Seeing the other questions about grandparents, this seems to be quite the exception.

My wife went to visit my parents for two weeks and I couldn't go because I have to work. I thought it would be nice for them since we live abroad and they don't get to spend much time with my children.

Because of the distance, I was expecting my parents to spoil the kids even more, but every time I call them my son is crying that he wants to go home. He is very sociable and loves basically everyone, even kids that bully him, so this came as a shock for me.

My wife also told me that they shout on him all the time, especially when my nieces are around. They are 7 and 10 and apparently my parents don't want to "make them jealous". So whenever the nieces are around they ignore my son. Apparently my mom even joins the two girls in mocking/bullying my son and defends them if my wife says something.

If I spoke to them they would know that my wife complained to me and she doesn't want to ruin their relationship, which has been very good up until now.

I gonna see them soon and if I see the behaviour I'm planning to talk to them but I don't know how to handle it.

I love my parents, but I feel very sorry for my son. He's quite sensitive and doesn't deserve to be treated like this.

UPDATE: So, when I got there the situation was almost back to "normal". My wife hinted a few times (replying to the girls) that we won't come to visit again. She also made my parent notice that they were being too tough and they changed their ways. There are a few things going on there so my parents are quite stressed and snap easily. Doesn't help that where I come from being aggressive is part of day-to-day life. Thanks everyone for your help and support!

  • 75
    If your son is crying and asking to come home when on the phone with you, you could use that as your reason to talk with your parents and leave your wife out of it. Commented Jul 31, 2017 at 12:32
  • 11
    Personally, I'd take him out of there immediately, and if they ask, tell them why... but then I don't care much for my relationship for my parents!
    – JeffUK
    Commented Jul 31, 2017 at 12:51
  • 3
    @JeffUK not being there personally would be difficult for me to stand my ground if they say the kid is exaggerating the situation. They've been fine in the past so I can't even base it on previous episodes. I can't believe they'd become such idiots all of a sudden.
    – algiogia
    Commented Jul 31, 2017 at 13:27
  • 5
    For a valid answer, we'd need to know more about your wife. Is she mobile (does she have a car or access to public transportation without having to lug tons of bags around or something like that)? How old is your son? Are they out in the nowhere, or in a big city?
    – AnoE
    Commented Jul 31, 2017 at 19:27
  • 30
    "she doesn't want to ruin their relationship". This is completely misplaced. Your parents are already ruining the relationship if they are mistreating your children. The well-being of your children takes priority BY FAR over any potential hurt feelings that your parents have about your wife "telling on them". Do they seriously expect the mother of a child they are mistreating to not tell the father of that child? This is preposterous. In fact, they should believe that anything they do in front of her may as well be in front of you. Anything else fails to protect your children. Commented Jul 31, 2017 at 22:17

10 Answers 10


You have some of the picture, and the parts you have are obviously distressing. But until you have the whole of it, I would say nothing to your parents.

Talk to your wife often, and support her; she's in a difficult position. Since you're not there to do the necessary confronting, she needs to do so depending on how inappropriate the behavior is.

Apparently my mom even joins the two girls in mocking/bullying my son and defends them if my wife says something.

Personally, I wouldn't tolerate this behavior. If the grandparent is actually bullying the child or taking the bully's side, it's time to take the kids out for a field trip, picnic, ice cream, whatever is possible to do away from where the grandparents live. This isn't quality time for your child. Repeat as necessary. Leaving the house for a hotel is really a last resort and drastic; if the abuse is serious enough, I would consider it.

How to handle it? It depends on what you see and what you expect of your relationship with your parents, and how much disposable income everyone involved has. Worst case scenario, you don't visit them any more until you have a talk and come to some kind of agreement about unkind behavior. Less drastic but still effective, see your parents away from that environment, e.g. a vacation together at the beach where if someone starts to act unkindly, you have the option to immediate get away: go swimming, go for a cold drink, a walk, etc. Your (brother/sister's) family can be invited, or you can take separate vacations with them so no "jealousy" issues can arise with grandma.

It's important to stand up for your children. It shows them your love. Your parents are important too, though, and how you treat them is a strong model for your children regarding how they should treat you when they are adults with children. This should be considered as well in the decisions you make.

I love my parents but I feel very sorry for my son. He's quite sensible and doesn't deserve to be treated like this.

