How to Deal with Grandpa?

Updated on April 12, 2013
S.M. asks from Zanesville, OH
16 answers

I'm torn over how to deal with my dad's behavior around my kids. He was never a warm or affectionate guy when I was little, but when my kids were babies he was the perfect Grandpa. Now that they are a bit bigger, I'm seeing that familiar side of him again and it really bugs me. He has no patience for them crying, and he'll tease or insult them when they get upset. My son is 5, so my dad is getting worse with him. My daughter is 2 but he's already starting with her.

How to explain? One recent example, my parents watched the kids on a weekday (my mom had them from 10am, and my dad didn't get home until 5 or 6) and we went to pick them up after dinner. The kids had played hard all day and not napped, so they were very hyper and emotional. When it was time to put shoes on and say goodbye, they both started crying. My dad told my son "quit crying, you're not a baby." Then he imitated the way my daughter was crying, which only made her angry and more upset. At the time I just said "Grandpa, they're just tired" but later I wished I'd said more.

He also has very high expectations when showing them something new or playing together. He used to do this with me when I would get interested in a new sport, and it always resulted in me quitting the sport. Now I see him doing this with my son, like teaching him to hit a T-ball. "Pull your elbows up. Turn to the side. Eyes on the ball. No, LOOK at the ball." My son would be happy just swinging wild and wacking the ball 3 feet, but my dad has to bark orders until it's not fun anymore.

Despite moments like these, my kids adore their Grandpa and love spending time with him. I'm just struggling with how to deal the next time something happens like this, and I know it will. We tell our kids that even grownups make mistakes, sometimes lose their temper or say the wrong thing. But how much should I expect my dad to change his ways at almost 60 years old? I've thought about sitting down and trying to explain my concerns, but I'm afraid it would make him cranky more than actually get through to him.

Any advice? Anyone else with a stubborn old grumpy dad, and how do you deal with him?

Edit: I'm relieved to see that most grandpas are like this! Leigh R nailed it with this: "he can't ever get outside his own head enough to see his actions objectively." My dad definitely sees this behavior as Constructive Critisism. My mom is not helpful, she never stood up for me back in the day, and she will not rock the boat now either. It does help to remember that the kids are around him only a few hours a week usually, so they can bounce back from it where I never could.

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So What Happened?

Doris, you really struck a nerve for me. My worst fear is being like my mom. She was always the peacemaker, and I was hot tempered and stubborn like my dad, so I fought with him ALL THE TIME, usually after he said rude things to my mom like criticizing her weight. We didn't have any kind of a relationship until my kids came along. I couldn't believe he was the same guy I grew up with! So now to see the "old" him coming out is a huge disappointment for me.

My dad has never been a "sit down and talk it out" kind of guy. As long as I can remember, the only times we have communicated have been shouting matches. My kids have NEVER seen anything like it, that's not how my hubby & I work things out. But if you try to correct my dad or tell him how to do something, that's where it goes. I'm wondering how the kids would react, especially my 5 year old, to see Mommy telling off Grandpa? Would it make them feel safe & confident that I stood up for them?

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answers from Chicago on

From my experience, grandpas are the hardest to change. My dad has become a HUGE stick in the mud as he's gotten older (but he was always a pushover when I was a kid.) He also has little patience for my little ones, and my instinct was to shield them from him, but then I stepped back and realized that I don't need to. Nothing he was doing was MEAN or ABUSIVE, so really it was more of a different style. My kids love my dad to pieces, even if he reprimands them from time to time.

My own grandpa was wheelchair bound and had no power of speech from the time I was very young, but when we got too rowdy at my grandparent's house he'd reach out and trip us with his cane as we ran past, and then pretend he did nothing. He died when I was 13, and what I wouldn't give to be running through his house again, getting tripped by his cane.

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answers from Washington DC on

My paternal grandmother tried to make me into a human doilie. I still remember all her "big girls don't cry" and "you're going to mess up that dress" and "sit straight" and I haven't seen her since I was 9. Even if the interaction is intermittent, when you see it next time, talk to him privately about it.

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answers from Honolulu on

.... I have some very overbearing cantankerous relatives.
And like your Dad.
Now.... with my kids, if a person acts like that to them and is mean... I speak up right there. To, that relative. I do it in a calm but stern manner, and not in an arguing manner.
I do this, because my kids need to SEE me and hear me... stand up for them. Too. And also by doing so, they see how things can be handled etc.

