5 Signs Your Kids Have a Toxic Grandmother
In fairy tales, a grandmother is a warm and fuzzy creature that acts as a mentor to the young protagonist. She is a silver-haired benefactress full of wisdom and kindness (think: fairy godmother). But what if your kids' grandmother is more like the witch from "Hansel and Gretel?"
You might be dealing with a "difficult" grandmother who is manipulative, domineering, selfish, miserable, angry, or emotionally distant. In other words, someone who you wouldn't want as a role model for your children.
The following are 5 telltale signs of a difficult or toxic granny.
1. She doesn't respect you or your husband.
Respect for other people doesn't come easy to her. She wants to get respect, but she doesn't want to give it.
Since she doesn't respect you or your spouse, she can't stop meddling and inserting her opinion into everything - because her opinion is the only one that matters. But it's not merely an opinion; it's a systematic campaign to criticize, belittle and denigrate you as parents. And no matter how hard you try, she is never satisfied with your childcare. There is always some reason in her mind for why you're bad parents.
Now, this sucks for you, but how does that affect grandchildren, you ask? The older they are, the more they understand. Seeing their mother or father disrespected will surely have a negative impact on them. It might even give them an idea that it's OK to treat other people badly. Conversely, if no one acknowledges the offensive behavior, it might teach them to silently accept mistreatment.
2. She undermines your authority as parents.
She believes she knows best when it comes to your children because she raised children of her own. She believes she is a perfect mother. Or maybe deep down she knows she messed up, and now she wants a "second chance" with a grandchild.
Whatever the case may be, she will not follow your instructions when babysitting, or even right in front of you. She will belittle or mock your parental choices and passive-aggressively imply that the child behaves better (sleeps better, eats better) when with her.
If you tell her: "No bread before a meal," she will make a joke of it, cite her childbearing experience or claim that she "forgot" about it. Even though you told her a hundred times: "No sugar," she'll still try to sneak your kid an Oreo when you're not looking.
The result? A child who now thinks that it's OK to disobey parental rules as long as you're at grandma's.
3. She plays favorites with the grandchildren.
In this scenario, one grandchild (or several) are deemed "worthy" while the others are not.
It can be expressed in a myriad ways, but most notably, it shows in verbally comparing the children, making unfair judgements and choosing the "winner" of the family based on some superficial characteristic.
This is a form of emotional abuse. It can seriously damage a child's self esteem, especially if it's tolerated by other family members. If you have a grandma who does that to your kid(s), for the love of god keep them away from her.
4. She tells your kids inappropriate or hurtful things.
She might use your kids to say passive-aggressive things to you ("Sorry Jane, Mommy won't let us go to the mall") or she will make indirect requests to make her grandchildren do what she wants them to do ("Grandma will be sad if you won't come visit me tomorrow").
Worse yet, she may be telling them things that undermine their self-esteem, their happiness and their identity. Just like her children, her grandchildren are the extensions of her, so she will do whatever she can to mold them into something she can find "worthy" of representing her.
She doesn't mean harm - in her mind she's "helping" the child to become better. But it's the same relentless nitpicking you and your husband are so familiar with. Except adults have defenses to deal with toxic people; kids don't. It can lead to confusion, anxiety, depression, psychosomatic illnesses and other serious issues.
5. She is a "come-and-go" kind of grandma.
In extreme cases of ill-being, such as alcoholism, drug abuse, criminal behavior, mental illness etc., a grandparent might be absent for obvious reasons, or come and go depending on the circumstances.
But when dealing with a difficult (grand)mother, her controlling and narcissistic tendencies (that put her at odds with people in general and with her family members specifically) can be the reason why she intermittently disappears from her grandkids' lives.
Because of her over-inflated ego and the lack of empathy for other people's feelings she is incapable of reflecting on her own flaws and wrongdoings. However, she is hyper aware of yours. Even the slightest offense will be perceived as a huge slap in the face, and from that point on you and your entire family is dead to her. That includes your children - her grandchildren. She will cut them out of her life as surely as she will blame you for it.
This sudden separation from the grandmother can be confusing and painful for the child. They didn't do anything wrong, yet grandma seems to have abandoned them. Obviously, this is unhealthy and harmful.
Should You Cut Contact With a Toxic Grandmother?
Some of the toxic grandmother's behavior will affect your children directly (favoritism), some - indirectly (disrespecting the parents). But inevitably she will cause them harm. It's the way she is. She hurts those close to her.
Now, a transgression or two is not grounds for cutting all contact. In fact, it's normal for grandparents to exhibit meddling tendencies or to want to spoil the grandkids. It comes from love - usually.
It's a different story, however, when these behaviors are systematic and come from someone who has a track record of being a bad parent.
Eventually you and your partner will have to ask the question: how much should we put up with for the sake of our kids having a grandma?
The answer is tricky. Culturally we are conditioned to believe that extended family connections are important, even the ones that aren't benefiting the child. Besides, it's not that easy to cut out your your mother-in-law (or your mother) without dismantling the whole structure of the family unit.
It's a decision that shouldn't be taken lightly. You need to exhaust all other options. This is the last resort. Have you made every attempt to communicate? Have you made her aware of how her actions affect your children? Have you tried limited or supervised contact? As cynical as it sounds, supervised contact can work fine for families who only see their unruly grandmother a few times a year.
But if all else fails, let her go. And don't let anyone make you feel guilty about this. Your children are better off without this kind of person in their life.
You might be thinking: but what about raising resilient kids? Shouldn't they be exposed to every kind of person so they can grow into emotionally intelligent adults? And shouldn't we let our kids forge their own relationships with their grandparents? Eh, sure. Absolutely.
But toxic people are different, and they can be dangerous. To them kids are tools. They're a means to an end. She might use your own kids against you; in fact, that's a dream scenario for her. She might use them as "narcissistic supply" - a term that describes indiscriminate pure admiration that is essential to a narcissist's ego.
Or she might be slowly destroying their self-esteem with her criticism. A child's psyche is extremely fragile. On top of that, children are hyper sensitive. A slightest comment or even a joke can become their inner voice, make them feel ashamed or inferior in some way. Oftentimes children can't verbalize why they feel bad about themselves. As parents, we have to hear them even when they're not saying a word.
We have an obligation to protect our kids from any harm that comes their way, even from someone who's supposed to love and care for them.
© 2018 Lana ZK