Momfession Monday: Coping with the Uninvolved Grandparent

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This article was also a featured topic on the Momfessions Podcast. Take a listen to our discussion on how to deal with disappointment and difficult grandparent situations!

uninvolved grandparent

I dread Saturday mornings in the spring. It’s not because I don’t absolutely love springtime because, in actuality, it’s my favorite time of year. In fact, it normally has the makings of the perfect day: The warming baseball fields begin to line with spectators as energetic children stomp towards their dugout with bats and gloves spilling out of their fresh, new bags. Parents are dressed in their team’s colors, bragging their beloved child’s number on the backs of their shirts, and my favorite, the grandparents who are always there 30 minutes before game time, cheering the loudest, not taking an eye off home plate for anything.  

My heart feels so happy for the children whose grandparents are happily and selflessly involved in every activity of their grandchild’s life. But, my heart equally breaks because my parents, who live five minutes away, make an excuse nearly every game of why they cannot come. It’s not just sporting events. They prefer to Facetime a couple of times a week, but aren’t willing to get in the car and drive the five minutes to interact with my children. In fact, we haven’t been invited over to their house in two months. “Why do you feel like you have to be invited? The door is always open,” they say. But, whenever we invite ourselves, the excuses begin and when we just “show up,” it’s never convenient. They are too tired or too hot or too exhausted to interact. 

These are not the parents I grew up with. 

We see grandparents doting on their children everywhere we go. A quick trip to Chick-Fil-A? Check. The zoo? Triple check. Dates at Charley’s on Friday night? Yep. Fellow mamas are constantly talking about how they have to fend their parents off from impeding into their lives. Their parents take their kids for the whole weekend and tell them to “spend the weekend enjoying your marriage,” while my parents make jokes in front of me that they are just “free babysitters” even though they never. ever. babysit. They’ve never even had my children overnight. When they do spend a few hours with them alone, all I hear about are the 6,000 sacrifices that they made for me to run that errand (not even a date night!).

This is not about a free babysitter. This is about the tricyclelack of desire in their hearts to want to be present for our children. 

Our children crave time with their grandparents. They do not crave to show up and each grandparent toss them an iPad; they crave THEM. They crave memories, laughter, stories, a relationship. They ask for them at sporting events, school programs, to come to dinner with us; they ask us to leave when we go over there for cherished one-on-one time (but God forbid we actually leave). Our children love them with all their being, while we have to put effort into our hearts not breaking at their disinterest in reciprocating that bond. 

Don’t get me wrong, this is also not about super fun dates to the movies or nerf wars or endearing tea parties that I feel my children “miss out on.” I absolutely do not expect to have a grandparent that does anything complex, or for me, or for show. It’s about wanting to be involved in their grandchildren’s lives. 

As the parents, and specifically as the daughter of the uninvolved grandparent, I have two choices: To let the resentment continue to build, or to accept the disappointment and let my heartbreak teach me lessons. In the recent years, I have chosen the latter.  

Lower your expectations. We do not like to be compared to other moms. We spend our time trying to fight those stereotypes of what a good mom is, so how is it fair to do that to our parents? While it may break our heart to see our parents so disinterested with our children, nothing good will come from comparing them up against everything they are not. We must lower our expectations to avoid continuing to expect more and getting less.  

Be strong for our children. Our children love with blind eyes. An uninvolved grandparent to them may be normal, or it may hurt them as equally as you. The best thing we can do is to encourage them and talk positively about their grandparents and try our best to foster a bond regardless of the circumstances. This can seem hard impossible when we are full of pent up resentment, but part of teaching unconditional love is showing unconditional love. Our children will learn more lessons about our character through this type of response.

Let others in. When neighbors, friends, church members, or other trusted adults express adoration towards your children, believe it. Because my parents are so disengaged with my children, I simply cannot understand why my neighbors BEG to babysit them or bring them into their homes for special activities. Because I do not see this want from my own parents, I just don’t understand how anyone would want to spend time with them. When we have that opportunity, we need to let these trusted people in and allow love them the way you pray that your parents someday will.

