Every time our grandkids (ages 2 and 4) visit us, they throw a big fit when it's time to go home. It makes us feel good, but it has caused our daughter and her husband to become jealous and not want to bring the kids to our house. We always prepare the grandkids to get ready to go and try to defuse the situation, but it doesn't always work. It is causing a strain on our relationship with our daughter and son-in-law. Any advice?
When I was a little girl, my grandmother — known to everyone as "Gaga" — was an enchanting combination of Auntie Mame and my favorite teenage babysitter. She was loads of fun, full of life, and way more exciting than my parents. Gaga's house offered simple pleasures and adventure, whether it was rummaging through her costume jewelry, playing in the trash chute outside her apartment, or snuggling beside her with a forbidden Coke while we watched Ed Sullivan.
It’s hard to say why your grandchildren prefer your house to their own, but it's certainly not unusual. It could have to do with the fact that your place is exciting but still feels homey and safe. It might be that there are nooks and crannies in your backyard that offer some secret appeal to them. Or it could be simply that they revel in the relaxed nurturing and adoration they get from you without Mommy and Daddy hovering in the background, calling the shots about playtime, snack time, and bedtime.
Unless you have a nagging concern that your grandchildren are somehow unhappy with their parents or being harmed in their home, I wouldn't worry about their longing to visit you. It's important to children's developmental growth that they foster strong, healthy attachments with caregivers other than their parents. It's also beneficial for children to feel at ease spending stretches of time away from home, which fuels their resilience, flexibility, and independence.
When There's Another Place Like Home
I do understand, however, that the intensity of your grandchildren's desire to be with you may be a bitter pill for their parents. You're wise to consider the effect on mom and dad, and the strain on your relationship with them. Here's my advice:
• Let your daughter and son-in-law know that as flattering as it is to be so adored by your grandchildren, you are as eager as they are to take steps to reduce the outbursts and tantrums.
• Ask them if they have any suggestions that they believe will lessen their children's demands to spend so much time with you.
• If your grandchildren insist on going to your house right now, allow them to express themselves but answer firmly: "I know this is not what you want to hear, but tonight you're sleeping at your house."
• Give the kids plenty of warning before their parents pick them up from their visit. Allow them to have a good cry and listen empathetically without trying to talk them out of their sad feelings.
• Do not give in when your grandkids throw a fit about staying with you. This puts them in charge. Be lovingly consistent and stick to a plan you've worked out in advance with their parents; do not change your mind.
• Avoid long explanations about why the kids can't come home with you. Young children swept up in the emotions of their longing cannot process rational thought or logical reasons.
• When they’ve settled down, let the kids know exactly when they'll see you again. For some children, having scheduled visits to Grandma's house is very comforting. Emphasize how much fun you’ve had and when you’ll be together again. Focus on connection rather than separation.
• If your grandchildren love something specific that they get or use at your house — maybe a certain brand of cookie or a comfy afghan — consider getting the same thing for them to keep at their house as a tangible sign of your understanding.
By showing parents that you're actively committed to ending the drama, and by helping the children overcome their disappointment, these difficult episodes should lessen. (In the meantime, feel free to secretly enjoy being idolized by your grandkids!)
How well do you get along with your grandchild and other family members? Want to know if your personalities mesh?Find out here.