22 Toxic Grandparents Warning Signs (2024) & What To Do

The idea of avoiding toxic parents is well-known, but what about toxic grandparents?

Many grandparents can be just as harmful for you and your children’s lives, but the indicators of toxic grandparents aren’t always as obvious. 

Below you’ll discover 22 signs of toxic grandparents and how to deal with them if you have them.

In my role as a life coach, I am often helping clients improve their mental health and better understand the people closest to them. 

That’s why I’m keen to share this guide with you. 

So, let’s dive in.   

What Is A Toxic Grandparent?

A toxic person is someone who is harmful to spend time around, usually for your mental health or because they’re likely to lead you into trouble.

A toxic grandparent is exactly that. Crucially, their toxic behavior could not only affect you, but your children and even your extended family too. 

Toxic Grandparents Checklist

Here is a list of 22 common signs of toxic behavior from grandparents. The more of these signs that grandparents indulge in, the more crucial it is to address this behavior. I’ll suggest how to do that towards the bottom of this article…

1. Undermining Your Parenting Decisions

Do your kids’ grandparents love to ignore your rules when it comes to bedtime, playtime or dinner time? What a drag. It’s tough enough to cement your parental authority without an undermining grandparent making it even harder.

It’s the grandparents’ job to fit in with the family rules, not to challenge them. If you explain this to the grandparents but they still choose to undermine you, their behavior is arguably slipping into toxic territory.

Toxic Grandparent
Photo By wayhomestudio On freepik

2. Trying To Change Your Parenting Rules   

If they’re adamant about trying to change how you parent your kids, that’s another toxic sign, especially if they do it in front of family members.

3. They Try To Make You Feel Like A Bad Parent 

This isn’t something anyone should feel they have the right to do, especially to their own children. If your mum or dad are trying to make you feel like a bad parent, this definitely qualifies as toxic. Give them bonus toxic points if they’re doing it to get their own way in a disagreement.

4. They Guilt-Trip You   

This is a classic strategy for grandparents to have a bigger say in their grandchildren’s lives. Look out for guilt-tripping when they’re upset about how often they get to see your kids.

5. Playing The Victim

Old toxic people like to play the victim to get their way. A common strategy is to pivot an argument to how tough their life is as a pensioner. 

6. They Spoil The Grandkids 

Spoiling your children is a common way for toxic grandparents to undermine your parental rules. They’ll do this not only to buy the love of their grandkids; it also serves to make you feel guilty about what you buy your kids. What’s more, it could well turn your children into spoiled materialistic brats.

7. Having A Favorite Grandchild

When parents don’t treat their children equally, it can have a harmful impact on the forgotten child and the ‘golden child’. The same goes with grand-parents having favorite grandchildren.

8. Wanting To Be The Favorite Grandparent 

A toxic and controlling grandparent might badmouth other grandparents in their efforts to be seen as the favorite.

9. Criticising The Grandkids  

To grow up with healthy self-esteem, young children need to be constantly showered with praise and compliments. If the grandchildren constantly criticizes them, they could grow up with severe emotional deficits. 

10. Overly High Expectations For Their Grandkids 

Overly high expectations and pressure from parents can be harmful to a child’s development and self-esteem. It’s the same if this pressure comes from the grandparents.

Related: Best 61 Unsupportive Family Quotes

11. They Cause A Scene When You Set Boundaries

Are your parents more likely than your children to shout and scream if they don’t get their own way? This is one of the more common manipulative tactics used by toxic grandparents. 

12. They Cause Rifts Within The Family 

A toxic grandparent will be happy to cause drama within the entire family if they thought it was in their best interest. 

13. They Start Drama, Even When The Children Are Around 

A toxic grandparent is rarely polite enough to deliver their critical words in private. They’ll happily belittle you in front of other family members (even your own children) if they think it’ll help them get their own way.

14. They Commit To What They Want 

Are the type of grandparents who only look after the children when it 100% suits them? Many families would grow tired of this pattern, and it’s fair to label it as toxic. 

15. They Use Blackmail 

Blackmail is a common tool in the arsenal of a toxic grandparent. Often, it involves money. Perhaps they’ll offer financial support, but only in exchange for something that they want. Maybe they threaten to stop babysitting your child or to remove you from the will if they don’t get what they want.

16. They Belittle Your Partner 

Toxic grandparents are usually toxic in-laws. They rarely care about hurting other people’s feelings, and won’t even shy away from a personal attack on your loving partner. It’s rare they’ll have a healthy relationship with your partner, as they’ll usually see them as an opponent to their entirely egocentric worldview.  

