6 Reasons Why Grandparents May Be Uninvolved

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When Grandparents Have Other Interests

Traveling and having fun is top priority for some grandparents.
Some grandparents are too busy enjoying their leisure time, but sometimes that's just an excuse. Photo © Denkou Images | Getty

Conventional wisdom holds that people of a certain age, especially women, can't wait to be grandparents. That's one of the most persistent of grandparenting myths. More accurately, most people do enjoy their new status once they have adjusted to being grandparents. Still, there are those who choose to be uninvolved in their grandchildren's lives. They are called uninterested, uninvolved, disengaged and sometimes something worse, especially by the parents who expected them to play a more active role. Read on to find out why grandparents may be disengaged and to find solutions, because grandchildren need their grandparents.

The Too-Busy Grandparents

If grandparents are retired, they may enjoy having the leisure to pursue their own interests. They may be frequent travelers, or they may have chosen the RV lifestyle and be living on the road. Maybe they are golfing or fishing or pursuing other avocations.

Suggestions for Parents: This type of disinterested grandparent is the hardest to work with, because they simply haven't put the grandchildren very high in their list of priorities. Having a fit when they miss an activity may make them less likely to show up next time, on the grounds that they don't need the drama. Just be sure that they are informed about family occasions and the grandchildren's activities. Then let them know that they are welcome to join the festivities at any time. Sometimes grandparents of this type come around when the grandkids are older and can share their interests. That can happen if parents haven't cut all ties.

 Occasionally grandparents will adopt the guise of the too-busy grandparent in order to hide something else that's going on. ...

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When Grandparents Are Fearful

some grandparents worry about the safety of their grandchildren
Taking care of grandchildren can be a scary responsibility. sturti | Getty Images

Keeping a grandchild safe is a serious charge, and frankly some grandparents don't want the stress.

The Responsibility Phobes

Some grandparents don't want to babysit or to drive with a grandchild because they are insecure about their ability to keep the grandkids safe. Consider these factors:

  • Child care procedures have changed a lot since most grandparents were parents. They may realize that they aren't up to speed on car seats, feeding practices, safe sleeping and other aspects of infant care.
  • Grandparents aren't as fleet or agile as they once were. They may worry about falling with the baby, or being unable to chase down a fleeing youngster.
  • Most grandparents have occasional forgetfulness. They may worry that they will forget something crucial.

Suggestions for Parents: Admitting their insecurity is difficult for some grandparents, so they may make excuses for not taking care of grandchildren rather than being forthright. A parent may be able to uncover the real reasons by gentle questioning. Grandparents who are truly impaired should not be left alone with children, but there's no reason why they can't spend time with their grandchildren with others around. In the case of a grandparent who doesn't have a serious problem but simply lacks confidence, a grandparenting class may help.

 Sometimes it's not the stress but the actual work involved. ...

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When Grandparents Have Been There, Done That

Some grandparents have little patience for their grandchildren
Some grandparents have no desire to revisit parenting. Photo © Izabela Habur | Getty Images

Some grandparents see grandparenting as a second chance. Others see it as a repeat of a difficult and demanding job.

The Work Shirkers

Some grandparents who have dealt with spit-up, temper tantrums and potty training don't want to do it again. This occurs sometimes with grandparents who had some really tough times parenting. Perhaps they had children with health problems. Maybe it was money troubles. Maybe they were solo parenting. Whatever the reason, they have no interest in history repeating itself.

Suggestions for Parents: This is another situation that may take care of itself. Never underestimate the power of a grandchild to win a grandparent's heart. You may be able to help the process along if you make it clear that you don't expect the grandparents to do the heavy lifting. Tell them that their job is just to have fun with the grandchildren. Chances are that the situation will resolve itself and the grandparents will be willing to change an occasional diaper and even babysit once in a while.

And for some grandparents, the problem is just the opposite. ...

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When Grandparents Are Already Working Hard

Some grandparents juggle parenting, grandparenting and work. Paul Bradbury | Getty

Instead of being work shirkers, some grandparents are working hard at balancing careers and family obligations. 

Workhorse Grandparents

In the most extreme cases, grandparents may still have children at home and may already be dealing with aging parents. Such individuals are sometimes said to be members of the club sandwich generation, because they are dealing with the needs of multiple generations. Although they may love their grandchildren and want to be closer to them, they may have difficulty making time for them.

Suggestions for Parents: Don't wait for the grandparents to initiate a visit. Don't drop in, but do the planning for the grandparents. Short visits may be best. When asking the grandparents to babysit, follow these suggestions to make babysitting as easy as possible. Be especially certain to pick up the grandchildren on time. If the grandparents are caregivers for older relatives, switch assignments occasionally. You take a turn with the older relatives so the grandparents can be with their grandchildren.

For some grandparents, the problem isn't time but money. ...

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When Grandparents Don't Want to Spend

Many grandparents are really frugal.
Some grandparents really watch their dollars. Hill Street Studio | Getty Images

Some family disputes are rooted in money matters. In many cases, however, financial issues are more subtle but are still there.

The Cash-Conscious Grandparents

Grandparents may absent themselves from family occasions because they are always expected to pick up the tab. Young family members often think that the grandparents should pay because they are better off financially. While that may be true, most grandparents are either living on a fixed income or are facing that situation in the near future. They feel that they must closely guard whatever savings they have. It may be easier to maintain a distance from family members than to face criticism, spoken or unspoken, for being less than generous. In addition, grandparents tend to be frugal and to disapprove of some of the ways in which the younger generations spend money.

Suggestions for Parents: If you sense that money is an issue, avoid putting the grandparents in a position where they will feel pressured to spend a lot of money. Have a meal at home instead of going to a restaurant. Go on a camping vacation instead of to a pricey resort. Or simply pick up the tab yourself once in a while. Make it clear that you are interested in the grandparents for themselves rather than as a source of funds.

One last reason grandparents may be uninvolved -- they don't care for family drama. ...

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When It's Complicated

Grandma talking to grandson about family drama
Life in some families is high drama, and some grandparents can't handle it. Hola Images/Getty Images

Some grandparents love drama -- at the theater. They are not, however, fans of drama in their family life.

The Drama Avoiders

When parents complain about uninvolved grandparents, they often mention that the grandparents aren't that way with all of their grandchildren. That's an indicator that the problem may not be with the grandparents themselves. The family whose children get short shrift may be a constant source of controversy and drama, and that may be what is keeping the grandparents away.

Suggestions for Parents: Look at your own behavior to be sure that you aren't driving the grandparents away. Ignore small irritations. Learn to de-escalate family conflict instead of increasing it. Be wary about talking about family members behind their backs. In addition, be careful about making accusations of favoritism. Because their grandchildren may vary widely in age, geographical location and family situations, grandparents should not be expected to treat them all the same. The focus should be on creating a unique relationship with each grandchild.

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More About Grandparenting and Family Relationships

Close families learn to work through their difficulties.
Insights about why grandparents stay away can help families recapture their closeness. Jack Hollingsworth | Getty Images

Learn more about family relationships:

Figure out what not to say:

 And be a happier, healthier person: