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How to Handle Kid-Hogging Grandparents

How to Handle Kid-Hogging Grandparents

By Amalah

Amy,

I need advice on how to handle my “competitive” parents. They may also be considered “meddling.” Maybe there’s another type that you didn’t list that may be more appropriate.
My parents are amazing, and so are my in-laws (both are 2 hours away). My sister (also 2 hours away) is also exceptional, earns a great living, and is attached only to her job and our parents. No problems right? Wrong. I feel so pressured and irritated by my family’s constant, CONSTANT, requesting to take the kids for a day or night. Even when we acquiesce to their requests, it seems like they amp it up and ask even more frequently.
We are on a tight budget due to our lifestyle choices (homeschooling) as we have one main income. Traveling on vacations etc. is costly and we limit the days my husband takes away from work. 
We also have a desire to keep our daily schedules as regular as possible. I don’t want to take-off random days from schooling because it DOES affect their ability/desire to focus on good work days. We should be done with this year’s formal homeschooling from May through mid-August. (We continue through the summer with plenty of “school,” but I don’t try to stick to a rigid routine.)
My in-laws never ask to keep the kids, but if we ask them to watch them, they bend over backwards to help out. We know the offer is always there and we take them up on it once every few months. We see them more frequently during visits that are often less than a few hours and occur once every 2 or 3 weeks during the school year. Summers are more frequent.
My parents/sister, however, never give us the opportunity to need to ask them for help. THEY ask to keep the kids or watch them EVERY SINGLE time we’re together, and usually at least once every couple weeks if we haven’t seen them for a day. They will drive (2 hours) to pick them up for the day, and then at the last minute ask if they can just keep them for the night (2 hours away) and can meet us half way. They were invited down for a family event on a Saturday, then ask if they can bring them home with them for the night. We frequently rearrange our schedule to accommodate their seeing the kids. We are even taking a vacation together that begins in 13 days, but it is as though it’s not even in the works. This vaca is actually the dialed-down vacation we COULD afford.
My sister has just spent a couple hours with my daughter this past Saturday on a trip intended to be just me alone. I brought my daughter because everyone who I was going to see wanted to see the kids, but of course that means taking them away from Dad for the day and he had planned to do stuff with them while I was away. We nixed that plan and I took our daughter to allow him time with our son, and appease my family at the same time.
Here’s the FIRST “planned” vacation: One Christmas they “gave” plane tickets to the kids and offered to pay our way to the beach for an entire week in the summer. We only had to decide on a date. No discussion was made before the “gifts” were mentioned. The kids were so little they didn’t understand what was being offered, so they didn’t feel the loss when ultimately we declined. Oh!! How horrible my sister and parents made us feel for not wanting to take them up on their offer. We have our reasons, but said we’d discuss and get back to them. As summer approached, and the next, we decided that we just can’t and don’t want make it work…. They immediately proposed a closer more reasonable vacation location for us to take as a family and we are following through with those plans. 
I have spoken directly with them about the constant requesting and told them it feels like nagging and makes me feel bad when we say no, which we only do about 1/2 the time. We never have a chance to ask for help, but even when we do we don’t “get credit” for it and it’s as though it’s been “forever” since they’ve seen them. 
My husband struggles with being irritated also. His family is SO different and would NEVER ask so frequently to take them from us. He has counted up the hours (2) a day he gets to spend with them before bed during the week, so I don’t blame him for being reluctant to give up his time with the kids. His relationship with his son (4) is strained because of this. He has a hard time letting Daddy be the caretaker if I’m home. I’m sure some of my irritation with my parents has to do with the effect I know it has on my husband as well. If he cared less, I’d care less, but it’s still annoying.
We do decline as often as we give in, but Heaven forbid if we decide to spend any time with the other grandparent even for a few hours or see anyone other than them. We are even afraid to plan any vacation to the beach because THEY wanted to go there FIRST and I know they will bring it up. Is it so bad to just want to take our own family somewhere without feeling guilty? How can I get through to them that they are crossing a boundary? ARE they crossing a boundary?
