Family Feud: Half Of Parents Squabble With Grandparents Over Parenting Choices


New survey shows that one in seven parents are actually limiting the time they let their kids spend with their grandparents because of their disagreements.


ANN ARBOR, Mich. — After decades spent laying down the familial law as mothers and fathers, many grandparents choose to take a more relaxed, fun role in their grandchildren’s lives. Meanwhile, other grandparents can’t help but disagree with how their (now adult) children are raising their kids.

Maybe dad grows annoyed at grandpa for letting Junior stay up late and eat sweets all night. Perhaps grandma pulls mom aside and lets her know she doesn’t agree with some of her daughter’s discipline techniques. Either way, according to a new poll from the University of Michigan, it seems there’s a whole lot of tension these days between U.S. parents and grandparents when it comes to parenting decisions.

Just under half of polled parents say they’ve clashed with at least one of their child’s grandparents over differing opinions on parenting techniques. Incredibly, another one in seven polled parents say they are now actively limiting the amount of time their kids spend with their grandparents due to all of these disagreements.

In total, 2,016 U.S. parents with a child currently below the age of 18 took part in the poll, officially titled the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health.

Manners, discipline, screen time among most common disagreements

So, what are parents and grandparents clashing about most often? The top answer to that question is discipline measures (57%), followed by meals or snacks (44%), and TV or screen time (36%). Other common topics that incite generational debate are child manners (27%), health and safety best practices (25%), bedtime, and sharing photos/data on social media.

“Grandparents play a special role in children’s lives and can be an important resource for parents through support, advice and babysitting. But they may have different ideas about the best way to raise the child and that can cause tension,” says Mott Poll co-director Sarah Clark in a release. “If grandparents contradict or interfere with parenting choices, it can have a serious strain on the relationship.”

Circling back to discipline for a moment, most parents who say this is an issue believe the grandparents are too nice or soft on the kids (40%). Some, though, think the grandparents are too harsh (14%).

“Parents may feel that their parental authority is undermined when grandparents are too lenient in allowing children to do things that are against family rules, or when grandparents are too strict in forbidding children to do things that parents have okayed,” Clark adds.

Grandparents prefer sticking with old habits

Researchers say that many of these disagreements stem from generational differences. A lot of grandparents refuse to believe there is a correct way to raise children besides “the way we used to do things.” For example, she says some grandparents may be unwilling to but babies to sleep on their back or use a booster seat in the car.

A significant portion of respondents say they’ve flat out asked grandparents to respect their parenting choices. In these cases about half the grandparents made a real effort to back off, but 17% refused.

“Whether grandparents cooperated with a request or not was strongly linked to parents’ description of disagreements as major or minor,” Clark comments. “The bigger the conflict, the less likely grandparents were to budge.”

“Parents who reported major disagreements with grandparents were also likely to feel that the conflicts had a negative impact on the relationship between the child and the grandparent,” Clark concludes. “These findings indicate that grandparents should strive to understand and comply with parent requests to be more consistent with parenting choices – not only to support parents in the difficult job of raising children, but to avoid escalating the conflict to the point that they risk losing special time with grandchildren.”

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