Study Finds Half of Parents Disagree With Grandparents Over Parenting Style

“If grandparents contradict or interfere with parenting choices, it can have a serious strain on the relationship.”
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profile picture of Nehal Aggarwal
Published August 21, 2020
socially distanced grandparent seeing grandchild behind a glass a door
Image: Ryan J. Lane / Getty Images

While parents may look to their own parents for child rearing advice from time to time or even often, they may not want to parent their children exactly as they were parented. Plus, as social norms evolve and parenting technology advances, parenting may look a lot different now than it did a generation ago, sometimes causing disagreements. In fact, new study from C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health found that almost half of parents report conflicts with grandparents over parenting choices.

The study looked at a national sample of 2,016 responses from parents with kids aged 18 and under. Most respondents (89 percent) reported their child sees at least one grandparent often or occasionally. But 37 percent of these parents reported having minor disagreements with them over parenting styles, with 15 percent of parents reporting their disagreements had a negative effect on the relationship between their children and their grandparents.

As to the specific causes, the study found that 40 percent of parents felt grandparents were too soft on the kids, while 14 percent said they were too tough. The most common areas of conflict were discipline (57 percent), meals and snacks (44 percent), TV and screen time (36 percent), manners (27 percent), health and safety (25 percent), treating some grandchildren differently than others (22 percent), bedtime (21 percent) and sharing photos or other information to social media (10 percent).

“Grandparents play a special role in the lives of many children 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,” Sarah Clark, M.P.H., Mott Poll co-director and research scientist with the Susan B. Meister Child Health Evaluation and Research Center, or CHEAR, said in a press release. “If grandparents contradict or interfere with parenting choices, it can have a serious strain on the relationship. 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.”

The report found that four out of ten parents (43 percent) had asked a grandparent to change their behavior to fit in with their parenting choices. While 47 percent of grandparents acquiesced and changed, 36 percent said the grandparents said they would, but did not change their behavior and 17 percent said the grandparent refused to change.

When it came to major versus minor conflicts, for parents who said grandparents who changed their behavior, only 4 percent reported having major disagreements. For parents who said grandparents said they would but never changed behavior, that number rose to 15 percent. For parents with grandparents who refused to change, 25 percent of parents reported major disagreements.

The report also found that 15 percent of parents limited the amount of them their child spends with some grandparents. These limitations were more common for grandparents who did not respect the parents’ choices, as 32 percent of parents limited time with grandparents who said they would change but didn’t and 42 percent of parents limited time with grandparents who refused to change.

“Whether grandparents cooperated with a request or not was strongly linked to parents’ description of disagreements as major or minor.The bigger the conflict, the less likely grandparents seemed to budge….Parents who had 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 said. “Our 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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