Managing a Narcissistic Grandmother

OK so how do you manage the minefield that is grandchildren interacting with a personality-disordered grandmother? You do need to manage it. You need to recognise that this woman is not normal and you can’t treat her as a normal grandparent. While her behaviour will not be as damaging to your grandchildren as it was to her own children it can cause harm.

Favouritism between siblings must be dealt with firmly. We spelt out that if we thought one child was getting nicer, more expensive or more frequent presents than the other, all presents to everyone ourselves included would be rejected. Equal treatment or no treatment. We would stand together as a family. As my MIL uses gifts as a way of trying to control people or convey messages of worth rejecting all her gifts would be a real kick in the teeth. So she has a choice, not display favouritism through gifts or loose out on being able to manipulate anyone with gifts forever. So far she has chosen to keep gifts to equal value for both children.

Not all favouritism is that obvious however. At Easter an arrangement was made for MIL to meet my husband and daughters in a city half way between our two hometowns. The eldest child became ill and was on antibiotics so plans changed and my husband said he’d just bring the youngest, less favoured child. MIL cancelled the visit. She then proceeded to do a classic bit of psychological projection and attributed all her thoughts to the eldest child, “she will be feeling upset, she will want to see me, it will disappoint her” etc. At no point in any of the conversations around this matter did she mention the younger child, it was as if her other grandchild didn’t exist.

Now my MIL is slippery, she would argue that by cancelling the visit because she couldn’t see the eldest, favoured grandchild she was in fact treating both children equally. So you need to be clever too. Cancelling the trip doesn’t bother me, what bothered me was how she made no reference to the other child at all. That is where the unequal treatment is evident so this is what should be tackled. “We feel upset that you have made no mention of youngest daughter and what she may want in this conversation. Someone listening to this would think you had only one grandchild. Both our children deserve equal recognition”. Equal treatment and equal recognition, you can’t argue with that.

What you do if this request is not complied with to your standards is up to you but there needs to be something done. Not reacting to an infringement of your boundaries is tantamount to not having any in the first place. Shut down any conversation by saying “I’m going to hang up because…” or “I am not continuing this conversation because…” where there continues to be a problem with the way one child is talked about or ignored. There will be some times when one child has won a prize or been in a show when they do warrant some extra recognition but within reason. If MIL is constantly harping on about one child’s achievements spell it out, “goodness you are going on a bit, she’s not won an Oscar”. She will be huffy about that sort of comment, but so what.

The same applies to any manipulation and emotional abuse that you witness, it must not be tolerated, “do not manipulate my child”, “do not criticise my child” call it out and name the behaviour. Your child needs to see you standing up for them. If MIL cannot take the message then she is ejected from your house or you leave hers.

At this point I want to briefly talk about “making a scene” as my mother would phrase it. This was generally regarded as bad thing in our house when I grew up. Now there are several reasons for that, a big factor being that my mother was an immigrant. They were poor, Irish and regarded as second-class citizens in the UK when they arrived. It was important to them, as it is to many immigrant families, to keep their heads down, work hard, not get into debt and generally be accepted in their community. Hence not wanting to “make a scene”.

Many people are brought up believing the best thing to do in a situation is maintain a calm and pleasant manner. This is especially true of women who are still not encouraged to be ballsy and assertive. I remember reading a survey which revealed that most women would stay in a train carriage seated next to a man who was creeping them out rather than get up and move and be thought of as rude. Oh boy. When the majority of women would compromise their own personal safety in order to keep up appearances you can see how many of us just sit and wince but still just sit, while MIL does nasty things to the kids.

For goodness sake stop doing it. Move away from the creepy man in the train, who bloody cares if it looks rude. Get some boundaries in place and stop tolerating your MIL. What is the worst thing she could do, the absolute worst thing, the thing that stops you acting, what is it? Could it be that you will cause such strife and upset with your MIL that your spouse will leave you? That your spouse won’t back you up and you’ll be left trying to stand your ground looking increasingly isolated and ridiculous? That they will assault you?

Will that happen, I mean really happen, if you say something like “we don’t speak to the children like that MIL, it is hurtful please apologise” and then “if you are unable to apologise we would rather you left and came back when you felt able to respect our families rules”? No. You will have been assertive while polite. If your spouse would rather allow the kids to be treated badly, do you really want to be with them? Should their own behaviour be looked at a bit more closely? Parenthood means protecting your children.

Which brings us nicely to babysitting. My rule is MIL is never left alone with the kids. You can decide your own but you need to spell out your expectations regarding her behaviour and your family rules regarding, food, manners, bedtimes etc and also be very clear on what you will do if these are not respected. Do you say no more babysitting or some other sanction?

