When you have a complicated relationship with your mother, it’s that much harder to navigate your child’s relationship with her. Whether or not your child has a borderline grandmother (or grandfather) or another kind of family dysfunction, I hope this post will give you insight.
The neglectful grandparent
When grandparents have been neglectful parents pattern often continues with their grand kids. In those cases, the grandparent is simply not capable of the loving attachment that grand-parenting requires just as they weren’t capable of the loving attachment that parenting requires.
This can reignite the grief of being a neglected child. The anger and sorrow may be intensified not just for their own loss but because they see their own child’s loss. Hearing about involved and loving grandparents may be especially painful, a reminder of what should have been and isn’t.
The doting but dysfunctional grandparent
In families ruled by dysfunction, there are rules about loyalty and love and attention. Shared relationships trigger a crackdown of those rules. In other words, when grandparents have to share grandchildren with other relatives — including that child’s own parents — they may behave badly. The adult child who stands up for themselves by insisting on parenting in their own way can expect some kind of push back from the grandparent.
Grandparents like this undermine parents — criticizing their choices or simply refusing to honor them. They may make a fuss if their adult child’s parenting choices don’t mirror their own They might insist that it’s a commentary on their own parenting or that the parent thinks they’re “better” than their family of origin.
Healthy grandparents may have opinions — even strong ones! — about issues like car seats, first foods, or haircuts. But they recognize their adult child’s right to be their own kind of parent and do what they can to support them.
Dysfunctional grandparents may try to insert themselves into parenting decisions that are outside of their scope. They may demand naming rights, for example. Dysfunctional grandparents will insist this unhealthy enmeshment is loving involvement. They may use their support — childcare or financial help — as a bargaining chip. There is not room for dissent.
The grandchild as outsider
Family loyalty demands protecting secrets even from grand children. Parents may feel compelled to hide facts from their child. They may be afraid to say that grandma drinks too much or that holidays center around placating grandpa’s rage.
You can break the family cycle by being frank and honest about family patterns of dysfunction. You can confirm your child’s experience by acknowledging it. Don’t pretend not to notice when a grandparent plays favorites, speaks unkindly or is emotionally manipulative. Instead of explaining it away as being “Just how Nana is” you can call it out. Parents can say, “It’s not fair for Nana to try to make you feel guilty for not wanting to spend the night.”
You can call it bullying because that’s what it is.
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