Don’t repeat the mistake. My siblings and I often talk about how we are going to ensure that we don’t inherit this trait, or whatever it is. When we feel the most hurt, we write ourselves a letter and put it in a safe place. In that letter, we bare all: Our hurt, our anger, our disappointment, and our lack of understanding. Before I became a parent, I stuck my foot in my mouth a lot. Who is to say that won’t be the same for when I have grandchildren? I am determined to not become the uninvolved grandparent, and one of the few ways I can actively work towards avoiding it is leaving myself reminders of how my 30-something self feels.  

How do you cope when the uninvolved grandparents are your parents? 

73 COMMENTS

  1. I can absolutely relate to this. It’s really taken an emotional toll on me. I come from a big family with tons of aunts and uncles involved with their children and grands and friends with super involved grandparents for their kids. Being surrounded by it, it’s hard not to be bitter about our situation. We have no help with our kids and it’s exhausting trying to be everything they need. Just to have someone else talk to them, listen to them and love them would be a huge help. It’s made marriage hard too. There are no breaks, date nights, etc. We are tired, disappointed and so often take our frustrations out with each other. The kids suffer too because they get what’s left over after taking care of everything. Our parents weren’t very involved parents either but we did have some awesome Grandma’s. What I wouldn’t give for my kids to have that relationship. Everyone says it takes a village. What do you do when the village isn’t there?

    • Yes, I feel you! I have a heavy heart and much sadness for the same reason. I don’t have the answer either to this painful and difficult situation.

      • I agree too! My mom lives so close by. She is divorced and lives with my 30 year old unmarried brother who is basically out of the house all week. She has no responsibilities except for a 8 to 4 job. She has no friends or hobbies. Yet she has never once shown up to my house offering to help play or take care of my 2 year old son. She rarely invites us over or insists to drop off my son so she can baby sit for the day so my husband and i can have some free time to our selves. I’ve tried talking to her countless times because I’m 6 months pregnant and habe had a complicated pregnancy yet she out right tells me i have no right to be disappointed and upset because she can behave any way she wants bc she’s not my “nanny”. My son is 2 and she has only watched him a handful of times bc i dropped him off in emergencies. It’s hurtful and difficult because her own mom helped her watch us our entire lives and we have an incredible relationship and all my other friends parents seem to be dotting over their grandchildren. It really hurts my heart that someone who is basically alone and has an only grandchild is so uni nterested in him or me even when i have requested and even begged for help. I just don’t know what to do bc I’m in so much pain and just tired and overwhelmed.

    • I totally loved being a mom but have zero interest in being anyone’s grandma. Sounds like work and responsibility. When I needed a babysitter I hired one and didn’t ask my parents to babysit.

      • Well fuck you too! People like you don’t deserve grandkids showing you any love. My parents both act like disinterested twats and you sound just like them. Miserable corpse, don’t worry it’s almost over for you, just a few more lonely loveless years.

      • You completely missed the point. The poster said it’s not about babysitting. I agree with “the angry son” in a little less harsher manner.

        The sad thing is you associate grandchildren as work.

        Shame on you

        • I can see both sides of the coin. I do feel its nice to have family who want to be involved and spend quality time with their grands but we cant equate that with it not being work….we as parents know how much WORK it is raising kids so to pretend its not work all of a sudden bc its grandparents, is disingenious and unfair. At the end of the day we cannot change how people feel and I for one don”t feel comfortable leaving my kids in the care of anyone who begrudges caring for them. Ultimately as the mom who chose to have my kids, its mine and my husbands responsibility to take care of them even if it does end up being 100% of the time…..sometimes it is what it is.

        • I see both sides of the coin. Its nice to have family who are involved and interested in helping care for their grands. But lets not pretend that it isn’t work. As parents we know just how much WORK it is raising kids. To diminish the fact that it is indeed work just because grandparents are involved is disingenious and unfair. At the end of the day we cannot change anyone and as a mom I take responsibility for the fact I decided to have my kids and its mine and my husbands job to take care for them even if that means 100% of the time….i wouldnt want anyone who begrudges it taking care of them anyway. Sometimes thats just the way it is….unfortunate though, I admit that.

      • I feel you, Carollynn. I loved being a father, and thought I did a pretty good job…but have little interest in killing myself trying to make a 3,000 mile long-distance relationship work. Sorry I’m not interested in Zoom calls with a one year old. You’ve done enough, in my view. I honestly feel like the kids need to conform to you…not the other way around. If they chose to move far away, design a life that leaves little time for you…so be it. Let them deal with it.