Then, I also... tell my kids quite honestly, that yes... some of their relatives are, not the best behaved. I KNOW that & it is not their imagination. So by my telling them... they ALSO know, that I know and that... it is not "them" that is at fault. I also teach them to not take it personally. Some of the relatives, are... or can be, inappropriate or bully like. That *I* know that too. And, they can speak up, TOO.
If an Aunty is overly bossy to them... my kids will actually tell her "I'm going to check with Mommy first, if its okay..." and they do. They stop, her. And by doing so, Aunty has learned, that she cannot bully them. Or me. Or us.
Friends or relatives, certain behaviors upon them... are simply not okay.
And therefore, my kids have learned to "discern" things/situations. Which also translates into school/classmate situations.

My Mom, Grandma... will sometimes say "oh he's such a cry baby... my brother was never like that when he was that age...." about my 6 year old son. In front, of him. She is of the thought, that "boys" should not be "emotional." And it hurts my son's feelings, when she speaks that way of him. It is not, nice. And I, speak up RIGHT there, to her.... and so will my Husband, and tell her stop it. We tell her, she should NOT, compare how she grew up, to our son. ALL children, cry. For whatever reason. And we will not ridicule him for it. It is WRONG.
I don't care if she is the Grandma or a stranger, you do not do that, to my son.
She tends to compare my kids, to each other. And to how she and her siblings were. And this is just wrong.
And I do speak up right there, to her.
And if she gets irked, well so what.

*ETA: with relatives being this way, to me/us/my kids... I do NOT make excuses for them, to my kids. I TELL them, it is WRONG behavior. Kids need to know and learn that. They need to learn and know, that just because someone is your relative or friend... it does not mean, you "can" be mistreated.
I make sure, my kids, learn that and can discern that.

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answers from Denver on

My grandparents did not tolerate whining, crying or bickering. and we learned not to do it around them. I did dread going to their house overnight if my parents were out of town or whatever but I also did love them with all my heart I just knew I would have to behave and what kid wants to do that. So after years of being told its not okay to cry we just didnt. Long story short when I was 11 my grandpa got cancer and fought the battle for 2 years, and the last good bye I had with him we were all giving him hugs knowing it would be our last and he said " you know its okay to cry" (tearing up as I think about those words)

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answers from Boca Raton on

OK, here's my take: Your kids are NOT you. They are not growing up in your dad's home. Therefore his antics will not affect them they way they did you.

I'm sensing that his behavior is striking a nerve for you, and deservedly so. But what you can't see is that YOU are the buffer for your kids.

I've seen this happen a couple of times in life. And it always seems like the grand-kids tolerate the quirks much better than the adult kids (the grand-kids' parents) do. And sometimes the quirks turn into endearing qualities that your kids will laugh about and always remember.

I don't blame you for wanting to nip your dad's behavior in the bud before it is destructive for your children. I'm just saying that their tolerance is probably higher than yours because they are NOT dependent on him for everything in life the way you were.

And of course if there is truly troublesome behavior then I would limit contact. But I get the feeling you're in more of a gray area.

Good luck. Your heart is in the right place.

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answers from Washington DC on

He's "almost 60"? That's young! Not too old to change his ways but only IF he sees that they need changing.

Can you enlist your mom to help you out here? Does she also see his behaviors and does she agree with you that they are problematic, or will she just defend him or say, "Oh, that's just him being his grumpy self"?

If she does see the issue, I would talk first with her in detail. See if she can make him see what he's doing. Remember, the grandparent generation grew up differently and I would almost bet you that your dad was raised by a dad whose attitude was "Don't cry; be a man; do things right (which means do them dad's way)" and so on. Your dad is a product of how HIS dad behaved. The fact that you say you're "afraid it would make him more cranky" if you discuss this with him is very telling -- it indicates that maybe you fear he can't ever get outside his own head enough to see his actions objectively. Can your mom do that with him? She could be a good ally but at the same time -- you do need to be the one to stand between him and your kids.

Call him out briefly but firmly the next time he does the "don't be a baby" thing, or mocks a kid by crying like they're doing. Are you willing to stop everything iin that moment and say, "Dad, it is not helpful right now for you either to mock Sally or to tell Bobby not to be a baby. They are overtired and ready to go, but if you want to help, hand Bobby his shoes rather than discussing their crying." (I bet he'll be so shocked that he'll clam up.) If you call him on these things directly each time, but don't dwell on it, over time maybe he's going to get the message.The phrase "it is not helpful right now" can really make people stop in their tracks -- I have used it on relatives and it does work to halt an escalatiing situation.