What if you need the grandmother to babysit so that you can work? Think about it, do you really need someone with a personality disorder to babysit your child; is there no one else more suitable? You get to choose who looks after your children, that is not set by other family members. Any expectation that they will automatically get babysitting rights needs to be quashed early on. If you have not done this already then a simple statement that you have had a rethink regarding childcare and will be starting a different system is all you need to say. Remember don’t justify, argue, defend or explain you decisions, you are an adult and they are your kids.

If your spouse is in denial they may feel their mother has a right to babysit and compare your views on your MIL babysitting with your attitude towards your own parents babysitting. Why should it be one rule for your family and a different one for theirs? A fair question. Give them a straight answer, you don’t want MIL to babysit your child, explain why and insist on it. You don’t think their mother is normal, she is not emotionally safe to be around, you are not having it.

It may be necessary to spell out to your other half that they are not objective about their mother’s behaviour, that they are in denial. If you spouse gets cross, explain your feelings, calmly give examples, don’t get drawn into compromising. If this is a line in the sand for you tell your spouse that. Should you find yourself wavering then that says something about your and your spouse’s relationship. Where is the give and take? You should be able to assert a different opinion and they should be able to make a sacrifice over something that means that much to you. You in turn may need to sacrifice having your mother babysit to keep things fair in your spouse’s eyes, but so be it, hire someone instead.

How much time your children spend with their grandparents will depend upon how much time you and your partner wish to spend in her company. The amount of contact with a personality-disordered parent follows a predictable pattern. Initially no one accepts there is a problem and a high level of contact occurs, all birthdays, high days and holidays with weekend visits thrown in too. Then the problem starts to become more conscious in your and your spouse’s minds. Visits feel strained and fewer occur. Conversation becomes guarded; phone calls are not returned or ignored. Then a decision to lower the level of contact is made openly between the partners. Eventually a decision to cut off all contact may occur.

Denial of the problem leads to attempts to act normally or even try to use the grandchildren to build a bridge to the disordered grandmother. Increasing awareness of the damaging behaviours she exhibits leads to less contact and a conscious decision is made on the amount and type of contact with the MIL. This is inevitable and is the topic of the next post.


Filed under Controlling behaviour, Denial, Effects of NPD on others, Helping your spouse deal with NPD mum, NPD MIL and grandchildren, strategies for managing NPD MIL

27 responses to “Managing a Narcissistic Grandmother

  1. nimithatr

    You’ve written very valuable information about how to tackle a narcissistic mil. I wish I visited your site earlier. Now since the damage is done,I’m on a no contact with her while my husband on a low contact.but I must say your mil sounded better to accept boundaries while mine acted like a spoiled 2yr old to my boundaries-testing and devaluing them, which is worse than my 18 month old son.she has obviously never known any boundaries it seems.!
    I met my husband while on an overseas work assignment, we fell in love and wanted to get married. The troubled started from then.she won’t agree for marriage as I was older to him(so I thought).finally I had to fly to her city to get her approval. The first impression was that of a helpless woman. She showed her mentally challenged daughter and cried.I melt away.I was so manipulated I started calling her everyday to make sure she’s doing fine against warning from her own son! Then luckily my phone was stollen so I lost her number.I didn’t bother to get it from her son as she was starting to sound abnormal to my radar.interestingly she never called me back.
    Then started her stalling tactics.she found problems with my horoscope, our union and what not.neither my parents nor me believed in such stuff,so was my boyfriend. He told her he won’t marry anyone else if not me.
    After marriage she started open insults thinking I was timid.the first time he came to visit us,she made a fuss that I didn’t clean utensils before going to sleep. I gritted my teeth and told husband he can go clean it as he always do.after that she was afraid to set her rules for a while. Of course she started to bug me to have a child but I clearly told husband we’ll never have a baby together if she he asked her to not bug me.
    Then started her exclusions of me.she won’t remember my birthday or our anniversary,where as she never forgot that of even the most distant relative! So I also started forgetting her I was not was not my habit to remember dates and wish people. She even confused my name with her golden child’s wife.that got a little under my skin but I learned to ignore her when she addressed me with any other name.
    The last straw in the coffin was my pregnancy. I never wanted her around with her suck ways.but my husband wanted someone to care for me.she tortured me enough in the last month which caused a fight between me and husband and I left house while fully pregnant. I was miserable. My husband was miserable. Guess who was having a ball at our expense. Still we didn’t learn.she kept on undermining my motherly instincts till my baby turned 3 months.questioned my milk supply,doubted my ability to calm my much that his pediatrician asked her to back off and let me bond with my son.that served as a golden opportunity to me.I informed husband about what doctor suggested. All this while mil was planning to continue her ‘care’ in her home town with me and baby while husband worked in another city.luckily by then she behaved too silly for me to trust her good intentions. Like comparing my 2 month old ç-sect stomach with her 64 ur old stomach or telling her sons how fat I looked.I was shocked to see how young she wanted to feel in front of her sons.and the level she stooped to feel herself good was this time I knew she was sick. And it was not due to her mentally challenged daughter.

