What motivates a grandparent who spoils the grandkids?

To be clear, this is about the kind of spoiling that goes overboard, where it really is detrimental to the child. And some are surely thinking, I would never do anything to harm my sweet grandchildren. But often it happens before we realize it.

There’s an interesting quote from British writer C.S. Lewis that is relevant here:

“There are even cases where our liking conflicts with our charity towards the person we like. For example, the doting mother may be tempted by natural affection to ‘spoil’ her child; that is, to gratify her own affectionate impulses at the expense of the child’s real happiness later on.”

(from his book Mere Christianity)

Although he’s talking about a mother spoiling her kids, this can apply to us as well. It might seem silly to think our “affectionate impulses” could lead us to something harmful, but even things we do for our grandkids out of love need to be reconsidered now and then. We love them unconditionally and without limit. It feels good to be with them and do things that make them happy!

But how we show that love sometimes needs to have conditions and limits.

We need to ask ourselves questions like:

Am I doing this for my grandchild mostly because it makes me feel good?

Is this really about what I want?

What’s truly best for him?

And, of course, Will his parents think this is a good idea?

Maybe one of the best phrases to focus on from Lewis’s quote as a grandparent is: “real happiness later on.”

“Real happiness” points to something deeper than simply a good feeling, a sugar high, or the pleasure of getting to enjoy something that is desired. How many truly harmful things in life start out as a pleasurable feeling?

“Later on” is also important, because we need to be thinking about a grandchild five, ten, or twenty years in the future. Is having fun with a grandchild one afternoon really going to impact her life in the future? Maybe not, but that afternoon could be part of a larger pattern that creates expectations and habits and attitudes that could definitely shape her future. Enjoying time and having treats together can be great, but it’s also great to help teach them about moderation, self-control, respecting boundaries, delaying gratification, and so on.

To be clear: the point here is not to banish all fun and treats from our time with our grandkids. Grandchildren are to be enjoyed and celebrated; we shouldn’t hold back in expressing joy around them. However, it’s good to pause and ask these kinds of questions occasionally, to think more about what’s best for them in a big-picture sense, and to consider what kind of legacy we’re really leaving for our grandkids as they grow and mature.

Let’s spoil our grandkids with lots of time together. Let’s spoil them with listening and encouragement. Spoil them by teaching them skills or taking them on outings where they are sure to learn something valuable. Their future is worth it.

How have you dealt with the idea of spoiling your grandkids? Are there changes you’ve made because you knew something wasn’t the best for them? Please share your wisdom and join the discussion with other grandparents on our Facebook page here.