Ask Scary Mommy is Scary Mommy’s advice column, where our team of “experts” answers all the questions you have about life, love, body image, friends, parenting, and anything else that’s confusing you.
This week: How do you cope when your parents, who have every reason in the world to love being grandparents just…don’t? Have your own questions? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Dear Scary Mommy,
My parents are in their late fifties, live nearby, and I’ve always had a decent relationship with them. Or so I thought, because they find new ways to show me they don’t care about being grandparents. When they come over, which isn’t often, they don’t stay very long. They don’t ask my kids about their lives. They don’t want to come to their extracurricular activities, and they certainly haven’t ever offered a helping hand so my husband and I could have an evening out (pre-pandemic, anyway) or brought over a pizza when I was struggling with a newborn and two toddlers at the same time. They weren’t like this as parents, so what gives? Why do they suck so badly?
You know, I’ve often heard friends and acquaintances complain about their parents/in-laws being “bad” grandparents, but their definition of “bad” is that their kids’ grandmas and grandpas aren’t willing to be on-call, 24/7 babysitters. I usually roll my eyes, bite my tongue, and wish other parents my age realized that adults over 50 still have full lives of their own and can be good grandparents without being unpaid servants.
That is not the case here. At all.
You haven’t said whether you’ve talked to them about it, so let’s start there. The next time you invite them over or to attend your kid’s T-ball game and they decline, you could test the waters and say something like, “Oh, that’s too bad. It would really mean a lot to Timmy to see his grandma and grandpa in the stands with us.”
This allows you to broach the subject without being aggressive, which you don’t want to do if you’ve never brought it up before. Gauge their reaction. If they pause, consider your words, and change their mind or plan to attend in the future — that’s a good first step. If they continue hemming and hawing and still decline, press the matter further.
“Oh, do you guys have plans? If so, can we count on you next week?” If that doesn’t give the desired outcome, I’d plan on having an honest, forthright conversation with them as soon as possible. Tell them that it hurts that they miss these precious moments of their grandchildren’s lives. Reiterate how much it would mean to your kids. Remind them that you’re not expecting them to drop everything they have going on in their lives to become nannies, you just know how valuable it is to have supportive grandparents.
Maybe they believe that this time in their lives is for them now that you’re grown up and they’re in the autumn of their life. And that’s not a bad thing! But it certainly doesn’t mean they can’t be involved in your family’s life.
You’ll never know the answer unless you ask the question. I hope you’re able to have a good discussion that breeds a positive outcome for all. If your parents are hell-bent on being selfish assholes who can’t even show up for a ballet recital, here’s a good book for you that will help you figure out some boundaries.