5 Signs Your Kids Have a Narcissistic Grandmother

Updated on June 9, 2018
kalinin1158 profile image

Lana is a spiritual writer, blogger, and editor who advocates for women to regain their divine power, starting with a family structure.

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, and 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 narcissistic granny.


1. She has no respect

Respect for other people doesn't come easy to her. She wants to get respect, but she doesn't want to give it.

And since she doesn't respect you, 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. She always finds a reason why you're bad.

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. 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 cookies before a meal," she will try to sneak your kid an Oreo when you're not looking. Call her out on it, and she will act surprised, offended, or claim that she just "forgot".

The result? A child who now thinks that it's OK to disobey parental rules as long as you're at grandma's.

Difficult grandmothers have trouble distinguishing between the role of a parent and the role of a grandparent. That's why they are often the meddlers of the family.
Difficult grandmothers have trouble distinguishing between the role of a parent and the role of a grandparent. That's why they are often the meddlers of the family. | Source

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 put a stop to it.

4. She tells your kids inappropriate or hurtful things

She habitually manipulates her grandchildren to 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 own children, her grandkids are the extensions of her, so she will do whatever she can to mold them into something she can find "worthy" of 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.

If a grandparent is a source of guilt, shame or anxiety for your child, you need to address the situation and take appropriate action.
If a grandparent is a source of guilt, shame or anxiety for your child, you need to address the situation and take appropriate action. | Source

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) can be the reason why she intermittently disappears from her grandkids' lives.

Her over-inflated ego and the lack of empathy for other people's feelings make her 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 Narcissistic Grandmother?

Some of her toxic 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. Most people believe that extended family connections are important, even the ones that aren't benefiting the child. Besides, it's not that easy to cut ties with your mother-in-law (or your mother) without dismantling the whole family unit. So you need to exhaust all other options before going no contact.

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 will be better off without her.

Narcissistic grandmothers often play the victim role to cover up their bad behavior.
Narcissistic grandmothers often play the victim role to cover up their bad behavior. | Source

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 narcissistic people can be dangerous. They have severe emotional deficits that produce an entirely egocentric worldview. To them people are tools, and that includes children. They're a means to an end. She might try to turn your own kids against you. She might use them as "narcissistic supply." Or she might be slowly destroying their self-esteem with her "helpful" criticism.

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 Adler


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    • kalinin1158 profile image

      Lana Adler 8 weeks ago from California


      I think you did a great job communicating with your MIL in a respectful but firm manner. You let her know that you don't support favoritism, be it favorite grandmas or favorite grandkids. I don't think you were harsh at all.

      What you said about your mom also being your baby's grandmother...I mean, that's so sweet and so true. I never thought of it that way. And I do believe your mom will be watching over your baby, and will be a part of your baby's life, always.

    • profile image

      Futuremom 8 weeks ago

      I don't think my mother in law is narcissistic, however, I noticed she likes playing favorite with her grandkids. She has already two grandkids from my oldest sister-in-law, the oldest grandkid is already over his 20s and the second one is less than 4. My brother-in-law (youngest one) and his wife had a baby this year, and for us, after many years of trying, we are going to have our first child. I know my MIL is over the moon knowing that she is having two new grandkids.

      My mother passed away many years ago, I only have my dad. We come from a different culture too. When I was little I never got the chance to meet all my grandparents: the two grandmas passed away when my parents were younger and not even married, another grandpa died when I was 3 and we were in another country, so I only got to meet the other grandpa but never got the chance to interact much. Yet, I still respected all of them. Just hearing the stories my parents would tell me about them made me admire and love them more.

      When my sister-in-law had her baby this year, it was bit of a scary time because they had to do an unplanned surgery. Her dad is the only one alive as her mom also passed away recently. So her dad was there for her and I believe, who would have her chosen to be her with aside from her husband? While we were in the waiting room, once her dad came out to say goodbye to us, my MIL made the comment "That is not fair! I should have been there too!"... I was shocked because, though the tone was not angry, it was a bit childish like whiny -and it was going to be our turn to be with her son and the other daughter in law and the baby. Now I know my child will have three grandparents alive: My dad, my MIL, and my FIL, however, these two last are divorced and they do not communicate at all. That is also the odd behaviour in this family. For the sake of equality and sanity, we haven't stopped talking to my FIL.

      My dad, who is also closer to the 80s, live with us when he is not traveling, for his age, he still very active and prefer traveling than staying at home. There is no question that he will get the opportunity of his life to be closer to his grandbaby than I was to my only one grandfather who was alive back in my childhood.

      Yet, recently there was this weird text message after I innocently mentioned in a conversation she started that my baby has also already adopted "grandparents" (friends from my parents, my aunts from afar who have been so excited for us once we told them the news about our baby). Her comment was "I am grandma #1". That hurt me a bit because I don't want to think that there is #1, then #2, etc. I am not sure if it was ok but at that moment my response was "everyone will get their fair share of love and respect from our child", and that even though my mother is not with us, she is also my baby´s grandmother. Thank goodness, things ended up well as she apologized. But I just now wonder if I was too harsh on her? My husband and I talked about that that our baby will be exposed to a broader culture and not just to the people in the US. I personally do not want to impose competitiveness or favoritism. A friend, after I commented about this worried that if I am putting her in an awkward situation, said that it sounded more like she is insecure and somehow wants to get such attention. Thoughts?

    • kalinin1158 profile image

      Lana Adler 2 months ago from California


      thank you for sharing this. I can't imagine how hard it must be to have a narcissistic mother and to re-experience her abuse (to a degree) with your own kids.

      But at the same time, you grew so much from this hardship, and you evolved. Seeing her as a grandmother helped you heal the wounds from your childhood. And that's an amazing gift. You finally saw her clearly. So proud and impressed by you!

    • letstalkabouteduc profile image

      McKenna Meyers 2 months ago from Bend, OR

      Lana, this is a topic I've never seen covered, but it's certainly been an issue in my family. In my naivety, I thought my narcissistic mother may change and be a good grandparent to my sons (at least, that was my hope). Surprise, surprise, she did not! She kept true to her life-long pattern and never spent the time to get to know them. She once gave them toy robots for Christmas when they were 16 and 13!

      While this was painful at times, it was also helpful to me. I finally saw her true colors and no longer blamed myself for her lack of love and attention during my childhood. She's been consistent, and I just needed to finally accept who she was.

    • kalinin1158 profile image

      Lana Adler 3 months ago from California


      I feel for you. I know it's frightening. The damage narcissistic mothers inflict is both real and severe. I'm sorry you had to go through that, and I'm sorry your daughter has to deal with it too, for now.

      The thing about narcissistic people though...they give themselves too much credit. They overestimate their knowledge, skills and power. Even though your mother threatens to take you to court, she won't be able to take your daughter away from you unless there's some serious issues you didn't disclose (drugs, crime etc.) You are the mother. You have the power, not her. Get your daughter back as soon as you can and don't let this woman near her again.

      Meanwhile you might want to join a narcissistic abuse support group. It can help you find strength and healing. Plus, no court in the world will give a child to a known emotional abuser.

      I believe in you, Jen. Identifying narcissistic abuse is half the battle. You've already come so far. You just need to go a little further. Don't let her intimidate you. Whatever she thinks she can offer your daughter is nothing compared to the unconditional love, care and protection you can give her. Good luck! :-) I hope this situation will resolve in the best way possible.

    • profile image

      Jen Naay 3 months ago


      My daughter and I are experiencing this currently and it's all about to explode. I am a single mom, struggling financially. Over a year ago, I had my daughter stay with my mother while I gained financial stability. Over the course of her time there, so much toxicity and narcissistic behaviors have been expressed from my mother, my daughter is begging to come back to me. I have discovered just how damaged I am as well, being raised by this woman. It's frightening. My daughter called me on night scared out of her mind because her nana left her alone for two hours after an argument ensured and then came home and glared at her until my daughter broke down. I was livid. I am trying to get my daughter home to me this summer, after she completes 7th grade. My mother claims she will take me to court since I am a single income household and that I do not possess what she feels her granddaughter needs to grow up proper.

      I'm scared Lana. Scared of this woman and her power. Scared I will fail like she says I will. Scared I won't be able to save my daughter from her grasp.

    • profile image

      Kbronne 3 months ago

      Oh my goodness this sounds just like my daughter's paternal grandmother! All except number 5. I have tried to work with her regardless but now, 7 years later, have decided to cut her off. Several times I have tried to cut back her visits due to lack of respect or familial alienation (she hates my daughter having a relationship with any of my family members) and each time she has called cps and tried to obtain custody of my daughter! She's crazy and I'm so fed up. I'm currently going to court, yet again, because she filed a guardianship, not grand parent rights, but another attempt to take my child from me, all because I lowered her visitation time, not even cut it off, just reduced days spent at her house per month. I have spent THOUSANDS of dollars defending myself in court against her. I want her out of mine and my daughter's life permanently. This can't be over soon enough. Even my ex, her son, cut ties with her over 2 years ago and has been insisting his mother not see our daughter. Again, I've tried to be fair, but that is over. She obviously has NPD and it's been causing a lot of issues with my child. Since she's been cut off my daughter has been doing great, in school and at home, where as before I was concerned I would end up having to home school because of serious issues in class. Years of headache, stress, anxiety, and serious financial strain. I'm done.