  2. nimithatr

    So I ignored her invites to visit them.I stopped answering her calls.her retaliation was mocking my choices for my 5 month old son (like reading books to him) in front of her relatives when eventually we had to visit them.I could clearly see those gentle women squirming in discomfort and even justifying me!
    When my son was 13 months Mil’s husband passed away.I had no choice but to attend the funeral.instead of moaning for the loss,all she did was finding fault with me.I tolerated for 10 days as my husband had to do some final rituals.I kept mostly to myself and taking care of son. One day while I was cooking son’s food she ordered from living room to make tea for guests.I ignored her.she came to kitchen and repeated.I was at the end of my tolerance by then.I would have made tea had she been polite instead of showing her power.I said a straight no.the rest was history.that was the first time I saw the unbridled anger of a psycho.I was not terrified but it felt ridiculing as it was her house and her relatives.I left to my home next morning while she commanded her son to dump us the night itself.
    I contemplated about divorce and told my husband before leaving. I was not ready to take her continuous abuse anymore.he told mil about my expected she laughed inside while pretending to be dismayed in front of him. Then started my mental torture.I still loved my husband.our son dotted on him.I went no contact with mil but knew the resentment brewing inside his mind.that unsettled me.I was humiliated and my better half wanted me to keep amicable relationship with mil.I felt this subconscious pressure for almost 4 then I ignored my instincts and bad memories.I started to believe it was a one off case of her snapping under stress.I was ready to meet her for the festival after 4 months of abuse,without her ever acknowledging or apologizing for her misconduct. It was her victory after all.we spent a couple of hours in the golden child’s home(his spouse and children lives in another city) and came those couple of hours she managed to advise me to stop breastfeeding and give certain food.I ignored her,didn’t even ask reason for the precious advice.
    She started calling me once a while which I took if I was in a mood to hear her screeching voice.they were mostly when husband was on business tour,either to get information or to pass information as if there was no communication between me and husband. I never called her back or responded to her words of wisdom.
    Then came October where golden child had to attend his daughter’s birthday celebration. He asked if mil can stay with us.husband knew I didn’t even want to see her a photo of our new rented he offered to go babysit her for a week.I was OK with it until my stupid brain asked me to face my fear which was we went with him.that night was highly disturbing for me as I witnessed her scaring our 18 month old with downright disrespectful behavior. She forcefully kissed him even when he cried.I was disturbed seeing her lack of empathy.more than that was the sexual overture in her moves. She clearly saw the kids behavior as a tease:-/ like when she asked for a kiss he’d ignore her and would come and kiss me and his father.he was clearly telling her he didn’t trust her enough to kiss. But the sick woman thought it was an invite to go get him. It turned my stomach upside down.I lay awake the entire night and framed words to tell her not to force him but to wait for his initiative to kiss her.
    I told her it the most polite way I could. Ideally my husband should have said it.but I knew she never heeded his words so I had to tell.she tried to ignore me and continue kissing my crying child.I had to raise my voice to get her attention and tell in a rather stern voice. She left my child alone till evening. Then she started testing my limit like my toddler does.I gave a stern look but didn’t talk.she got bolder and grabbed him again while my son started being clingy towards me again.I looked at my son and I knew if I was not firm,if I didn’t protect him from this predator now,he’ll never trust my leadership as a mother.
    I told the old woman not to frighten my son.then started the drama.she yelled and said how she didn’t touch my son till evening. I was aghast. All I asked was not to disrespect his boundaries.we parents respected his wish about when to kiss and if at all to kiss.then why can’t this old woman control her Passion (yuck).the next thing she did was unimaginable. She fell on my feet without any provocation and when I tried to release my feet from her clutches (I was carrying son)she cried saying I was kicking her.then she beat her chest asking me what she should do to please me!! Total psycho! I was shocked to the core. So was her son.what she didn’t realize was her over drama was a turn off even to her scapegoat son!!
    If anything I was always truthful to myself and to husband.I told in front of mil that our marriage was over.when I left next morning husband came with us.strangely he didn’t justify his mother as having ‘just uncontrollable anger’ this time. He was ready to read about NPD without being defensive. Clearly her behavior puzzled him as well.he never thought she’ll create situation to separate us even after warning.
    I can’t say I got the guy I fell in love with back.she’s a master manipulator and my husband is infinitely kind.but at least he’s realized he was supporting her abuse all these years. But he knows how important it is self respect for me and yet I compromised it for his happiness. Also that he won’t get neither love nor respect from his mom. So far he is going on the low contact route.instead of she deciding when and how many times to call,he’ll call her when he feels like! Result: in 3 days she called from an unknown number. Funny though he didn’t even ask why calling from outside when she had mobile. As for narcissist, she survived staying with her challenged daughter without anyone to babysit her.!!
    May God save my small family from the web of the narcissist