Of course he doesn't. But the occasions where you really have to pick between one or the other are rare (hopefully). If your son is mature enough, you can let him be part of the behind-the-scenes conversation as well.

  • (referring to your first line) I believe that if the OP wants the whole picture, he should actually talk to his parents. Other answers have suggested how to approach this in a way that's not too confrontational.
    – YoungFrog
    Commented Aug 1, 2017 at 12:18
  • @YoungFrog - I think if the OP feels comfortable with doing this over the phone, that's absolutely fine and a good idea. But that will not give him the whole picture. As someone else mentioned, he might be homesick when he talks to his dad. Or he might be having fun most of the time. Or his parents might deny it. Or something else. If he wants the whole picture, he has to be there to see it. Commented Aug 1, 2017 at 13:06

You are your child's parent. It is your responsibility to defend your child, even from your own parents. If you can afford it, your wife should move to a hotel. But you will have to explain to your parents that they behaviour is unacceptable.

  • As said in the question I am already planning to talk once I join them. I honestly can't see why they would behave like that since they are usually very good with my son.
    – algiogia
    Commented Jul 31, 2017 at 13:31
  • 29
    Perhaps they are angry with you. But the first is to get your child to safety. Your wife needs to take him and leave. Since you are not going to address it immediately, you need to get him to safe. Just because it is words and not physical violence doesn't make it any less harmful.
    – DCook
    Commented Jul 31, 2017 at 14:23
  • 3
    Be careful not to act too hastily either. Your wife and your parents are all adults you trust. Listen to everyone's version before you decide. Only you know everybody well enough to understand what might be a cultural difference or family specificity. Meanwhile, you could suggest to your wife to spend more time outside. Maybe even with one of your parents to go with her (e.g. visit the city...). It's way too easy to imagine the worst and ruin things based on that.
    – YoungFrog
    Commented Aug 1, 2017 at 12:14
  • @algiogia As DCook said, doesn't matter the how, the why, the what, the when; All that matters is protecting your child. If it was your wife instead of your parents, would you protect your child first, or your relationship with your wife?
    – Anoplexian
    Commented Aug 1, 2017 at 15:38

I don't know what your relationship with your parents is like, but here's what I would do if it was me and my son, and either my own dad (mom is deceased) or my in-laws:

After hearing my son crying to me on the phone, and especially after hearing his other parent tell me that he is being mistreated, I would immediately call the grandparents and (if it was my dad) say, "Hey, so, I talked to my son today, and I don't know what's going on, but he feels very unsafe there right now for some reason and wants to come home. Can you please tell me what's been going on that might be making him feel that way?" And if it was my in-laws: "Hey, so, I talked to my son today, and he seems very upset and wants to come home, which is surprising to me, and I'm wondering what could be going on that would make him feel that way."

This approach is partly based on the fact that I know my dad and my in-laws are good people, and they would never take a direct confrontation by me out on my child, and it's also based on my propensity to tackle problems immediately and head-on. If you would feel safer for your family by being physically present and can make that happen, then of course you can show up first and then start talking. But if it was me, I know I'd want to make sure the situation didn't continue while I was on the plane flying there.

I would expect that the problem was likely a misunderstanding by the grandparent of how hurtful their behavior was, and possibly also of my son being sensitive and taking seriously some behaviors that are (mistakenly) meant in fun, but no matter what was going on, I would always always protect my son from his grandparents - if nothing else, he is a child and unable to defend himself, while they are adults and amply able to do so. Your job in this kind of situation is to be your child's advocate and protector, even if he turns out to be in the wrong in some way. He deserves always to be treated with respect and kindness, even if he is also exhibiting behaviors that need to change.

I can tell you from my own experience that the first unforgivable sin that a parent can commit in a child's eyes is to expose them to harm by standing by and passively allowing harm to happen. And a child's sense of time and of what goes on outside their presence is somewhat limited, so it is probably important for your wife to step in immediately when witnessing these situations so that your son knows she will defend him and is on his side. What you do in terms of addressing your parents on the phone is something he won't be able to witness, so it won't have an immediate effect on his sense of security. For that to be improved, you could tell him that you're talking to them to try to fix the problem, and that when you get there you might all sit down to talk about it together - if the grandparents are able to recognize the problem with their behavior and agree to be kind to your son. Otherwise the suggestion of removing your family from the situation is a good one. If people are not willing to see the flaws in their behavior and acknowledge them and agree to alter that behavior, there is literally nothing you can do at that point aside from removing yourself and your family from the situation. Again I speak from experience. There is no reason for your wife and son to stay in a situation that is damaging to them.