What do I do?  This seems to really strain the relationship I now have with my parents and sister. I know it’s a good problem to have, but geez! 
On the surface, sure, this could seem like a “good” problem to have — super involved and loving grandparents and aunt! free overnight babysitting and beach vacations! — but all the guilt tripping and pressure and weird passive aggressive behavior (you don’t “get credit” for being the one to initiate plans?) kinda knocks it out of that category. They’re not so much offering to watch your children anymore…it’s more like they’re demanding access, and yeah, that’s weird and off-putting. It’s not really a “favor” anymore if it feels more like something you have to do, more like you’re giving in or caving, lest you incur the wrath of the guilt trip. Keeping kids’ day-to-day routines in place, spending quality time with their father, going on trips/vacations as a nuclear family — none of these are unreasonable requests, but for whatever reason they see their time with your children as something that should take precedent over all that. That should be met with a firm but polite NOPE, and then a quick exit stage right (or hanging up of the phone) when the guilt tripping “but we never seeeeeee them it’s been forevvvvvver” begins.
Since you already spoke to them directly — and while you don’t give specifics, I’m assuming it fell on deaf ears and didn’t really do much good — the next step is for you and your husband to sit down and map out some very specific boundaries, and then communicate those to your family. How often are you okay with an overnight visit? Once a month? Once every other month? From now on those need to be planned in advance. No more impromptu “oh we picked up the kids for the day but now are going to keep them overnight” stuff. If they ask for an additional sleepover, hold firm, remind them of the upcoming date, and tell them you’ll see them then. Same with the constant extra requests — you will let them know when a day trip or short (non-overnight) visit will work. In between, offer to let the kids chat with them over Skype or something, or make “write/draw a letter for Grandma/Grandpa/Auntie” a weekly homeschool project.
You will also continue to say NO, and you will make plans independent of them without guilt or fear or retribution.
Obviously, I can’t promise that the requests will stop. And I DEFINITELY can’t promise that the guilt trips will either — when that’s someone’s go-to strategy for getting what they want, they tend to stick with it. But YOU can stop letting it effect you so much, especially once you see it for what it is: straight-up emotional manipulation. They’re guilting you until you cave, and the guilt/fear of “upsetting” them (aka being a Bad Daughter) is making you question your own reality/sanity and need for boundaries. And it’s keeping you from doing simple things like taking your own kids to the damn beach, or saying “sorry, no, my husband has plans with the kids that day, so let’s stick with the plan for this visit to be just us adults.” Don’t let it, anymore.
One last observation, and this may be COMPLETELY off-base, but there’s something kind of strange about how insistent they are about seeing “just” the kids and not you/your husband. The main goal/priority here seems to be having the kids all to themselves. I mean, besides the vacation stuff, they seem much more interested in taking the kids away from you guys for the day/night/weekend/etc. (Presumably under the guise of “helping” you, but I’m not buying that.) I’m projecting (from personal experience) a little bit here, but I wonder if there’s an element of parental undermining going on. Are they supportive of your decision to stay home and homeschool, or is there some judgment/mistrust under the surface? Do they follow your instructions re: bedtimes, food, religion or what TV/media the kids’ consume? Or is it more “the rules at Grandma’s house are completely different because Grandma doesn’t like the rules Mommy and Daddy have?” I mean, I get that lots of grandparents/extended family members really ARE just that jazzed about their grandkids and love the occasional sleepover (and at the end of long day the two-hour drive home is simply unappealing), but this constant begging/nagging to “keep the kids” for extended periods of time strikes me as little off. Either way, my advice doesn’t really change, other than you might want to reflect a little bit on whether the relationship you have with your parents is as “amazing” as you first stated, or if your actual parenting (and not just your desire for some privacy/family time) is being undermined for some reason.
Photo source: Depositphotos/Focusarg

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Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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Comments

  • Wwwd

    I hate to be a different pov, but it sounds like they are trying to be amazing grandparents and you’re being hypersensitive. Keep saying no and don’t feel guilty, but they sound lovely and it seems like you’re letting unnecessary guilt cloud your perception of their kind actions. You are the only one who can change your reaction.

    • Charlotte

      I agree, they just adore their grandkids and if the children are their whole world, going two weeks without seeing them would kill them! My family’s super close so I find this reluctance to accept their help and share the kids unusual.

      • SarahB

        For lots of families with long-distance grandparents, I can tell you that going two weeks without seeing the grandkids isn’t going to kill anybody. It’s not wrong for the parents to want to hang out with their own kids after working all week–it is wrong, or, at the very least, unkind, of the grandparents to undermine the parents in this way.

      • IrishCream

        You say “share the kids” as if they belong to everyone. Some families take that approach, others don’t. Not saying one is better than the other, but it’s not particularly unusual to want more distinct boundaries between one’s nuclear family and one’s extended family.

    • Kay

      They may be trying to be amazing, but I don’t think the LW is projecting when she says she and her husband catch hell from the grandparents for spending time with any other person other than them. For as often as they see their grandkids, that kind of reaction seems really excessive and possessive.

    • IrishCream

      We really don’t know enough here to make judgments. Maybe the actions are kind and the extended family are lovely, or maybe they’re manipulative and inappropriate. If the LW and her husband are experiencing frequent stress about this issue, to the point that she’s asking for outside help, I’m leaning away from “lovely and kind.” The requests may be coming from a good place, but if they’re not respecting her boundaries, they’re not so fantastic.

  • Alie

    I love this advice, grandparent guilt is a real thing and when it undermines your parenting it can create some serious internal anxieties and struggles. Stick your ground and don’t forget you are the parent and should be respected as such!

  • SarahB

    I think Amalah’s right–the fact that you felt you couldn’t tell your family, “No, the kids have plans with Dad” means you’ve got some work to do in setting boundaries. I imagine your DH might feel that he comes in second to your family. Whatever it is driving your reluctance–and their pushiness–it’s time to address it.

  • MR

    I agree with Amy. But something I haven’t seen mentioned yet, is that their whole focus on taking the kids all the time is also passive aggressively putting YOU down. They don’t want to see YOU unless you bring your child(ren) with you. Or, they want to see only the kids, but not you??? That’s odd to me and definitely signals that this is NOT just about being a close family. A close family would want to see ALL of you. There is something very off about this to me.

  • clyman11

    It sounds like you need to gather up the courage to have an honest conversation with your parents, without the kids hovering around. Tell them it hurts your feelings that you don’t have special time with them and your sister without the kids. Tell them the frequent requests are difficult because you feel bad saying no. Offer to set up a schedule – one weekend away with them a month, or whatever works for you.

    That said…please be grateful you have such wonderful and loving parents and in-laws. My husband and I have two small kids and have no such help from our parents. We just took our first vacation away in 6 years and it required the help of four generous friends to tag-team watching our kids for a few days. This was honestly a hard read for me. Some days we are dying for a little help.

    Set some boundaries, free yourself of the guilt when you need to say no, and enjoy the alone time with your husband.

  • M

    I had to go back a reread this! So – backstory: my family is really, really close. We take family vacations together, and sometimes those vacations are primarily funded by my parents (we live in a very expensive city, and though my husband and I have enough income to be comfortable, we can’t always toss a few grand at a week away). Not only is my family emotionally close, but they literally live 4 minutes away. BUT. Sometimes (mostly my dad) makes snide-ish remarks about some of my parenting choices (these are always directed at me – isn’t family fun?), and occasionally I feel like they don’t understand/respect how we are raising our son. This wasn’t as big of a deal before – I have pretty thick skin – but our son is almost 5 and definitely picks up on it sometimes. SO. This maybe isn’t the same (hard to say, as the only behavior in this letter seems to be being pushy about time), but between the lines it does seem like there is an overall lack of respect for the kids’ routines as well as the OP’s schedule. So – I agree with the “be grateful for the support”, but I would also say that maybe there needs to be a bigger convo beyond just “hey, when we say no, we mean no – we love your support but don’t need the guilt trip/whatever”. Because this does sound like they want to help, but maybe they want to help because they aren’t super excited with your parenting choices/lifestyle/whatever. It sucks – I have totally had to shut down my dad, and luckily he backs down pretty quickly when I point out that it’s not okay to say those things and if he wants to have a real convo we can definitely do that, but overall just pulling that out in the open and addressing the underlying issue has made a difference for us. I could be totally off base, but it kind of sounds like more than just “missing the kids”. I don’t know. Good luck, this sounds stressful (and seems like maybe overall is tied to more issues, like financial and work stress within your own family, made worse by the “generous” vacation offers?), but hugs and this is hard but you’ll figure it out!

