Grandparent Detox: The 5-Step Survival Method

by Anna Hargett
Originally Published: 

At this point in the summer, it is safe to say that most parents with small children have experienced the dreaded phenomenon known as “Grandparent Detox.” Children love their grandparents, and grandparents love their grandchildren. It’s a love that leads to freezers stocked with popsicles, marathon games of Candyland, and hordes of presents and treats just for being alive.

It’s a dangerous love. Once the kids get a taste, they want more. They are hooked. In fact, I suspect before our visits, the grandparents plot ways to guarantee their grandchildren’s loyalty and affection. Let’s see. We’ll start with ice cream for breakfast, and then we’ll play ‘Thomas the Train’ for three hours and then maybe take a trip to the moon!

You can imagine the children’s reaction, then, when we try to bring them back to reality after a visit with the grandparents. They are shocked when we announce it is bedtime after the sun goes down. “But we haven’t even roasted marshmallows yet!” They stare into the pantry in complete bewilderment. “Why don’t we have chocolate bars like Grandma does?” Even the suggestion of bathing sparks a complete meltdown. “But I never had to take a bath at Grandpa’s howwwwse! He said the hot tub was just as gooood!”

In fact, when the grandparent withdrawal hits, it manifests itself as one long, whiny, sobbing, floor-flopping meltdown, and so begins the Grandparent Detox. How long will it take for the effects of the grandparent narcotic to wear off? It’s simple, really. To calculate, you must add up the amount of time your children spent with their grandparents, and then multiply the total by 2. So, if your children spent three days at Grandma’s house, it will take six days for them to properly detox.

Grandparent Detox is hard on children and parents alike. Here are five steps to help everyone survive this grueling process:

1. Be Understanding

It is important to remember that it takes time to unlearn bad habits. Be understanding with your children and slowly guide them down from their grandparent high with baby steps. Perhaps Grandma left the Disney Channel on for the entire 72 hours of their visit. It may be an overwhelming shock to the system to quit Doc McStuffins cold turkey. Instead, allow your children a good four-hour TV block upon returning home and gradually reduce the time each day. Use that time to get a head start on unpacking, because by the Grandparent Detox rule of thumb, if the trip lasted four days, it will take eight days to unpack.

2. Be Firm

If there was one word to describe grandparents, “firm” would not be that word. Sometimes, my 2-year-old will climb out of his crib after I put him down for a nap. I calmly, but firmly, put him back in and tell him to stay there, or else.

On our latest visit to Grandma’s house, I had just put my children down to nap when Grandma implored me to lie down and rest as well. After I woke from a magnificent snooze, I found my 2-year-old in hysterics, convulsing on the floor, practically foaming at the mouth exactly like a, well, exactly like a toddler who has skipped his nap.

“What happened to him?” I asked Grandma.

“Well, don’t be mad,” she replied. “After you went to nap, he came into the kitchen and looked at me with those big eyes, and I couldn’t bear to put him back to bed. So I let him sit in my lap and watch cartoons, and then he had three popsicles.”

The closest I’ve ever heard a grandparent come to saying no is, “Honey, I would let you have ice cream for breakfast, but your mother said no.” After several days of free-for-all living at Grandma’s, your children need you to reinstate the rules and routines you’ve set for them. Be firm and stay strong.

3. Use Threats

Let’s say, hypothetically speaking, that you have very firmly explained to your children that you cannot just hop in the car and rush to the store on a whim because they want Lucky Charms. You don’t care that every time they see Grammie they head to the store for Lucky Charms—it does not happen every time they see Mommy. (Your husband bitterly adds that he never got Lucky Charms when he went to the store with Grammie, and he lived with her for 18 years!)

If your determined explanation still results in a glorious tantrum, it might be time to employ a threat strategy. Truth be told, it’s really not a fair fight. Of course the children prefer the grandparents to Mommy. Case in point:

Grandpa: Takes children to stable to give hugs to horses.

Mommy: Takes children to doctor to look at fish tank before getting shots.

Grandma: Showers children with gifts whenever she sees them.

Mommy: Threatens to take away gifts if children misbehave while she is showering.

Grandparents: Take kids to amusement park, children’s museum and zoo—in one afternoon.

Mommy: Takes kids to grocery store, bank and dry cleaner.

Naturally, your children will fight you with every fiber of their beings in hopes of escaping back to The Place Where All Their Dreams Come True. Threats may be your only weapon against them, as in, “Stop your screaming and get up off the floor or you will never see Grandma, again!”

4. Seek Help From a Higher Power

Sometimes, the only way to succeed is to admit defeat. When all else fails, close your eyes, bow your head and call a grandma. Beg her to take the kids for a few more days.

5. Repeat Steps 1 to 4

It’s a vicious cycle, really.

Grandparents, if you don’t stop spoiling them, these children may be taking a permanent vacation to your house! Wait. Is that what you’ve been plotting? You sneaky rascals.

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