17. They Compare You To Other Families

If they know other parents that treat other kids how they want you to treat yours, you better believe they’ll bring those parents up.

18. They Fail To Take Personal Accountability 

Toxic and especially narcissistic grandparents will almost never take accountability for things they did wrong in the past. They’ll never apologize to their adult children for being a toxic or abusive parent, nor admit when they make any type of mistake. 

19. They Gaslight You 

Gaslighting is common among toxic and narcissistic grandparents. Look out for gaslighting when you call them out on their behavior or criticize them in any way. Maybe they’ll even go as far as accusing you of having a mental illness.

Related: Clear Signs Of A Narcissist Grandmother

20. They’ll Plant Thoughts In Their Child’s Mind

Children have plastic minds and are more susceptible to ideas given by a family member. A toxic grandparent might use this fact to their advantage. They might make the child feel like a bad person if they don’t ask to see them more often. Maybe they’ll turn a child against their parents.

This type of behavior can have a huge impact on a child’s life, and can even qualify as emotional abuse. 

21. They Feel Entitled To Time With Your Children 

In spite of all this potential emotional abuse, a toxic grandparent will feel entitled to be spending time with your children whenever they see fit. They’ll mention how often other grandparents visit other grandchildren, and essentially do whatever they can to get their way.  

22. They Want To Have A Say In Your Child’s Name!

Most grandparents realize that parents should be naming their own children. If your parents are trying to help you name your child, this is an early sign you’ll be dealing with toxic grandparents. 

Toxic Grandparents
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

What Do You Do With A Narcissistic Grandparent?

Have you just realized your own parents are toxic people? Read on for some tips on what to do to protect yourself and your children. 

Living With Toxic Grandparents

Whether you’re living with your parents or they’re living with you, the situation needs to change.   This energy will bring down the mental health of you and your children if you’re around it all the time.

Of course, it’s not always easy for adult children to leave their parents house or to kick them out. But your mental health – and the emotional wellbeing of your child – needs to be a priority.  

How To Deal With Toxic Grandparents

The key to avoiding your family’s life being affected is setting boundaries and sticking to them. Now you’re more familiar with the behavior that constitutes being toxic to one’s own family, it should be easier to call out unacceptable behavior.

Most parents won’t react well to this initially, but it’s in the best interests of your children for you to stay strong here.  

When Grandparents Overstep Their Boundaries?

There needs to be consequences if your parents continue to overstep your boundaries. Feel free to give them a warning or two, but if they don’t listen, the only solution might be to stop your parents from seeing your children for a while.

Sometimes, it requires severe consequences for people to see the errors of their ways, evaluate their behavior and apologise. Hopefully, your parents will do this and promise to change their behavior in future.  

Cutting Off Toxic Grandparents

If possible, try to keep your own feelings out of this conversation and definitely keep your kids out of it. Explain as logically as you can that your parents won’t be able to see your children unless their toxic behavior stops. 

Related: My Parents Are Disappointing Grandparents: 12 Coping Strategies

Frequently Asked Questions

Let’s round off this guide with the answers to some frequently asked questions on the topic. 

Why Do Grandparents Spoil Their Grandchildren? 

Some do it out of love. Others do it to win the favor of these children. Then, there are some who do it for darker reasons such as to undermine their adult child or to turn their kids against them.

What Are The Signs Of Narcissistic Parents Or Grandparents?

A narcissist is someone who puts their own life and their own emotional well-being above everyone else at all costs. In most cases, they are believed to have an over-inflated ego and no empathy for other people, even their own children.

If you believe you have narcissistic parents, I’d recommend you see my full guide on how to talk to a narcissist for more advice. 

What Are Some Good Quotes About Dealing With A Toxic Family Member?  

For more inspiration on how to deal with a toxic family, see my garaguntuan list of Toxic Family Members Quotes.

Any More Questions

Thanks for reading my guide. It’s sad that not everyone has a perfect fairytale family, but I hope you now feel better prepared to protect your children from a toxic situation.  

It’s tough to have to deal with a toxic relative especially if you’re never gone against a parent’s wishes before, but this is in the best interests of your children. Be strong. 

If you have any more questions on this topic, feel free to leave a comment below.

It would be great to hear from you.

About The Author

Bijan Kholghi is a certified life coach with the Milton Erickson Institute Heidelberg (Germany). He helps clients and couples reach breakthroughs in their lives by changing subconscious patterns. His solution-oriented approach is based on Systemic- and Hypnotherapy.