When Grandma and Grandpa Break All The Rules

For the sake of everyone’s sanity, my house has rules. We have strict bedtimes, a “homework before screen time” policy, and sweets are an occasional “fun food” rather than an everyday indulgence. We say please and thank you, we clean up after ourselves, we try our best to be respectful, and throwing a tantrum doesn’t help anyone get their way. I like to think I’m raising happy, healthy little humans.

When someone breaks the house rules, there are consequences. These can range from a short “time out” to things that are much more serious, and while I hate seeing my children upset, enforcing the rules is the only way to keep order in our sometimes-chaotic lives.

But what do you do when that rule-breaker is one (or more!) of your own parents? I don’t mean grandpa throws tantrums – I’m talking about when grandma and grandpa throw the rules for my kids out the window.

Look, I get it. There are all sorts of cutesy shirts, signs and sayings about how grandparents somehow get to be the “fun” adults in our children’s’ lives.

“What happens at Grandma’s stays at Grandma’s!”

“Spoiled rotten by Grandpa!”

“Welcome to Nana’s – No Rules, No Parents, No Bedtime!”

I want my children to spend plenty of time with their grandparents. I love them, and it makes my heart happy to see my daughter snuggled in the crook of her grandma’s arm, reading a book before bedtime. But when grandma “sneaks” sweets to my kids when she thinks I’m not looking, it’s a little irritating. And when grandpa springs them free from time-out early, or deliberately hands my son his iPhone to play with after I’ve already told him his screen time is up, it puts me in a very uncomfortable spot: Do I push the issue, thereby becoming the “bad guy”, or is it best to let it be, in the name of keeping the peace?

I don’t know the answer to that, and sometimes I feel like I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place. On one hand, I love my parents (and my husband’s!). We are so lucky that our kids still have all four grandparents alive and well, and I hope that remains true until they are well into adulthood. But when our house rules are ignored so obviously in front of my face, it’s hard not to get at least a little upset.

It’s not that I think they are doing this on purpose. I’m sure that grandpa doesn’t mean to undermine my authority when he slips the game controller to my son behind my back. He’s obviously trying to be that “fun grandparent”, and in a lot of ways, I suppose that being a grandparent in in some ways an opportunity to interact with grandchildren without having to be the “mean” ol’ rule-maker. But my kids thrive on the routine we’ve created. When everyone sticks to it, my house is a much happier place. When the rules go out the window, it sometimes feels as if we need to “detox” for days before everything is back to normal. So it’s hard for me to grit my teeth and let these things slide.

I’m sure what I ought to be focusing on more than the rule-breaking is the fact that my children love their grandparents and are obviously loved to pieces in return. Almost nothing can get my kids excited like the news that they’ll be spending a weekend with one or more of their grandparents. And as soon as any visit is over, it’s only moments before the kids are asking when we will see their grandparents again.

For the time being, I just grin and bear it, and focus on the memories being made. I want to keep the peace, and I certainly don’t want to make my children’s visits with their grandparents an unpleasant experience. I suppose that, in the long run, a few late nights and extra scoops of ice cream aren’t going to be the turning point on which my children’s behavior and personality goes awry. But I can’t help but wonder if things are going to get easier as my kids get older…or harder? 

Do you have a family member who lets your children break the rules? How have you handled this? I’d love to hear your suggestions!

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