  3. nimithatr

    I’m sorry for my long comments. I just wanted to say irrespective of religion, class and place,all narcissists are the same. As for us,parenthood made us stronger and gave courage to fight back. That was something narcissistic mil never expected. She couldn’t get away ridiculing our boundaries set for the safety of our toddler. As a mother the defining moment for me was to find my son cornered in her room like a hunted deer,while she towered over him,blocked his path and laughed at his fearful calls for his father. That moment I knew my son would be better off such a grandmother! I’ve no plans to grant her access to him till he’s vocal about his limits. Even then no unsupervised access. Thanks for your blog. I’m at peace about my instinctual decision now

  4. nimithatr

    I’m sorry for my long comments. I just wanted to say irrespective of religion, class and place,all narcissists are the same. As for us,parenthood made us stronger and gave courage to fight back. That was something narcissistic mil never expected. She couldn’t get away ridiculing our boundaries set for the safety of our toddler. As a mother the defining moment for me was to find my son cornered in her room like a hunted deer,while she towered over him,blocked his path and laughed at his fearful calls for his father. That moment I knew my son would be better off such a grandmother! I’ve no plans to grant her access to him till he’s vocal about his limits. Even then no unsupervised access. Thanks for your blog. I’m peaceful now

    • Hi Nimithatr, you are welcome to write long comments, I can see you have a lot to get off your chest. Becoming a mother also made me far more determined to stand up to MIL. Nature has equipped women with such a strong instinct to protect our children. We should mother ourselves, turn that instinct inwards to protect the ever present child part of ourselves and not feel guilty about it.

      I am glad my blog is helpful to people all over the world. It is true we all have the same problems in our lives. We are all human first and foremost.

      • Male in his 40s

        Don’t forget the fathers too!! I know I’m the only Male here but when it’s your wife’s mother that is the sicko, that presents all sorts of problems as well… A story for another time!

        Glad you are okay FCW

  5. Bo

    I am just now figuring out that my husband of 20 years and his witch Mother are narcissist. I’m now divorcing this Mommas boy.
    But I am worried about my children spending visitation with these 2 monsters. I am trying to tell my husband that I do not want them to see her but he’s crazy too so I’m scared for their sakes. It’s one thing if you have a normal husband but I’m dealing with 2 psychos. Still in shock this is all happening to me. How did I not see this disorder sooner ? Not one professional therapist ever told me my husband had this disorder and he met 3 psychiatrist.
    I just happened to read about it and I slowly realized I was married to a fraud
    He can go sleep with his mommy again
    I just want to take my sweet normal kids and run!
    Hopefully I can get full custody.

    • Hi Bo, I’m so sorry for your situation. It is very shocking when you finally realise all the subtle and not so subtle ways in which narcissism has affected your relationship and life. It is a bit like waking from a dream. it is not your fault that you missed the signs of narcissistic behaviour. Controlling and manipulative people are very good at concealing their true motives and they can seem so convincing. The ways in which we can be misled like this is something I will write a post about.

      How is the custody situation? Whatever happens keep a diary and record your kids talking about anything upsetting which happens around their father and his family. Tell them about your fears regarding their grandmother in an appropriate way, they should be briefed about it, forewarned is forearmed.

