Does your child prefer their grandparents over you? Therapist shares helpful advice for how to react

 Grandmother holding smiling grandchild outside in the sunshine.
Credit: Getty Images

You might feel crushed if your kids seem to prefer their grandparents over you. Don't worry, family therapy experts share strategies to understand what's happening and how to handle your feelings about the situation.

Of the five types of grandparents identified by researchers, the voluntarily involved ones are among the best - these are the ones who offer spontaneous sleepovers with their grandchildren, and know just what you need from them and when. Some grandparents can be so defined by the time they spend with their grandkids, they can find it distressing if your little ones appear to favour their other grandparents (don't worry, this isn't always what it seems.)

But what if you have the super fun, brilliantly involved grandparents and you start to wonder if your kids actually favour them over you? It's one thing to have them drawn to a particular set of grandparents over another, but when their affiliation seems to be with you or your partner's parents over wanting to be with you, it can feel like something else entirely.

To understand why children might display these apparent preferences and get some tips for managing your feelings around them, we spoke to BACP registered counsellor and parenting expert Jenny Warwick, and BACP registered therapist Nicole Green. Jenny tells us "Children naturally tend to bond with their grandparents because the relationship is typically more indulgent and less authoritative. Grandparents are more likely to have time and patience, and they bring a different, often more relaxed perspective to interactions with their grandchildren."

Nicole and Jenny offer some great advice for how to react if your child seems to attached themselves like Velcro to their grandparents.

  • Take some time. Nicole shares "Check in with yourself and name exactly what is going for you. You might need to own some feelings such as jealously and hurt around what is happening but this is the first step. Acknowledge how you feel and place these feelings, do they belong in the here and now or is the feeling of your child wanting to spend time with their grandparents rather than you triggering memories from your past that are clouding your feelings?

  • Tackle the feelings you identify. Nicole adds "Once you can acknowledge and place your own feelings you will be able to tackle them. Assess whether the grandparents are doing anything that makes you feel undermined as a parent or whether there is a deliberate attempt to impact your relationship with your child. If you feel this is the case then address this separately with them. If actually they are simply preferred because there is a warm and loving and different relationship to the one you have with your child then finding the adult and parent within you to allow your child to have this important connection with their grandparents is important."

  • See grandparents as your child sees them. Nicole suggests looking at grandparents through the eyes of your child. You could plan days out and things that be done as a family "So that your child can learn through you how to have loving inter-generational relationships" as Nicole shares.

  • Be objective. Jenny tells us this is a really important step. She says "Try assessing the situation from an objective perspective. Why might your child prefer to be with their grandparents? Are there patterns or specific activities that might be influencing this preference? You could reflect on your own style of parenting and the time you spend with your children. Stress, work, and everyday responsibilities can sometimes get in the way of the quality of time you spend with your kids. Also, do they really prefer their grandparents, or might there be underlying factors playing into this?"

  • Have an open conversation. Jenny adds "It might be worth having a chat with the grandparents to ensure that you're all on the same page regarding bringing up your child. It's also vital that your child is not put in the middle of potential family conflicts. A collaborative approach is best - remind them that you are the primary caregiver, and that is to be respected and maintained."

  • Embrace how your child feels. Jenny continues "Embrace your children's bond with their grandparents; see it as a positive aspect of your family dynamics rather than a competition. Remember that relationships evolve; be patient with your children, their grandparents, and yourself, and you can strengthen your bonds over time. Self-care and stress management are crucial for parents. When you're well-rested and less stressed, you can be more present and emotionally available for your children."

Mum-of-two Lucy can really identify with a child who seems to love their grandparents more than their parents. She tells us "Going back to work after an extended maternity leave was so hard for me. I hadn't had a day away from my son the entire time. My mum looked after him while I worked, and I looked forward to his excitement at seeing me when I collected him at the end of the day.

But it didn't take long before there were no smiles for me, and he'd bury his face in my mums legs and cling on to her when I arrived to take him home. I was absolutely devastated and felt an awful resentment towards my mum, even though I should've been grateful he was so well loved and cared for he felt he'd rather stay put. It didn't last though - he eventually became like a limpet to me and would cry if I went out and my mum was babysitting. It's the nature of children and their feelings. I wish I hadn't felt so resentful and worried about it now, it wasn't really a problem."

After sharing her very helpful tips for any parents feeling the same, Nicole Green concludes "The relationship your child has with their grandparents will be different to the one they have with you and that’s how it should be, we all need different things and have needs that no one person in our life can provide and this us the same for our children. Let them be spoilt and indulged a little and have the conversation around boundaries with the grandparents if these become an issue for you."

For more on grandparents, children who spend time with theirs have fewer emotional and behavioural problems, but one grandmother's tip for spending more time with her grandchildren left people divided and some branding it 'manipulative.' If they live far away, there's 10 ways grandparents can do long-distance involvement according to an expert.