  • jo

    Oh boy, this alarms me on so many levels. Amy hit the nail on the head with the phrase “demanding access.” Anytime anyone demands access to your children you need to examine that very carefully. I would take a huge step back from your parents – answer the phone less; commit to fewer plans – if for NO other reason than your spouse is upset and his relationship with your son is suffering. I’d also strongly recommend that you seek therapy OP to work on setting and maintaining boundaries. “Help” isn’t helpful when it is thrust on you and when you are emotionally manipulated into receiving it. I’d take to heart Amy’s final words about your parenting being undermined. People who demand access to your children (not request, not politely offer – demand) have an agenda. Always. Trust me on this.

  • pbblythe

    I’m hearing that a big part of the issue is the lack of scheduling. One of the GREATEST things we did to create a more positive local grandparent experience was to set a schedule. Every Monday (currently, at one point it was Tuesday) is the day for Grandma to pick the child up from day care and then she and Grandpa spend the evening with him. Then there are the weekends we get down to the beach house, the occasional evenings we request some Grandparent babysitting effort and occasional weekend sleepovers. We also schedule a night mommy is out and one night daddy is out. While we aren’t always out on our nights, we know we have nearly every Monday for date night. it’s pretty fantastic. My kiddo knows Mondays are grandparents night, looks forward to it. Bonus, because G+G know they get that day, any other requests are couched as just that – requests. “Hey we want to take kiddo to xyz, is it ok if we take him that Saturday?”
    The scheduled week works for us, because it means we KNOW that Monday is date night and Wednesday is Mommy night and Thursday is Daddy night. Mommy and Daddy get some hang time, and get some one-on-one time with kiddo. Of course, it all goes sideways when the Out of Town grandparents come to town. But that’s not very frequent.

  • Guest

    My family also has boundary issues that manifest in other ways. My therapist made a point that if my parents have no reservations treating me in a certain way, they will absolutely do this to my kids. So if your family has no issues ignoring your requests about time spent together, then they will do this to your kids in the future. Tommy wants to play baseball but games are on weekends? I wouldn’t be surprised if you were to find your parents guilting your kids out of activities or other relationships (ie. friendships) because it cuts into their “me” time. Make a set schedule and be firm. No giving in because that works as well as setting limits for your kids and giving in. You are the parents and these are YOUR children. So set that schedule and get ready to say, “I’m sorry, but it’s best for our family if we stick to the set schedule.”

  • Kim

    So many boundary issues. As a mother, I forbid anyone from giving expensive gifts to my children without consulting with me first. Plane tickets? Are you kidding me? If they were older and knew what it meant, the parents would look like the bad guy for declining the tickets. Wtf sort of shitty undermining move is that? As a parent, you get the final say and you are the filter: meaning anything that other adults want to say to or give to your children need to go through you first. So be strong and stick to your schedules. If sister wants to keep children for the night, you drive down there and take them back! And you make sure the adults haven’t said anything to your children yet, like empty promises or passive aggressive remarks. Never let anyone say to your kids, “YOU want to sleep over with auntie/grandma, don’t you?” That puts the idea in their heads and it pits your kids against you. It’s such an awful move but I’ve seen it happen and parents come off as the bad guys who “never let kids do anything fun”. Watch out for that. If it gets to that level, start having supervised visits instead where you can protect your kids from that behavior. It’s unacceptable to me that other adults try to interfere with the OP’s schedule and then guilt trip her. She doesn’t need that in her life. If it were up to me I’d just cut toxic ppl out of my life even if they’re family. Or I’d give an ultimatum. I hope the OP finds a solution that works for her. I feel for her.
    -Kim