You are not there. You don't see what happens and thus have a hard time deciding what needs to be done.

Your wife is there. Your wife does see what happens. Let her decide, now, and tell her you will support her decision, even if it should result in a rift between your family and your parents.

If for any reason the situation is unresolved by the time you get there, don't worry about anyone offending anyone. Be honest and upfront about your concerns. If your parents want to take part in raising your son, you absolutely must be able to share concerns about how he's raised with them.

Of course that's a two way street: If they get to take part in raising him, even if the part is small, they also have the right and duty to honestly tell you if they have serious concerns about how you're raising him.


This is a bit of a passionate point for me, having been in a similar situation as your son is currently in.

The biggest thing, that is really important, is that you make sure your son knows you're on his side, even if it means being a bit against your parents. It puts you in a rough position for sure, but it'll mean a lot to your son - I can guarantee that.

There are some really good comments, one of them being that your wife and child should go to a motel for now. I know that's not what you're intending to have happen, but changing that arrangement will help improve the environment for your wife and son.

Speaking of someone who's had this experience, you may need to accept the nature that your parents will have their "favorites" and there may be very little you can do to change that. Doesn't mean you can't have a decent relationship with your parents, but the interactions may need to be more "controlled", hence the motel thing is a great idea.

This may be a bit more personal, but if you're interested in hearing how this played out in my situation - I'll give you the story, and hope it's helpful for you.

In my case, my father was in the military. He's retired now. But, he had to go out to the field, to do reserve-like activities, and so on. When he went into the reserves, I was around 6th grade or so. I would stay the night at my grandparents house, when he had to do stuff for the military. Unfortunately, this didn't last for very long. My cousin would also come. While my grandparents never yelled at me, they definitely played favorites with my cousin over me. It was a bit alienating. The sleepovers only lasted a very short time, maybe 3-4 times total, before my grandparents more or less made it apparent they didn't want me to stay overnight. On the other hand, my cousin was able to stay over almost on a continuous basis. To this day, I still don't understand why. Anyways, my father made it clear to me that he stood by me, no matter what. He started bringing me along with to his reserve weekends, and sometimes I stayed home for the weekend. This wasn't an optimal situation, so my father eventually went back into active duty (which is really abnormal in the marines, I think people pulled strings to get this to happen). We then moved to California. We only visited my grandparents once or twice a year, and we did stay at their place much of the time. It was still apparent to me that they didn't want much to do with me. Yeah, it still kinda hurts, but I know my father has my back. I'm now an adult, and my grandparents still don't involve themselves in my life - pretty much in any way. Missed my graduation from college, which is an hour from their house - yet drove over 2 hours to go to my cousin's graduation. The favoritism is still big here. But, I try not to think about it much.

The tl;dr is that it's very important, for your son, that he's aware that you're in his corner - totally and unwavering. I have a great relationship with my father, and I largely place that on situations like this - where we were alienated from other parts of the family, and ended up growing closer as a result. I do not have an unhealthy relationship with my grandparents, but honestly...I don't like them much, largely due to this happening (and more too)

  • 1
    Upvoting this. This is a time where a father should stood by his child. I don't like to bring Bible verses here but once you get married you separate from your parents and build your own family and you should stand by them.
    – Rav
    Commented Aug 3, 2017 at 8:08

You know your child to see past other kids' bullying to instead love them, and here is a situation where your child is crying for help. This means that the bullying your parents are doing is damaging him because it is at a level much too upsetting for this sensible child to handle. Also important, it is teaching your nieces some bad lessons in how they may treat others in general and in flocks.

How were you treated as a child by your parents? The answer serves to find a way in which you can start the conversation. But do not wait until you see it to bring it up. This isn't some office drama, it is your child and your family. You can also just say he was crying to you, don't mention your wife at all. Were you also bullied in some manner, regardless of if it "toughened" you up?