  6. Jennifer Firak

    I’m sorry but you said what is the worst thing that can happen to standing up to a narcissistic grandparent? Well let me enlighten you.
    As my daughter approached 6 years old It was apparent the neglect and favoritism she was subjected to. She was ignored. My brother kids however were constantly included and bragged about, even in my presence. I myself have been a victim to my mothers attempts to hurt me but now she was using my daughter to upset me and treat her quite differently and unfairly. After she turned 6 I put a stop to it. I said if they couldn’t step up to the plate after 6 years than itv would never change and I wanted them out of our lives indefinately. I needed to cut it off before it could really hurt her. I was very firm. No contact, no visits, no e-mail, no communication unless they were willing to change. Did this stop them. No. They continued to invade our space by showing up unannounced with holiday gifts as if nothing happened. The more I distanced myself the harder they tried. But I was done with it. I was putting an end to the cycle of abuse, or so I thought. When they could not get to me they went through her father, whom I was never married to and I had sole custody and care of our daughter. They told him horrible lies and turned him against me. Until than her father and I had a wonderful co-parenting relationship. They convinced him I was mentally unstable, which was a lie, They even called Child protective services on me. They than called the police and said I was suicidal and the police had me admitted to a hospital, where by the way I was allowed to sign myself in, something they would not have allowed a person of unsound mind to do. I was released after three days with no issues and when I got out her father had taken emergency custody and has been fighting me in court ever since. When they realized they could no longer control me, they went after the one person on this earth I love more than anyone, my child. They succeeded in having her taken from me. And used the fact that she is a developmentally disabled child with Autism and predominately non-verbal so she could not speak out about any of it. Not to mention her confusion. Their sole goal was to hurt me with no regard of what it meant for her future. Of course my child support was cut off and since I was a round the clock mom of a child with special needs this left me penniless and homeless. And they relished every sick moment of their efforts to hurt me and my child in the worst way possible. All because I started to seriously address the abuse. They could not bear to have the truth exposed so they had me taken to the hospital and called Child protective services all just to discredit me and save face. My life is in ruins. I can’t afford my attorney and they have manipulated her father so bad that he can’t understand why I feel this way about them even after I have been telling him for years prior about the abuse. Oh, and guess where I’m living. At their house where they have a spare bedroom but it is way more satisfying and humiliating to have me sllep on the cramped in back porch addition.

  7. Maia

    Great post! I found it very useful, even if my situation is a little different. In my family the narc grandma is MY mother-and it seems to me this makes things even more difficult.
    I’m fully pregnant and due in 4 weeks. All through my pregnancy she never cared for me, on the contrary, she was upset everytime i had a lil problem.
    But all this-i knew it would come. What bothers me is she’s trying to unload her “problems” on me NOW (she’d like my husband to be her taxi driver. My long-time sick father is in hospital for controls and she calls me everyday to complain). I don’t always answer, use chilling but it’s not working. She’s stalking me. And this makes me anxious.
    Moreover, i’m worried about what she will do to groom my daughter. I’m sure she will and i’m terryfied she will find a way to do so without me realizing it in time.
    NDP are just a tragedy.

    • Hello, congratulations on your imminent new arrival. How exciting. It makes sense that a person with NPD would suddenly discover they had all sorts of needs just at the point when you should by rights be the focus of attention. I call this sort of behaviour “event hijacking”, it happens at birthdays, weddings and anything really that makes the insecure NPD person feel they are in danger of not being in the limelight.

      Treating a mother with a medium chill or low contact approach takes weeks, even months of persistence before it will stick. So keep doing what you are doing and just adjust your expectations around the length of time you need to persist before you see a shift in the pattern of behaviour around you. This is good practice for parenthood, believe me getting kids to sleep all night or use a potty takes longer then you think too.

      As for grooming your child, relax. Kids are not stupid, they are extremely good at sensing weird behaviour from adults. As the mother you will always have a special and completely secure place in your child’s affections. Maybe this insecurity and worry of yours reflects the result of being raised by such a self-absorbed person, you find it hard to believe your own child won’t choose you over your mother and her dominating needs. But your mother doesn’t live in your house does she? She isn’t there night after night soothing and feeding your baby. That baby will love YOU.

      Set sensible limits around your mother’s contact with your child, say no to babysitting, unannounced drop-ins, agree the number of visits and stick to it. Get your partner on board and fully behind you. You will find reserves of strength you never knew you had when doing what is necessary to protect your own child. Be firmer and more resolute than you have ever been, read books on setting boundaries and educate yourself about manipulation tactics and emotional blackmail. I can recommend “Emotional Blackmail” by Susan Forward, “In Sheep’s Clothing” by George K Simon, and there are many books on setting boundaries with toxic people available on Amazon and similar, I found this little e-book about boundaries after a toxic love relationship actually summarised the whole idea very clearly “Boundaries after a Pathological Relationship” by Adelyn Birch. Good luck.

  8. Tiffany

    Hi, your post about grandmoms are pure gold! The narc is my mom, and the last year I’ve been struggling with how and how much contact to maintain between her and my children. I’ll be going to my parents house soon, first time in a year. I think I got more tools to tackle her now. I am still not sure at all if the low contact is better than no-contact, but we’ll see. Thank you!

    • Thanks Tiffany, I’m glad you found them helpful. I’ve been very firm on my boundaries with MIL around my kids for some years now and things are much better in that respect. I have even started explaining to my eldest child why I won’t see MIL and honestly describe what sort of she is capable of to forewarn the child in case any manipulations start on her. I do think it is tremendously important that we equip our kids with the knowledge that not everyone is a nice person. That was the role of fairy stories once upon a time, Hansel and Gretel for example. We have been reading some of the first few Harry Potter stories and discussed (briefly) how some parents/relatives do lock their kids in cupboards and do mean scary things.

      You don’t say how old your kids are but maybe part of re-establishing contact with your parents could include a chat with your children about why you find your mother so difficult. Kids are very good at picking up the emotional temperature even if they don’t understand what exactly is going on. Presenting a smiley face while behaving in a very tense and wary way sends children double messages which are almost as damaging as outright abusive behaviour from the grandparent. Something short and simple like “I don’t get on very well with XXXXX so I am feeling a bit nervous about going to their house. I am going to be polite and try my best to get on with them though.” It’s honest and then they will know how to interpret any anxiety they may pick up on.

      • Tiffany

        Hello again 🙂
        So, my family went to visit, I don’t now what to say. Left my eldest (6yo) out of sight for FIVE seconds, then caught grandma wispering in her ear “don’t listen to your mother”. There was a lot of very subtle episodes, like she would serve everything to me last, “forgetting” put cutlery at the place I would be sitting when she did the table etc. What to say? She is like poison. At least I left very clam and clear on NC, at least for a long period of time. I don’t have the surplus at the moment to deal with the silly games (they don’t even hurt so much any more, they are just immature and stupid), and it seems nothing else is to be found in our relation.

        We watched Harry Potter together, and had a good talk about the Dursleys. She was deeply fascinated by this portrait of the pretend-to-be-a-nice-family. I was actually facinated to re-watch it, and seeing this brilliant gallery of personality disorders 🙂

  9. Bob

    ‘As for grooming your child, relax. Kids are not stupid, they are extremely good at sensing weird behaviour from adults. As the mother you will always have a special and completely secure place in your child’s affections. Maybe this insecurity and worry of yours reflects the result of being raised by such a self-absorbed person, you find it hard to believe your own child won’t choose you over your mother and her dominating needs’

    Unfortunately this is incorrect. Grooming, by definition, is getting past childrens’ defences. Ns and Ps specialise in turning their children against the decent parent.

    • Bob, I have read extensively around the topic of child abuse in families and am aware of a lot of the literature in the UK where I live regarding the grooming of children. In the main research concerns children’s contact with potential predators online rather than face to face. The focus of such research is on how the grooming process occurs and what children are most vulnerable. I have written two specific posts on this topic Grandparent Grooming 1 and Grandparent Grooming 2 which use this research in the context of a grandparent attempting to emotionally coerce a child to favour them over a parent rather than to sexually abuse the child. In these posts I quote various pieces of research including this key passage

      “The perps identify these [the easily groomed] as people who trust easily (give it straight away rather than someone earning it – like a small child does naturally/healthily) and people who have had questionable models of ‘to what extent an individual is responsible for their own behaviour’…

      …The molesters talk about recognising as molesters that kids who are in a family where denial is a central approach to issues display the type of neglect that makes the child especially vulnerable to abuse.”

      Everything I write on this blog emphasises over and again the need for any parent to confront how dysfunctional the relationship is with the grandparent and then to TALK OPENLY ABOUT IT with the child. Thereby ensuring the Achilles heel by which abusive people confuse children (silence on the topic of bad behaviour, denial of the problem, allowing bad behaviour to occur without consequence) is taken away. In addition to this low or no contact with abusive grandparents and how to place clear limits and boundaries around how often and under which circumstances they have contact is discussed.

      If you have some research based evidence that such an approach which undermines the basis of a grooming grandparents tactics doesn’t work please do share it with us. If you are simply posting your opinion I would ask you to consider the impact of your words on the person you are replying to. To tell any mother that her child can be swept away from under her by someone with a personality disorder and there is nothing she can do about it because, you know, narcissists are evil, cannot be stopped and shit is just irresponsible, inaccurate and cruel.

      • Bob

        I’m posting a full reply with many links. It might not get through your spam filter.

      • Bob

        I appreciate that you’re fighting the good fight and I have no wish to undermine you. However, it is unrealistic to think that simply talking openly will help children with psychopathic or narcissistic grandparents. The real answer as you write is No Contact – and even No Contact will be difficult when there are other family members enmeshed with the P or N grandparents, or other family members who are themselves Ps or Ns. Such family members will be used as Flying Monkeys to contact the children (hoovering by proxy) and to spread disinformation. However, if ‘No Contact’ is not an option simply talking openly to your children (e.g. ‘they’re manipulative’, ‘don’t believe everything they say’) will not defend against charming, practiced liars who can alienate the children from their parents using smears, doubts, innuendo, charm, attention and lies.