He might be miffed with you and cool the next tiime you see him, but be warm and act perfectly normal -- and be willing to call him out like that the next time he does something like that.

I have found that a teasing and mocking relationship with young kids is not a healthy way to model behavior for them. I'm not talking about fun and funny teasing where both parties get that it's a joke -- I'm talking about turning a child's momentary stress into a reason to tease or mock a child "so she'll snap out of it." The result can be a kid who then does the same thing to other kids and later to adults -- I have seen it first-hand with our niece, whose dad has always tended to treat her these ways, and who now does not always react with empathy for others because she's used to mocking and being mocked.

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answers from San Francisco on

He is who he is, a man set in his ways and not a lot of patience with children. I think once you let go of the idea of the kind of grandpa you "expect" him to be it will get easier. I also think it probably bothers you more than it does your children because it's bringing up some old memories and emotions for you. And it's not like you are all living together, so these moments are not happening all day, every day. And like you said, they adore him as he is!
I'm sure your kids will look back one day and remember their stubborn, grumpy old grandpa with understanding and affection for who he was :-)

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answers from New York on

He is who he is. Don't try to change him. I am sure this bothers you and not the kids. Let it go.

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answers from Portland on

When I was growing up, my grandfather was a tough guy to be around: unrealistic expectations of children, humiliating us when we made mistakes by mocking us. I understand what you are going for in describing the sports: kids need support and guidance, not constant criticism. One theory I like is that kids need 19 positives to cancel out 1 negative. If all they get is negative and complaints, they stop feeling so good about themselves and their relationship with the person who is doing the criticizing.

As I grew up, I stopped liking my Grandfather. I loved him, but I didn't like him. There's no reason to be rude to children. If one child called another one names comparing them to "a baby" (which is a form of namecalling) we would tell them to stop being mean. But we somehow allow it from adults. It's still not *nice*.

I honestly don't know what I would do in this situation. My dad is pretty good about being encouraging to my son. We have another relative who says some real doozies about one of my nephews (negatives) and I am wary of letting that person spend too much time alone with my boy. This person expects that everyone should just take disappointment on the chin without factoring in that not everyone has the same coping skills. I've spoken up for the child in question discreetly several times. That kid wasn't dealt a fair hand and it's not reasonable to expect his coping skills to be up to par, agewise, with other kids. His circumstances make him less resilient and I hope it's something he'll be able to address as he gets older.

It's good that your kids get a break. Do speak for them, too, when you feel it's important, and do so quickly and discreetly. Our kids do get more embarrassed if they feel like they are the cause of conflict. "You know, Dad, son is just starting to learn how to play T-Ball-- let him have some fun with it first. He'll get it eventually." (I've got the kid who is also looking everywhere else but at the ball, so I know how much patience it takes the adult and how we have to consider that the child's primary objective is to have fun, not work on their form. They don't have that same agenda adults do!)

When the kids get older, you can be more candid with them, too. "Grandpa's just kind of grumpy and he wants things done in a certain way. Yeah, it can be hard when he's like that." Because, it is.

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answers from Rochester on

It doesn't sound like he's really doing anything wrong, per se...he's just not doing things the way YOU would do them. He isn't harming your kids...he sounds quite loving and involved, actually, despite his teasing. I'm not sure you can change HIS personality, but you can change your children's expectations and assure your son that if he gets tired of playing t-ball with Grandpa, he doesn't have to.

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answers from Los Angeles on

My Dad was the stubbornest, grumpiest dad and grandfather around. More times then not when you said, "Good morning" he'd say, "What's good about it?" Just like yours, he was what he was. The bottom line was he was a good man as yours more than likely is, though politically incorrect and insensitive, he loved his kids, grandkids and great-grandchildren, that's what mattered. And so loved his grandchildren and great-grandchildren spoke fondly of him at his memorial service last year, after they'd helped with his hospice. They all still miss him, barking orders and all.

BTW, once when I was in high school I apologized to a friend of mine for his grumpy behavior, she said, "Oh, I know underneath he's just a big ol' Teddy bear, he doesn't bother me!" I never apologized again, the truth was evident.

