5 Signs Your Kids Have a Toxic Grandmother

Updated on January 17, 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, 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.

Source

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.

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 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.

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 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.

Toxic grandmothers often play the victim role to cover up their bad behavior.
Toxic 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 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

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    • kalinin1158 profile image
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      Lana ZK 4 hours 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 7 hours 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
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      Lana ZK 25 hours ago from California

      Paula,

      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 29 hours 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 31 hours 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
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      Lana ZK 33 hours 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 39 hours 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

      MizBejabbers 4 days 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 days ago from US

      Amen!

      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 days 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 days ago from Durham, NC

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

    • profile image

      Nanna18 5 days 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.