      • I totally agree. I have zero interest in being a grandma. One of my husband’s adult children has kids, but they live in another state so I’ve never met them. Our daughter doesn’t like children and has zero interest in having any, and that’s great news to me. I’ve done my time as a parent, and I’m not wasting whatever time I have left on this Earth wiping butts and noses. Kids just aren’t a good time to me. It’s my turn to travel and persue my own interests.

    • I am in the same boat as you all. I see warm hearted grand parents everywhere but not in our family. My own grandparents helped my family a lot when I was growing up and all of us grandkids have nothing but good things to say about my grandmother who passed away in 2012 before my daughter was born. Our daughter had one granddad who was there for her but he passed away in 2015. Now all 3 other grand parents are completely uninvolved. Her other grandfather might be somewhat involved but he lives far away. She had one grandparents she saw regularly but now she doesn’t seem to want to see us and barely talks on the phone. We weren’t allowed to see her when she went to the hospital. We are afraid she may pass away and our daughter won’t even get to say good bye. We have even tried to arrange for her uncle to take her over to see her but he hasn’t been able to get an audience with her either. She lives with my sister in law not far away and when they are in town all the time they don’t tell us. It’s very strange. Her other grandmother, my mother is very cold and likes to play mind games. When we fly into her city she doesn’t show up and she doesn’t want us to come to her house. This has gotten worse in recent years and makes us all uncomfortable. It really makes me appreciate my own grandmother and her late grandfather (my father in law) so much. I wish they were still here. We have never expected anyone to babysit for us. All we ask is for a grandparents with a heart. All I can say, is that if you have had any good people like that in you lives (even non relatives)put thier best pictures up and show them to you kids and tell them stories about how loving and awesome they were. At least make sure kids have them a good example to aspire to be someday. Show them exactly what the selfish people in their lives do not and be there for these kids for the right reasons and not just out of obligation.

    • Thank you for sharing this comment. I feel this way. My parents weren’t very involved as parents but I had an amazing grandma and aunts and uncles, all whom have passed.

      My dad is a deadbeat, my mom is very involved with dating. It’s been hard for my us to do this when there are people within an hour but they always expect us to drive to them to visit. Neither grandparent shows, the brother or sister to help. Months alone after our daughter was born. Not a meal or a hello or a visit. It’s very very hard not to resent your family – it’s the only part of my life that I feel this way about. It’s just hurtful for my Daughter. I want to adopt better grandparents and aunts and uncles.

    • 1st, I’m sorry so many parents are struggling with this. Your anguish is almost palpable. 2nd, it’s possible your parents have different perspectives, perhaps not wanting to intrude or offer unwanted advice.
      I’m a mother of 10 children, I was one of 8 children, and my husband was one of 11 children. None of us ever lived closer than 500 miles to any relative–not by preference, but we had to move to where the jobs were. In fact, I have to go back to the 1870’s to find anyone in my direct family tree who had any relative (brother, cousin, aunt) nearby. So this meant we all had to be our own “support system”. We all married good spouses who right away picked up the slack. If I was sick, my husband would take over. Our “date nights” were rocking a baby and a toddler to sleep and telling each other funny stories about the children’s antics. We read a lot for advice and relied a lot upon the good mothering we had received.
      Now I am a grandmother, and I find I can’t be as involved in my children’s lives as I might wish. 1st, I had my first grandchild when my youngest children were 7, 10, 12, 14, 16….and my new grandchild was over 1,000 miles away. I couldn’t leave my own children. Many of my children have married later in life, which means I’m now in my 70’s and not quite as spry watching a toddler as I used to be. I finally have one grandchild (soon to be two) living near me (30 minutes away) but I have limited vision now and can’t easily drive there.
      So…I offer to babysit the children in my home…but that’s not really convenient for mom and babies. I also host several family functions a month to bring the married and the single siblings together. Aunts and uncles help out a lot. I feel blessed in a way that all my married children do have in-laws nearby who can help.
      I think having expectations adds to the anguish. As one of the writers said in the end caring for one’s children, through tiredness, illness, financial strain, loneliness, uncertainty…it’s what we signed up for; it’s our mission. I think we parents have more strength than we know. If you have an involved relative or friend, what a blessing! If you don’t, you probably do have the inner resources to forge ahead. Most of all, enjoy those beautiful children and love them.