    • kalinin1158 profile image

      Lana Adler 5 months ago from California

      I'd say, rather fortunately! I wouldn't wish it on anyone, Larry. Especially on you :)

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 5 months ago from Oklahoma

      Always a joy to read you. Unfortunately, we again don't have any experiencial overlap:-(

      My kids don't have toxic grandparents.

    • kalinin1158 profile image

      Lana Adler 5 months ago from California


      you're right, I'm describing the same toxic individual. And while I had a glimmer of hope in the beginning, now our relationship is worse than ever. She's punishing us with silent treatment now. It's been weeks and I had a lot of time to think. I'm truly starting to believe that my daughter is better off without this type of grandma in her life.

      Thank you so much for the thoughtful comment and for stopping by, always a pleasure to hear from you! I know without a doubt that you are a wonderful mother and grandmother, your family is lucky to have you

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 5 months ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      Lana....EEK! The list for toxic grandparents is frightening but I am painfully aware they exist. I'm quite pleased to say in no uncertain terms, I've not ever experienced these poisonous individuals.

      My own grandparents, which we were fortunate to have even beyond our childhood were simply wonderful.....like the Fairy Godmother you mention.

      I'm also extremely happy to say that now, as a grandmother (in fact, GREAT grandchild #2 is on the way) I score 5 stars! That scoring by the way, would be from all 13 of my "babies" from age 26 down to 4 yr, old twins, as well as their Moms & Dads.

      I can't help but think that you're coming from the same situation involving the toxic mother-in-law you wrote of, not too long ago. I have no problem believing a nasty MIL would also be a nasty Grandparent. Miserable is miserable...all the time with just about everyone.

      A small part of me pities these witches but not too much. This sort of thing is all self-induced. They simply will never learn and never change. The LOSS is theirs!!

      I help & love & babysit & spoil & do what I can to be of assistance. Raising them is NOT my job, thank you, it's their parent's job. My comfort comes from knowing what totally wonderful, loving and responsible parents my own sons and their wives are. They need no info from Grandma & I don't offer unless asked. Even then I am ever so careful & respectful of their roles as parents.

      I can't understand what it takes for grown women who are finished raising their families to realize they need to butt out, shut up and just relax in grandma mode! It's an easy, comfortable thing to do.

      If my grandchildren were kept from me, I would shrivel up and die. I'm certainly not going to rock the boat!! Like I said, nasty witch-type grannies are the ones who suffer. It's a raw deal for the kids but as they mature, they will understand.. Paula

    • Sunshine625 profile image

      Linda Bilyeu 5 months ago from Orlando, FL

      While I am sure many have had to deal with toxic grannies...I am thankful my children and grandchildren never had the experience.

      Bad granny!

    • kalinin1158 profile image

      Lana Adler 5 months ago from California

      Thank you Nell. I agree, a horrible person shouldn’t be a part of a child’s life.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 5 months ago from England

      My son didn't even see his grandma, she was a horrible person. But my mum, his other one loved him to bits! some are good some are not, this was interesting!

    • MizBejabbers profile image

      Doris James-MizBejabbers 5 months ago

      I'm so glad I can say that I never had any experience with this. I've had two wonderful mothers-in-law, and my own mother was so ill during my kid's growing up that she didn't interfere. Now, the kids' own toxic father was a different story. I certainly feel for any parent who has to go through this.

    • Dabby Lyric profile image

      Dabby Lyric 5 months ago from US


      Hi Lana, I feel ya on this 120% because this IS my life right now. I just wrote a Hub called Toxic In-Laws about my story.

      It hurts to be in this situation. My babygirl's b-day was yesterday and it was spent intimately with my hubby and me. It hurt because she turned 2 and there was no party for her this year. I'm on the outs with Mom-in-Law and a few others. We thought it inappropriate to have a party so we enjoyed her day peacefully!

      Thanks for this!

    • dashingscorpio profile image

      dashingscorpio 5 months ago

      As adults we get to choose who we spend time with.

      Just because someone is blood related doesn't mean they get a "free pass" to upset you and disrupt your life.

      "Friends are the family you (choose)."

      There's nothing wrong with eliminating toxic people.

    • bluesradio profile image

      Marc Lee 5 months ago from Durham, NC

      Was fortunate to have awesome grandparents......

    • profile image

      Nanna18 5 months ago

      Unfortunately for all of us there are disagreeable people in all of our lives. How we deal with them is a large part in how our children learn to deal with similar situations. We cannot protect our children from all negative things in life, we can only help them to try and understand why people do what they do or say. I have found that if I don't know how to try and remedy a negative person in my life that I feel is damaging a family relationship I visit our pastor and look for spiritual intervention. A lot of times having a person outside of the situation can truly help turn a negative into an positive.


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