My advice, what I did was, explain to my kids and grandkids that Dad might be a grump, that he loved them, he wasn't trying to hurt them, and they knew. They accepted him for what and who he was, no one is perfect. I think he actually helped them to see you have to make an effort to be grumpy and impatient, and realize everyone they encounter in life wasn't going to be all encouraging and understanding but could still love them.

Keep doing what you're doing, explain that no one is perfect or going to live up to their expectations all the time, everyone makes mistakes, and we love them through it all anyway as they're already doing. Sorry, he's not going to change.

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answers from New York on

I think you handled it perfectly. When our boy is hungry/ tired/ cranky/ out of sorts/ misbehaving, we like to say out loud "it's hard work being two." we do it to show empathy, and we do it to remind ourselves and others that indeed it is hard work being two.

You can request, but you cannot force grandpa to change. I think you should save the meatier conversation for when the kids are out of earshot.

If grandpa doesn't change, and the kids continue to be upset by his assistance, you can teach them how to "politely decline" his help.

good luck to you and yours,
F. B.

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answers from Dallas on

Many good answers here to take in and make into wisdom for your situation. I like telling Grandpa, that's not helpful. I like speaking up for them, like SH says.

I can also see a lot of this turning in to enduring quirkiness if you are honest with your kids out of earshot of gramps. My H's dad? Was a lot like the old guys on Second Hand Lions! Grumps but genuine. Watch that movie, if you haven't seen it.

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answers from New York on

So many thoughts....

First, my dad died before I had kids so I never had these problems. My FIL died a few years ago and my kids still really miss him alot.

That being said, your dad has been who he is for 60 years. Don't expect dramatic change. But there is hope for some change. You have to approach him when things are calm and not at one of those meltdown times. Maybe when you're at his house and the kids are playing and you and he are watching them from the couch or back porch. Say something like: "you know the kids love to be with you - they are so lucky to have a grandfather who loves them. I have a hard time realizing that they have only been on the planet 2 yrs and 5 yrs. it's tough to figure out what to expect of them. Like the "bewitching hour" before dinner is ready. They're tired and whiney but I have to stop myself and remember that 5 is still really little. Dad do you remember much of when you were 5?" Let him tell you a story or two. Tell him something about when you were 5 how you were scared to death of a nieghbor or uncle (not your dad). Then relate the story to your kids. Tell your dad that you don't ever want them to be scared of people who love them. Commiserate with him about how their pre-school whiney-ness can wear on your nerves. Ask him does he get impatient with them at the end of the day when they whine? Ask him what his dad was like - chance are his dad was always barking orders at him. Ask him how did that work out? Did he like it when his dad told him exactly how to do things? You get the picture.

He may get all these hints - he may not. It may get him to thinking about how little he knew about life and people when he was 5. Try to find some pictures of him when he was 2 and 5. Get your dad and the kids to go through the photos together. This helps the kids see your dad as someone who wasn't always a grumpy old man and helps your dad see how young your kids really are.

At some point explain to your kids that grandpa works all day and by the time he gets home he's tired and cranky and he doesn't always act the best way. Ask you kids if they ever feel that they don't act the best way. I'm sure they can relate.

We found that my FIL teased the kids so much that there were times they'd just avoid him. That kind of consequence to my FIL was enough incentive for him to change his ways. His teasing went down and his grandkid hugs went up...

This won't be a one-time conversation but a series of reminders of the coming few years... to both your dad and your kids and yourself. ;o)

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answers from San Francisco on

Your kids (and you) need to practice tolerance and acceptance. You and they have to accept your dad/their grandpa for who he is.

Personally, I see nothing wrong with him telling your son not to cry like a baby. The imitating the crying is a bit much, but I don't think it's something to have a battle over. Your kids will probably learn not to cry like that over something silly like having to leave when they are with your dad. Then, you will want to know why they cry with you, but don't cry with your parents. This is why. He is teaching them not to. I see nothing wrong with that.

I also see nothing wrong with him trying to teach your son the correct way to play t-ball. Yes, your son just wants to whack the ball, but he is old enough to join a t-ball team, and the team will expect him to play right.

I think you need to say nothing to your dad; if you feel it necessary after you leave you can just say to your kids "that's grandpa. Gotta love him" and leave it at that. If you don't make it into an issue, neither will they.

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answers from Grand Forks on

Ditto Cheryl B. I do not tolerate nonsense crying and carrying on for no reason, and I was the same way with my kids.

Next question: JFF ~ What Do You Call Your Dad? What Do Your Kids Call Your Dad?