        Adults find it extremely difficult to defend against Ps and Ns whether in fake business schemes, scams, at work, as politicians, in ‘relationships’ etc. Even world expert Professor Hare regularly gets taken in by P’s, as did Hervey Cleckley (I can give the quotes but it doesn’t really help the flow). What are the odds for young children in an adult world?

        There are – sadly – many, many stories of children with a psychopathic or narcissistic parent and that psychopathic or narcissistic parent in the long term can destroy the children, and in many cases the normal parent can do nothing about it. That DOES NOT mean it’s inevitable but it does mean that the normal parent has the odds stacked against them. The same principle will apply with a grandparent. It’s naive to ‘go into battle’ thinking that talking openly and about boundaries will suffice.

        A) A P or N grandparent will throw the children off balance slowly and gently, one way and then the other – a bit of praise, a bit of criticism, a bit of amorality and then see what reactions they get and then figure out how to use those reactions. Being armed with information won’t defend a child against someone who’s spent their whole life lying, manipulating and deceiving and is very, very good at it. A P or N can throw ANY normal adult – let alone a child – off balance because words have no emotional meaning to them. They can praise and flatter or insult us whilst staying empty inside until eventually we start to react. They can also repeatedly get too close to us, or glare at us, or turn abruptly and intimidate us, or spread smears about us – there are a million and one ways that a P or an N can get adults off balance, let alone children. Getting us off balance is how they start to control us.

        B) A P or N grandparent will ‘mirror’ the child, appearing to be their perfect friend. Adults who’re told that a P or an N is doing this (in the love-bombing stage) refuse to believe it so why should a child? The P or N grandparent will probably be on best behaviour and will probably use their role as a grandparent to gain entry into the child’s mind.

        C) A P or N grandparent who befriends, praises and ‘loves’ a child and is then randomly unpleasant will create a trauma bond, an emotional bond to an abuser. How can a child defend against that even if they know (and understand) what’s going on? Once the trauma bond is in place it probably wouldn’t be too difficult to start sharing ‘confidences’ and figure out what the child’s been told or what’s going on in their life.

        D) A P or N grandparent will gaslight, subtly at first, more obvious later, perhaps telling the child that he or she got the date wrong, that the grandparent didn’t say this or that, or that the child must have left the back door open last night etc. Will being armed with information about the grandparents’ true nature prevent this happenning and prevent mental deterioration? Maybe, depending on how old the child is and how aware the child is – and maybe not.

        E) Developmentally, children have a markedly different view of the world to adults. I’ve read that the executive functions in the brain aren’t fully in place until the child is a young adult in their early twenties. How can a child with an incomplete view of the world and a lack of comprehension about what N or Ps are compete against the mind games of such malign adults?

        I don’t want to be on a downer but we can’t beat what we don’t understand. Yes, we CAN outwit Ps and Ns but it goes way, way beyond simply talking openly with our children. Yes, SOMETIMES that will work for us but what works for one person won’t work for another and it also depends on the nature, determination and goals of the P or N.

      • Thank you Bob for your contribution, I have had to edit out the long list of quotations you provided in order for your comment to fit on the page but I have kept the original post for my own reference. It is always useful for other readers to hear from someone who has a particular slant on the topic of narcissism and you seem to have read a lot about the more malignant end of the spectrum which crosses into psychopathology.

        A lot of your information concerns psychopathic individuals and parents and the books and anecdotal sources and blog posts you cite refer to them rather than narcissists. The distinction is important as the behaviour of these two different sets of disordered people are different and have differing motivations. A narcissist be they a self-absorbed manipulative person or someone with full blown NPD is primarily motivated by the need for positive affirming feedback and attention or narcissistic supply from those around them. If the people they interact with refuse to provide this they ditch them and look elsewhere. A psychopath or person with antisocial personality disorder has a desire to inflict cruelty on others. They are without empathy or remorse and gain satisfaction through deliberate acts of abuse and control. Such a person will pursue a victim even if the victim tries to withdraw. That distinction is crucial. My blog is not about ASPD as my MIL is narcissistic.

        Your description of how a grandparent can woo and coerce a grandchild is similar to the content of the blog posts I have here, Narcissistic Grandmothers and Abusive Behaviour, Narcissistic MIL and Grandchildren 1, Grandparent Grooming 1 and Grandparent Grooming 2.

