Here’s How Much You Can Spoil Your Grandchildren Without Ruining Them

Mary Jane Sterne, co-author of Intentional Grandparenting, gives us her best advice on how to be a good grandparent.

Asian grandparents with their granddaughterPhoto: Shutterstock

Is it okay to spoil my grandchildren?

Reader’s Digest Canada: We all know that spoiling kids is a bad idea, but is it okay for Grandma or Grandpa to engage in the odd act of overindulgence?

Mary Jane Sterne: A little overindulgence is part of the grandparent’s role, but you don’t want to do anything that directly contradicts the parents’ wishes—specific rules around food, for example. I always suggest that grandparents make themselves aware of their grandchild’s interests and do something special that supports that. When my granddaughter was younger, I would take her to her art class every week and then we would have a grilled cheese. It’s a nice memory, and something that helped her to engage in her passion.

What if her passion was playing Minecraft? I ask because a study from last year reported that grandparents are major culprits when it comes to excessive screen time.  

Grandparents may be guilty of taking a slightly more relaxed attitude about that. But if you’re giving them 15 minutes of extra screen time so you can have a break, that’s not going to hurt anyone. 

I’ve also read that grandparents are spending as much as seven times more money on grandchildren than they were a decade ago. Why is this?

Baby boomers are living longer, and we have more disposable income than our parents did. I have friends who make contributions to their grandchildren’s education funds and pay for summer camp—so it’s not like we’re just buying endless toys. 

How else are things different for “grandboomers” than they were for their predecessors?

Parents aren’t necessarily seeking advice from the older generation as much. It used to be that when you had a baby, you’d turn to the grandparents for guidance on things like bottle temperature, sleeping and what your baby should be eating. Today, new parents get that information online. Being a grandparent today is often about zipping your lip.

On the other hand, you hear of grandparents who feel used by adult kids’ requests. Any advice on setting limits? Like, no, I can’t babysit for a third night this week. 

Sure. That’s the whole idea behind “intentional grandparenting”—to communicate and set boundaries sooner rather than later. What you need is to get everyone on the same page. If you feel like you’re being taken advantage of, say something. Being a devoted grandparent is not the same as being a martyr. 

Research shows that kids who are close to their grandparents have better mental-health outcomes. Why do you think that is?

With the parent/child relationship, the kids are worried about getting in trouble, and the parents worry about making mistakes. A grandparent, on the other hand, has an opportunity to provide a supportive, non-judgmental ear. For instance, I’ve heard of kids who have first come out as lesbian or gay to their grandparents. 

Are grandparents better off because of their grandchildren?

Absolutely! One study showed engaged grandparents live five years longer than their counterparts. That makes sense—grandchildren can keep you active: I ski with my grandchildren; I bike with them. They can also give you a sense of purpose, which is something a lot of older people struggle with.

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest Canada