  2. I feel the same .. i am sooo disappointed…I have gone to counseling for help. I am praying for my parents.. My parents are baby boomers.. i am not sure if this has anything to do with their actions of lack of…Is this somehingthat they learnedas they were growing up because their parents would never act like this….any how…I hope and pray for the best for everyone.. I know Gods word says He will never leave nor forsake you…and He is with us always….I ama beleiver and i try and hold on to this hope…
    Blessings
    Bonita

    • My mother was never there for me as a child. My father passed and husbands parents are uninvolved. I would love nothing more than to cut them off completely, I have 4 children they do not care for them. But its easy to love those who love us, Jesus said forgive them father for they know not what they do. He said to pray for our enemies so we will be like him. Ohhhh it hurts !! But I will be like Jesus and cast my cares on him, for he loves me!

  3. The hardest part is watching so many kids surpass ours when you are doing the exact thing (practice etc). 9 times out of 10 the ones who excel have loving and involved grandparents. There is definitely a direct correlation between the two. There are good things to having just my husband and I to rely on. I notice a slightly tighter bond between us and our children compared to those with a lot of grandparent involvement. I still think having involved grandparents is the better end of the deal. My hope someday is our kids will say “mom, you are kind of annoying bc you are here too much”. This would be a success in my eyes. And then I will back down a little! Currently our friends who had so much help with their children when they were little are now taking care of these grandparents. This is something we won’t have to experience. There is a bright side to everything. Although I still would prefer to have it the other way. Children need food, water and love. That love includes grandparents love. So when you feel your kids are being deprived of a basic need, it strikes a cord in your heart for sure. Another aspect that is hard to watch is your friends having more children bc they have the help. While your heart wants more children but you don’t have the village to support it. It’s very difficult!

  4. Totally get this. It’s slightly different from one side to the other and for different reasons (my parents have a million grandkids and are getting old. They even have three great grandkids already which stretches them very thin whereas my hubby’s parents are MIA for no good reason). But either way we are left wanting for help with our 4 little ones. I agree it’s so much about just having those extra adults to love and dote on them and they don’t need to do anything specific. You just want them to be present and kind when they are. And it hurts for some reason that they can’t be. My sister taught me though, that my suffering comes from wanting things to be different and expecting them to behave differently than we know they will. Once I started expecting what I’ve seen in the past it got easier on me. And I was more able to notice all the kind villagers we really did have available to us. Good luck. This is tough.

  5. We have a similar situation, except the uninvolved grandparents are too busy doting on the cousins to make time for my children. It is heartbreaking, especially now that my kids are older and see it happening. My son is 2 and doesn’t know them at all.

  6. When your children have a severe disability, the rejection is even worse. Two months ago, my mother told me that she did not want to see us or to deal with us anymore. For me, she is dead….

    • I am so sorry. That’s awful and I cannot imagine a grandmother doing such a thing. The only consolation is that your child shouldn’t have such a toxic person in their life and neither should you…and now that’s not an issue. But I get the longing for something different (not the greatest relationship with my mom either).

  7. Interesting that the author used the baseball game as her example. My kids’ grandparents will travel far and wise to any and every game they play, yet never spend any actual time interacting with their grandkids. The support and fandom is great but I wish my kids could spend time talking with their grandparents, sharing stories, learning things from them and having experiences that actually create memories.

  8. I have wanted to write an article like this so much. We live 10 min from both sets of grandparents who are too involved in their social lives to care one iota about our kids. Whats most frustrating is that my parents usrd my grandparents ALL the time. They watched us for countless date nights and overnights. When I asked if my parents could watch our daughter for a 30th birthday dinner, my parents acted like I was selfish to want to have a small adult party when they hadnt even watched her for a year. I would have thought they would have been more involved considering they used my grandparents so much but not so. They like to post a lot of fb pictures of my kids, though. Every time we do see them they post a pic. I guess to make others think they are involved. Theh are baby boomets too. Im noy sure if its a generational thing though bc tons of my friends have to bat their parents away. I have been doing some research and I think my parents are just narcicists. They dont have relationships with my kids but they like to make others think they do. Its sad, really.