If you do start the conversation and your parents get defensive, or kind of shrug it off as exaggeration, you should not take their word for it immediately. Talk to your child also, AWAY from your parents, to see what he says. You need to believe your child first. Especially with a sensible history as you say he has, he deserves a parent's maturity to help him learn steps on how to handle any situation. If your child lies, that becomes a different case for afterward, or if some parts were fibbed, treat it afterward, but for now teach him that he can rely on you.

Otherwise, a simple, "Look [Mom/Dad], I heard that [child] was crying on the phone, and he said..." can work well. Or "So [child] was telling me some stories about his visit. Can you enlighten me to [nieces] yelling at him?" can get a sense on if your parents put all the blame on the nieces. The line about your parent saying they don't want to make the nieces jealous says to me that your parent might be somewhat irrational, because that doesn't make sense for actions taken.. Gauge their responses, and put your child's needs first.

  • The child is a special visitor. The nieces are probably around more. Grandma doesn't want to appear to be partial to the special visitor in her nieces' eyes. That's not irrational; that's favoritism. Commented Jul 31, 2017 at 20:08
  • 1
    Ah, indeed, thank you for the correction. :) Bad for both the nieces and OP's child, teaching them lessons that brings trouble. Commented Jul 31, 2017 at 20:23
  • My parents never acted like that with us. They are usually very kind and good with kids and condemn these kind of behaviours.
    – algiogia
    Commented Aug 1, 2017 at 8:27
  • @algiogia all the more reason to call them out on it. IME, good parents don't always make good grandparents (and some people are far better grandparents than parents).
    – Shauna
    Commented Aug 2, 2017 at 20:45

So what you describe is generally possible. Though there are a lot of things you need to consider.

  1. Your parents raised you. What was that like for you? We all change over time, but a very important thing to remember is that your parents raised you. If you think they did a good job with you then, give them some slack.
  2. Your parents are not you. Your choices on how you raise your children are yours. They should respect and support them. If they can't or won't then you should not leave your kids with them. Now you need to temper this a bit. Your children will be stronger and more able to cope with real life as adults if they experience different things as children. One of those "things" come from the fact that different authority figures have different rules. So, again, give some slack, but if your parents are not respecting the way you want to raise your children in some core way, then it's time to get nasty with your parents. (read on before judging)
  3. Your child may be "home sick". This is very tricky. But at home, it's his toys, his room, his shoes, his house. Even if he is very sharing and friendly he is making the choice to share his toys. When he is not in his house that choice is removed. He may just be feeling those feelings.
  4. It could just be culture. Again you mention that you live abroad, but even if that weren't the case, different generations have a very different culture. Small tiny things could just be adding up.

Now I mentioned things to consider that more or less say "let it go", and I don't really mean that. The thing though is it's easy to consider the simple fact "son is upset, make son better" and it's harder to sit there and go "son is upset, he will have to learn to cope" but those coping skills are VERY important. So consider everything before acting.

Now with that said, one of the largest problems I have with my "parents" are that they don't respect the rules and what not set forward for our children. (We are foster parents and sometimes the rules won't make sense, but are very important.) If your parents can not follow your rules, then you need to step in and just not let them take care of the kids. Even if that means being nasty with your parents. Your concern is for your child. Your parents are adult and will get over their ruffled feathers, or not, that is not your "problem". Yes you want to maintain a relationship with your parents, but now that your the parent your first goal has to be to your child, even if that means some trouble with your parents.

That said, you really need to consider what rules your trying to impose and rather they are "good rules" or just rules for the sake of rules. Remember your parents raised you. You can probably trust them. In my experience, 70% of the problems like these are just communication. You can get around them with a simple conversation. "Hey, son is kinda sad when ever I talk with him. What's going on?" is a great way to start. That other 30% can usually be addressed with "growing a pair". Something along the lines of "I know your my Mom, but this is my son. I said don't do xyz. Don't do it. What would you do if you though someone was hurting me? Realize I will do the same and I do take xyz that seriously."

Unless your parents are just bad people, once they understand what your parental wishes are, they will likely not have a problem with it. In fact they will respect you for it. But you do have to let them know. Your can't expect them to know that xyz is wrong, just because you think it's wrong. It doesn't work that way.

If your parents really are bad people, and just disregard your wishes, then it's time to cut them off.

