Many parents may find that their toddler is more attached to their grandmother than to them. This can be a difficult situation to navigate, but there are steps you can take to cope and strengthen your relationship with your child.
It’s the feeling that stings every mom: the sight of her child pushing her away in favor of someone else. Even if that someone else is grandma.
At every opportunity, your toddler dives into her arms and has a meltdown when she leaves the room. You try to put on a brave face, even though it feels like she’s rejecting you. Seeing her throw a fit because she’d rather be with her makes you feel like the worst mom in the world.
Maybe grandma is her regular caregiver while you’re at work or she spoils her with too many gifts for your taste. She may even live in the same house, complicating boundaries even more.
Thankfully, you can manage your emotions and develop your own bond with your toddler, without disrupting their relationship. Here are a few practical steps to help you cope:
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Avoid giving in to your toddler’s unreasonable demands
Let’s say your toddler needs a diaper change. He’s clamoring for grandma to change him, but she’s busy in the kitchen washing dishes. Meanwhile, you’re available and more than ready to do the job. Except… he throws a fit. He wants grandma to do it, not you.
It’s not only diaper changes, either. For nearly every task, he prefers that she do the job, regardless of the inconvenience.
As tempting as it is to simply have grandma change his diapers to stop the tantrums, don’t. Having her do everything may not be convenient or possible. In our example, she was busy doing the dishes while you had your hands free.
Agreeing to his unreasonable demands also cements the idea that grandma is the preferred person. Going through the trouble of having her stop washing the dishes so she can change his diapers confirms that this is how it’s done.
Instead, acknowledge his preference (“I know you like it when grandma changes your diapers…”). Then gently—but firmly—explain the reason (“…but grandma is washing dishes right now, so I’ll change your diapers”).
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Focus on your toddler’s well-being
Each time your toddler clings to grandma or runs into her arms instead of yours, your ego feels threatened. It’s screaming inside, wanting you to put it in the forefront.
But parenting is about doing what’s best for our kids, even if doing so can hurt our egos.
Take a look at what’s happening without your ego playing a part: your toddler is developing a bond with her grandma. Except your ego is tempting you to feel attacked or to strip them of their close relationship.
Parenting isn’t always about us. Sometimes, we hold on to what we imagine parenting to be or how our kids should behave. We take it personally when things don’t go as planned.
Instead, remind yourself that she loves you and, more importantly, you are and will always be her mom. Her relationship with grandma doesn’t discount her love for you as well.
Kids’ attachment to caregivers shows that they’re in capable, loving hands. Her tantrum about leaving grandma’s house isn’t a personal attack on you, but proof of how much she enjoys spending time at grandma’s.
Shift your focus back to your toddler. Be aware of your internal monologue and notice the jealousy stirring inside. Then, replace that with gratitude that she’s in a safe place with grandma or how lucky she is to have so many people who love her.
Nurture your relationship with your toddler
It’s easy to see your toddler’s attachment to grandma as a competition. You might feel driven to outdo what she does or even scold or react in a way that might “punish” him for preferring her.
Instead of thinking of his love as a finite, limited source (a “competition”), focus on nurturing your own relationship with him.
Carve out “mommy and me” time with just the two of you, from simple daily tasks to fun weekend adventures. Create a special time like bedtime cuddles or reading books together. Use regular moments in your day to connect with him, so that it’s not just about surviving the day-to-day, but actually enjoying his company.
And if attachment truly is an issue, then perhaps the relationship needs adjustments, regardless of grandma.
Have you been working too much or gone for too long? Do you do too much housework that doesn’t allow you to spend time with him? Are you seen as “the bad guy” who does all the discipline?
Unless grandma is overstepping boundaries, don’t ask her to back down or discourage her from spending time with him. He has a place in his life for both of you.
Discuss and establish boundaries with grandma
Speaking of which, let’s talk about setting boundaries with grandma.
So far, I’ve shared tips on how to manage your own feelings, assuming that grandma hasn’t done anything that might overstep boundaries. But perhaps you do notice that her actions aren’t aligned with how you believe they should.
So, what can you do if those warning signs are present?
First, thank her for all she has done for your toddler and that you value the strong relationship they’ve built. Then, make it clear that, for his benefit, you both need to be consistent with each other. Encourage her to follow your routine and family rules for the final decisions.
And lastly, let her know that turning discipline and parenting into a competition isn’t helping him in the long run. He needs the both of you to be one united front to benefit from a stable, consistent upbringing.
Make transitions easier
Does your toddler stay at grandma’s house while you work, or does grandma leave your home once you arrive? Transitions can be difficult for all involved, especially when he throws a fit.
To make this part of the day smoother, have grandma “prepare” for pick up time every day. She might do a few calm activities like coloring with crayons or eating a light snack. They might even do the same things every day to signal your arrival.
Have her avoid starting anything new or exciting a few minutes before you pick him up, especially since he’ll have to leave so soon after. Every few minutes before you arrive, have her give him a “heads up” so he isn’t so shocked that he has to leave.
And once you do pick him up, reassure him that he’ll get to see her again the next day. You can even remind him that he can work on that new puzzle or craft right when he returns the following morning.
It’s never easy seeing your toddler so attached to his grandmother over you, outright throwing a fit because he’d rather be with her. Rest assured, friend, he will always love you.
You see, being attached to her or anyone else is a sign that he has a healthy attachment to you. Only once a child can establish attachment to his primary caregiver (you) does he have the courage to explore other relationships.
Think of this as a “good problem” to have. That his attachment to others means he’s in capable hands, and that he’s loved by many.
Get more tips:
- 5 Tips to Handle a Clingy Toddler
- How to Tell Grandparents to Stop Spoiling
- 8 Warning Signs You Need to Be a More Patient Mom
- What to Do When Your Child Says No to Everything
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