit.
Could it be that they don’t feel capable of looking after rampant little kids now they’re in old age? Might they be declining out of resentment, perhaps because they think you’re asking too much of them?
To find out if this is the case, you might need to ask these questions directly.
3. Support Them If They Say They’re Too Busy
If your parents say they’re too busy to commit more time to your kids, the only correct response is to support that.
If you deny that they’re busy or tell them to cancel other plans, they’re likely to feel disrespected and taken advantage of. It’s never nice when someone suggests their time is more valuable than yours. They probably feel they’re in the same boat as you, even if you’re a single mom and they’re still married. It’s common for people to think their own problems are more pressing.
The average age of a first-time grandparent in the United States is 47, so it could well be that they still have their own career to think of. Either way, it’s generally agreed that modern grandparents live busier lives than baby boomer grandparents of the past. Perhaps you’re an older child and they’ve still got one child or even more children living with them.
Either way, tell them it’s great that they’re so busy, then ask if they think it’s possible to alter their schedule to fit in more time with the grandkids.
Remember, it’s best to host all conversations as if you’re on the same team and look for a compromise.
When you adopt any sort of the “us vs them” attitude, you’ll often inspire your parents to dig their heels in further.
4. Could You Do More For Parents?
It’s well and good being frustrated at your parents, but here’s a good question to ask: what do you do for them?
Could it be that your parents feel unappreciated because you only ask for favors, and never help with their lives?
This could be enough to inspire many grandparents to not want to help anyone, even their own children.
When you’re the one to lend a helping hand first (without asking for anything in return), you’ll be amazed how often good people want to pay back your generosity.
5. Ask Your Parents What Role Their Parents Played In Their Child-Rearing
While it’s not smart to directly compare them to other grandparents, you can certainly bring up your own grandparents indirectly. Mention how much you enjoyed visiting your grandma and granddad, if that’s true of course.
This can be a gentle introduction to a conversation about the amount of time they spend with their grandkids.
Perhaps they’re unaware of your expectations of their new role in the family.
6. Mention Your Childhood Memories With Them
This is a sneaky way to pull at their heartstrings. Mention some of the fond memories you enjoyed with your parents as a child. Maybe you always had tea parties with your mum. Perhaps you’d watch sporting events with your Dad every weekend.
Whatever it was, say that you hope they’ll share that same pastime with your kids too.
What mother or father could resist that?
7. Make It Fun, Not A Chore
The previous tip is a great example of how to highlight the fun parts of grandparenting. Are you doing this often, or making it seem like a chore?
When a grandparent has a busy life of their own (or even if they don’t), they’re not going to be excited about picking kids up from their after-school programs or another shift of “child care” while you enjoy your weekly date nights. Make it appetising by inviting them to enjoy fun things with your children.
8. Why Being A Grandparent Is Better Than Being A Parent
Traditionally, being a grandparent is supposed to be more enjoyable because they can just enjoy the fun times, then go home.
Are you offering them that opportunity? Or are you expecting them to take on a part-time parenting role?
If you invite your parents to be with your kids in a low-pressure environment – with you there to take care of any emergencies – you’ll be surprised how quickly a bond develops.
Once that bond is there, you might find that they’re more willing to take charge of the kids for a weekend or more.
9. Make It About The Kids, Not You
Instead of focusing on how you need help, frame your conversation about the great relationship you want for your children and their grandparents.
“You’re so important to me. I want you to be an important part of my children’s lives,” you could say.
10. Focus On The People Who Want To Show Love
If you’ve used these tips to try and get through to your kids’ grandparents and it didn’t work, it’s sometimes best to cut your losses.
You might have loved hanging out with your grandparents, but allow your own kids to spend their time with people who want to be there.
Maybe that’s their extended family members, such as their uncles and aunties. Perhaps it’s your husbands parents. If you’re lucky enough to have a big family, your parents’ absence might not make such a big dent in your children’s hearts. It might hurt to hear that about your own mum and dad, but they’re grown adults who have to make their own decisions.
Anyway, you’d be surprised how this can affect the psychology of your mother and father. When you stop inviting them to family events, you may find that they suddenly want to be a part of your kids’ lives.
11. Work With What You Have
Life isn’t always perfect. Sometimes, it’s best to accept what the grandparents are offering and work with that.
If they barely visit in person, perhaps you can arrange regular phone calls or video calls.
If they only arrive for ‘important’ events, send them an invitation before anyone else. Give them plenty of notice.
12. Letter To Uninvolved Grandparents
It’s sometimes a nice strategy to write a letter when you’re disappointed with someone, as this gives you time to calmly list all of your feelings. If you do that, remember to frame it as if you’re on their team.
A better strategy might be to ask your toddler to craft them a cute letter saying they miss them.
What Are The Signs Of A Toxic Grandparent?
A toxic grandparent would actively be making yours or your family’s lives worse with their presence.
It’s different to an absent grandparent, as you’d have to actually be present in someone’s life to meet the definition of toxic.
What Is A Toxic Grandmother?
A toxic grandmother and toxic grandfather would have the same red flags. You can learn more in my list of toxic grandparent warning signs.
Keep Your Frustrations Away From Your Kids
No matter how little interest a grandparent shows in your kids’ lives, don’t ever bad-mouth them in front of your children. This does no good to anyone. In fact, a family conflict can have a lasting impact on your children’s mental health. It’s better to protect them from any tension you have with your mother or father.
Plus, even if things are bad now, there’s always a chance that your parents will come to their senses once your children are a bit older.
Thanks for reading my guide. I hope it helps you to create a better situation, whether you’re dealing with your own parents or your in-laws.
It can be tough raising kids when you don’t get support from their grandparents, but I know you have what it takes to be a good mom or dad anyway.
If you have a question on this topic, feel free to write in the comments below.
It would be great to hear from you.