Now every parent has to go though this at one time or another. "Don't feed Billy candy." They take Billy out and feed him candy, and when he comes home you notice and you ask, They say "It was only a little bit. It's no big deal." Then you have to decide. Do you try talking to your parents again, do you ban them from taking Billy out at night, do you ban them from ever taking Billy out alone? It depends. If Billy has diabetes then maybe it's time to go to the outright ban. Otherwise it may just be time to "ground" your parents for a while.

The point is this. It's easy to always try to protect your kids. One of the hardest things to do is let your kids get hurt. To sit there on the side, and watch as your child does something that you know will hurt them and to have to decide to let them make the mistake get hurt. It's very hard to do. It's also very important. Yes this experience may be hard for your son, but in the same way you have to let your son make his own mistakes you have to let him experience these unpleasant things. Just like you may let your kids make small mistakes where you know they will get hurt so that they learn, you also limit that by making sure that getting hurt is not "that bad". In that same way if your son is safe, and no real harm is coming to him, then let him experience what saying with your parents is like.

However if your wishes are not being followed and your son is actually getting hurt, or something is happening that you think is bad, then go full out protect mode. Your parents will eventually understand, or not, at that point it's not your primary concern.

  • 1
    I doubt my son is homesick. He always enjoys staying with people, even when they are not too nice with him. He's very forgiving. That's why his sadness concerns me so much.
    – algiogia
    Commented Aug 1, 2017 at 9:16

You can talk to your parents without betraying your wife's confidences. Just tell them you can tell your son is miserable there because you've spoken to him on the phone, and then figure out your next move based on their reaction.

Since these are your parents it is puzzling that this is behavior you haven't seen from them before. Do they have only sons? Perhaps they always wanted daughters and are now playing favorites. Or maybe they feel like boys should be tough and not sensitive. Or, if your nieces live close, maybe they've formed a bond with them that your son doesn't have yet. It's even possible that they are trying to form a relationship, and but are just going about it in a style that your son --and your wife-- find confusing and distressing. Maybe (for example) they teased you mercilessly as a kid, but it didn't bother you because you knew it was all meant in love, but your son doesn't. If your wife and son are from a different country than your parents, maybe there are innocent cultural differences that aren't translating well. (These aren't excuses for their behavior, just an attempt to understand what is going on.)

It's difficult that the two people there (your wife and son) are relative strangers to the family, and the person who knows them best (you), and might be able to mediate, is far away. Regardless, you should let them know that you are concerned about how your son feels --and that you might have to limit his future time with them if things can't be worked out.


This is the reverse of the common "grandparents spoil my children" experience. My opinions: Firstly, I strongly agree with the posts saying that you should fully support your son. This will create a bond like no other. If his behavior isn't 100% good, that can be addressed later. The same goes for your wife, you should support her as she is in a tricky situation since they are living in your parent's house, and a lot of diplomacy is called for, as well as consideration. The children's well being is tops, most important of all, and she should do her best to back up/ protect her (and your) son. As said they are young and not able to defend themselves. Secondly, there is a lot more going on then anyone is consciously aware of, so, you really need to know more, which, at this point you can only get to by talking with your son, your wife, and your parents. I would not wait until you are there, once again i agree with a previous post that mentioned a child's different concept of time. The time it takes you to arrive could seem like forever to a youngster, and your son is very vulnerable during a long wait for help. Thirdly, being shouted on is verbal abuse and often causes harm ( I'm speaking from painful experience, and also years of observation.) It is really not "ok". If they can't communicate in a mature way (especially with a child) then perhaps your wife and kids need to be somewhere else. The suggestion of a hotel is a good one for people in a much higher socioeconomic bracket than mine. Your parents sound decent. It seems that you trust your son, wife, and parents enough that the situation can be dealt with just by clear and honest communication.


I don't see why you would prolong the situation unnecessarily. Your son is uncomfortable with your grandparents, so there is no point in letting him stay there, is it? They aren't enjoying the situation either the way it sounds (and if they were, protecting your son from sadism would be rather called for).

This isn't working apparently, so you might want to try again at some other time when you are yourself present and in a better position to figure out what is going on.

  • 2
    To label this "sadism" is extreme. It might be hurtful, harmful, and ignorant, but to imply that the grandparent gets pleasure from inflicting deliberate cruelty is just sensationalizing the sad situation. Commented Jul 31, 2017 at 20:29

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .