Grandmother/Grandkid issues - Advice required

Long time lurker, first time poster here.
I’ll try to keep this brief. My wife & I have 3 girls, aged 7,6 & 2.

We have on occasion in the past asked my mother to look after them overnight in our house, while we went on short trips. We did this maybe six times over five years, but haven’t asked her to do so for about two years.

This is because the last two times she was in charge, the two oldest girls, who were 5 & 4 at the time, told us that “Grandma shouted at them” and “Grandma was cross all the time”. I do know that when she comes to visit when we are all in the house, she does spend a lot of time reading books and newspapers, rather than interacting with the kids. I suspect that this is what also goes on when we are away, with the result that the kids play up looking for attention.

They are not bad kids; they’re not perfect, and they do try my patience at times, but in general they are well behaved. However, I think like most kids, if they are not supervised, they will try to push things to the limit.

The current problem is this: my mother is now asking why we don’t ask her to look after the kids anymore. She knows we have been away overnight in the last two years, but we have asked our siblings & friends, rather than ask her. I don’t know what to say to her.

My inclination is to come straight out and say that the girls don’t like to have her look after them because “she is cross” and doesn’t interact properly with them. However, I feel that this could be very hurtful. My mother lives on her own about four hours drive from us, and has no family nearby, so if I phone her up and drop this on her, when the phone call finishes, she will be in the house on her own with all day to think about this.

I am anxious to resolve this in the short term, so it can’t wait for a face to face conversation. I would like to confront the issue, rather than just make an excuse, as if she could change her behaviour, it would be better for the relationship between her and the girls.

Does anyone have any suggestions as to how I could proceed?

You could try telling her you feel bad getting her to drive 4 hours to do the sitting, when you have friends nearby willing to do it. Of course when she then protests that this is OK with her you are back where you started.

I would say if Grandma is asking do the overnighter, by all means let her! The girls are older and you could have a talk with them about how to be extra mindful and helpful. And evenn if Grandma is a bit irritable and impatient, so what? The girls will survive w/o scars and they will maybe learn a little bit more about their Grandma.

Having said that, I have the same issues with my parents, they are in their mid 70’s and not as patient and easy as they used to never be.:wink: They say they will fly up to stay with the kids anytime we want to take a vacation (but it has to be a GREAT once in a lifetime vacation, where we leave the country or something otherwise they are not interested in helping out) but the thought of my parents or even my MIL parenting my kids for a week or two, does not ease my mind. But I would without hesitation leave the kids for a weekend with the GP’s, and let them both tough it out!

It could be that thinks she’s better with schoolkids then babies and toddlers, so she didn’t much like babysitting when the kids were smaller, but she looked forward to doing it now that the eldest is at an age where she can have an conversation.

Perhaps the eldest kid wouldn’t mind going on a daytrip with grandma? Babysitting might just not be the best way for grandma and grandkids to interact.

I would be very careful before saying anything to her that could be at all construed as “you’re not a good grandma”, however tactfully you play it. That is something that can never be taken back, and could really hurt *your *relationship with your mother. Even if your intentions are good, and you feel you are being fair, I suspect that it would really hurt.

Now that your kids are older, you could always give it a go again, having, as one person suggested, a word with them beforehand to ask them to be extra mindful, but not to take it the wrong way if grandma is a little grumpy. After doing this once, you may have a better idea of where you all stand, and whether it is worth broaching at all.

I grew up with grandparents who were at best, grumpy, and at worst, distant. It never hurt me, but it did mean that I didn’t have a close relationship with them. If this is something your mother doesn’t mind, broaching it will probably not help. And not having had it, your kids will probably never miss it. It’s a shame, but you can’t really force someone to participate in family life the way you would like.

Sorry if that’s not really a help.

Remind your mother that kids like to stay busy and aren’t very good at entertaining themselves. Tell her that the kids, now that they are a little older, have always asked to be watched by people who keep them busy - people with kids, people who take them places or plan things. Then say “but there isn’t any reason you couldn’t take them for the night.”

Talk to Grandma about an activity they can do as part of her overnight - take the kids to a movie, to the park, to the zoo - play a game they can all play, do a craft project. Go on a picnic.

Or it could be that she really doesn’t want to watch the girls but feels like she needs to say something since she used to do it and you’re not asking her anymore. Kinda like what people say when they don’t want to do something for somebody but feel like they should, and they want you to let them off the hook so they won’t feel guilty about it.

If she doesn’t interact with the kids when you’re there, she probably doesn’t interact with them when you’re gone. She just might not have the Grandma Gene.

On the other hand, maybe she will be better with them now that they’re older. You won’t know until she visits again and you can see for yourself.

Been there with my three. We tried to keep the peace by reminding them that Grandma was there to take care of them if they needed it, not to run after them 24/7. We also bought new coloring books or a simple craft or a new game or something else cheap and awe-inspiring that they could only have when Grandma was there. We also gave Grandma ideas about what to do if they were bored : remind them they could watch certain DVD they love, play dress-up, etc. Sometimes when it’s not Grandma’s house, she doesn’t know what’s a sure-fire way to get them to go away and play something besides nagging her.

How about, “We were afraid that it was too much for you, taking care of three kids.” I am right now in the midst of baby-sitting a single two year old grandson and I feel that that is too much for me (and he is usually pretty well behaved–for a two year old.

Seems like you don’t really have to explain it much. E.g. you may have friends with kids and you “trade off” babysitting with them. This plus the long drive, hey, it’s only practical, especially if it’s “last minute.”

That said, I concur with Maastricht, who noted that she may interact better with a different aged child. Some get on really well with tots…others may be comfortable with older kids. But maybe she’s doing it as a favor to you, not because she is so connected to your kids.

I’d counsel middle ground. You’re not going to start calling her every time you need a sitter…but you’re not going to exclude her, either. Once in awhile, she can watch them. And maybe you can frontload with some “fall back” activities. E.g. “Ask grandma to read you a story,” or something where there may be common ground for them to connect.

I tend to go with this line of thinking. We don’t need to “entertain” kids all of the time; they are certainly old enough to find their own things to do without expecting Grandma to be always on the alert to find things for them. Believe me, after a couple of rounds of seeing Grandma’s nose buried in the newspaper, they find their own things to do and don’t give it another thought; you shouldn’t either. I loathe the assumption that grandparents aren’t capable or acquiescent enough or entertaining enough to watch kids just because they don’t do things exactly to the satisfaction of the children; I see it happen often enough when there’s really not an issue.

If your kids complain Grandma’s too cross or whatever, you should shrug your shoulders and say “Grandma loves you very much; she does things differently than we do but you are to treat her respectfully”. Of course, as the parent, you have the final say in who does or does not care for your children.

Honestly, I was expecting something much more horrible, like she left them unattended in Wal-Mart or made racist remarks to them or fed them foods they’re allergic to or beat them …

I know hindsight is 20/20, but I think you made a mistake ignoring it when it first happened. If the kids said grandma yelled at them, you need to get to the bottom of why, and either stick up for grandma, (“you need to listen to her and go to bed when she tells you the first time.”) or else, if she really did fly off the handle over nothing, at least you’d have a specific situation to go on in talking with her.

But from where you are now, I guess I’d say try it again while setting them up to succeed. Rent videos or plan something that they’ll consider a treat, play an active role in communicating expectations to both parties, maybe build in a break for grandma where a sister or friend takes the kids for a bit in the middle of the stay, etc.

Thanks to everyone for all the good advice. It’s interesting and invaluable to get other perspectives on this.

I think we will go with the idea of asking her again and letting the kids know what is expected of them while she is in charge. At the same time I will make sure that we plan something for them all to do that the kids will enjoy. It will only be from 4pm on a Saturday until noon on a Sunday, so they all should manage to survive that, right?

And Harriet, sorry to disappoint you with the tameness of my complaint :slight_smile: