5/2/2022 | By Amy Dickinson

Grandparenting can be a joy, but the relationships among three generations can be fraught with tension, too. This issue of “Ask Amy” addresses two situations that pit grandparents against parents – a grandpa who likes to treat the grandkids and a grandmom who undermines the mom. Are these grandparents spoiling the grandkids or disrespecting the parents?

Spoiling the grandkids with Mr. Oreo

Dear Amy:

My husband and I watch our grandsons (ages 3 and 5) twice a week.

We do this so our daughter can save on daycare expenses.

We bring the kids two snacks each time we are with them.

I choose a snack that is always healthy, like fruit, and my husband’s choice is not healthy – usually cookies.

My daughter complains to me about her father’s choices.

I have told her to talk to him. She does, and he ignores her.

He tells me that it makes him happy to give the kids something they view as a treat. He likes spoiling the grandkids.

Since it is only twice a week, he doesn’t think it is a big deal. He says that if it is a big deal, our daughter can send the kids to daycare every day.

I see both points of view and think this issue has been blown out of proportion.

I am tired of being in the middle of this.

Any ideas on how to resolve this?


Dear Snacked:

If your husband didn’t ply the kids with cookies, any healthy snack delivered by Grandpa would be considered “a treat.” Kids are like that. They can happily eat broccoli trees dipped in yogurt – until Mr. Oreo comes to town.

I won’t waste your time suggesting healthy alternatives to cookies, because your husband has basically decided that his pleasure and esteem is so cheap that it can be obtained through being a sweets dispenser to toddlers. That’s lazy, but unless they have health issues, a few cookies won’t harm these children.

Your husband also doesn’t respect his own daughter’s wishes. That’s a pretty obvious power move, possibly because he wants to see himself as a loving and indulgent grandparent spoiling the grandkids, versus providing daycare on a schedule.

You should hope that he doesn’t take this disrespect further, toward choices that are less benign. After all, when he was a kid every child ate cookies for a snack, and no one rode in a car seat.

However, he is right in this regard. If your daughter does not like being disrespected in this way, she has options.

You say you are in the middle of this, but that’s a choice, too. If your daughter complains about this, tell her to “take this up with your father.”

Does spoiling the grandkids excuse contradicting the parents?

Grandparents playing a boardgame with grandkids – photo by Monkey Business Images Dreamstime. Grandpa treats the kids to cookies and Grandmom undermines the mom. Are these grandparents spoiling the grandkids or disrespecting parents?

Dear Amy:

I am a husband and father of an 18-month-old daughter.

I’m concerned about how my mother-in-law treats my wife and daughter.

She calls my wife multiple times a day to FaceTime with her granddaughter.

My wife answers as often as she can.

The problem I have is that my mother-in-law keeps saying things to our toddler like: “Don’t worry – whenever grandma is talking to you, you don’t have to listen to your mom.”

Or when my wife tells my daughter to stop doing something, her mother will say, “Grandma says it’s OK.”

The last time I heard this I wanted to grab the phone and say: “Mom makes the rules, if you can’t follow them, you can’t see our daughter” and hang up on her.

My wife says that it isn’t my place (I agree) but she hasn’t set boundaries, yet.

My MIL is coming to visit in about a week and I’ve been stressing about it constantly.

She is sleeping on our couch for three days, and I don’t think I want to hold my tongue if she tries to say the same things when she is in our home.

I’m all for grandparents spoiling the grandkids, but when my daughter is throwing food on our floor and grandma says, “It’s OK – make your parents clean it up” I want to ground grandma.

Your suggestions?


Dear Nervous:

Keep your cool. The calmer and more consistent you are, the more effective your response will be.

If your mother-in-law directly countermands you, and if you are certain she isn’t just being playful, you can say, “Oops. I’m going to have to stop you. We are her parents and we need to make the rules for her, even if you don’t agree with them. Can you help us out here and not contradict us?”

She may say, “Oh, I’m only joking, don’t take this so seriously.” And you can respond, “I get it, but we’re trying to be consistent, and her sense of humor isn’t quite developed yet.”

Related: When spoiling the grandkids poses safety risks

In the tradition of the great personal advice columnists, Chicago Tribune’s Amy Dickinson is a plainspoken straight shooter who relates to readers of all ages. She answers personal questions by addressing issues from both her head and her heart. A solid reporter, Dickinson researches her topics to provide readers with informed opinions and answers – ranging from when a demanding spouse to grandparenting to DNA surprises. Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068. 

© 2021 by Amy Dickinson

Click here to read more Ask Amy columns curated for a baby boomer audience. 

Amy Dickinson