Back off, grandma!
What’s to be done with a critical, controlling grandparent?
My friend Bella was freaking out. ‘She’s driving me nuts,’ she said, in an emotional phone conversation. ‘I ask her to do something, and she does the opposite. She’s critical and unhelpful. If she doesn’t get her own way, she sulks.’

Sound like your teenager? Only, it’s not. It’s Bella’s mother. A year ago, when Bella’s father died, her mother came to live with her, her husband, and her two daughters aged 11 and 15.

Bella is part of the ‘sandwich generation’, a term that entered our sociological lexicon in the 1990s, describing people between the ages of about 35 and 55 who are both raising children and looking after ageing parents.

A major stress for the sandwich generation is financial but the day-to-day nitty-gritty of dealing with ageing parents, and the emotional component, are equally draining – a Canadian survey found that for almost half of respondents this was a significant source of strain.

In a case like Bella’s, where the ageing parent is living with you, just when you need all your wits about you to supervise the many and varied trials and tribulations of your kids’ teen years, you also have another adult – one with fixed ideas of their own, who could be deteriorating physically or mentally, and who may feel entitled to certain ‘rights’ because she or he is, after all, still your parent – who needs management and attention.

For Bella, her mom’s ongoing interference in how she dealt with her teenager made her life a misery. ‘If I said no to something, my mom said yes. She gave her money without telling me. And, probably the worst, she constantly implied, sometimes in my daughter’s hearing, that I’m the reason for my daughter’s bratty behaviour.’

Give the dog a bone

But it was a disagreement over the family dog that finally brought things to a head. ‘We don’t give our dog bones, and my mom knows this because I’ve told her several times. But the other day she came home with a huge smoked pork bone and gave it to the dog. I felt like screaming.’

Fortunately, before this could turn into a family fight, Bella’s husband intervened. ‘He was great,’ says Bella. ‘He took the girls downstairs and put on a DVD for them. Then he sat my mother and me down at the dining-room table and told us he was going to establish ground rules for all of us.

‘Most of the rules were actually for my mother, but he did also point out that I’ve become reactive and that sometimes when my mom is only trying to offer what she thinks is constructive advice, I take it the wrong way and get irritated.’

The new system hasn’t been in place long enough yet for Bella to say whether it’s going to work in the long term, but, she says, her mother does seem to be making more of an effort to butt out. ‘I know sometimes she itches to get involved, but the fact is that it’s my daughter, and I’m raising her my way.
Now, my mother just rolls her eyes at me when she doesn’t agree with something I’m saying or doing. But my daughter does that to me too, and I’ve learnt to ignore it.’

How do you tame an interfering granny?

Read more by Tracey Hawthorne

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