        At no point did I ever say that simply talking about it by itself would fix the problem, that is a misrepresentation of my blog posts, my reply you quoted and the context of the original comment that I was replying to. I don’t intend defending or justifying what I wrote any further as I don’t have to, this is my blog, take it or leave it. I won’t be continuing a conversation in that vein and draw a line under this right here.

        As you have strong feelings on the subject of dysfunctional grandparents and have a good layperson’s knowledge on the subject maybe you would like to write a guest post as a contribution to the topic of more malignant forms of narcissism and what to look out for? Provided you were able to stick to the general topic of narcissism and mother-in-law rather than psychopathic individuals in general I would be happy to consider a post of roughly 1500-2000 words. My posts draw heavily on my own personal experiences as do the comments from readers, I’m assuming you have direct experience with malignant narcissistic individuals from what you have written and it would help if you were able to include some of your experiences in an article if you wish to contribute.

  10. Annie

    Thanks so much for these posts. I’m at the start of the boundary-setting process, but my husband is still in denial about how completely inappropriate his mother’s behaviour is (although he’s waking up a bit). Your advice to simply stop caring what the MIL thinks of the new boundaries is liberating… but the challenge of getting my husband on board is very real.

    • Hi Annie, one if the most useful things my therapist and our marriage therapist said regarded differing spouses’ views on the MIL and her behaviour. In short they both said differing perspectives and responses to the same situation is normal and healthy in any marriage. What isn’t healthy is when one partner expects the other to hold the same views and have the same responses as themselves.

      So you and your husband can have separate thoughts and feelings and separate responses to your MIL. He may not see it now and may not want to set boundaries but that should not mean you don’t.

      I think enmeshment is very common in narcissistic families, the NPD person is unable to really see others as as fully separate from themselves, they see them as there to serve their needs and not have needs of their own. Family life therefor revolves around what the NPD mother wants and how she is feeling like a queen ant directing her obedient drones. Our partners can unconsciously reproduce that expectation that everyone acts of one mind into our relationships.

      Hopefully by pressing ahead with your independent assessment of her behaviour and by taking independent actions to address it in ways that make you more comfortable and in control, by putting your needs ahead of hers you will model a better way of interacting with her that your husband can slowly come to terms with. At the moment it is probably long ingrained habits and a unconscious terror of what she will do if she is not placated that is left over from his childhood which is underlying his difficulties with boundary setting.

      Good luck.

      • Annie

        FCW, again thanks for writing this blog. Quick question: has your marriage and family life ever got to a place you’re comfortable with, given the enormous disruption caused by a family member with NPD? We are in the early days but sometimes it seems that I’ve got a life of drama, frustration and stress ahead of me…

  11. Amy

    I have a 2 year old boy whose grandmother is 100% narcissistic/sociopath. She came between my little boy’s father and I and we broke up. Her lies and manipulations are sickening. My ex partner has developed a drug dependency and is hardly around, I believe it to be from the years of emotional abuse he endured and a lot of other people who really know her.. as in her ex husband have said the same thing to me.

    She is very wealthy and uses it to her full advantage.. this is how she manipulated my ex into leaving myself, he had what started as a gambling addiction and she gave him large amounts of money to cover it up which is when he started to take drugs as well as he would disappear for days and come back, this is when she struck.. she kept paying his bills and held him afloat meanwhile I was not accepting of his behaviour and she pretty much had him chose between us.. he needed her.. his drug abuse and gambling is to the point now where he has lost his job to a failed drug test, is homeless and has stolen thousands of dollars off people.. and now she has let him go.

    Turning her attention to my son, it is all well and good to say cut her out of my sons life but laws do not allow that to happen! She is threatening with lawyers if I do not comply with what she wants.. which is to have the access to my son that she wants and that his father is not having. She has said to me that “this is a battle I refuse to lose”. She has also said to me that if her son is to commit suicide she will be at peace because she has done everything she can! Also she keeps telling a drug addict that she is the only person in the world that cares about him!

    It is sick and I am terrified for my ex partner. I cannot have my baby boy abused by her but I don’t have a leg to stand on when it comes to the court room as she is as charming as can be and acts as the doting grandmother!! I am sick to my stomach and worried every day about my ex and what will happen if she is as big a part of my sons life as she wants to be. Heartbroken!

  12. Anonymous

    My mil is the overbearing kind of narcissist, so it’s been really hard to manage her. When my baby was only a few months old, she would let him cry and not give him to me for feeding or changing because she wanted to hold him. My heart wept when she did that, and We used to visit them around twice a week or more frequently at that time. My husband (who took more than a year to see that his mother had a problem) told me that it would get better as our baby grows up because she won’t be able to hold him against his will as he will start talking etc. Now that our child is 2.5yrs old and can talk and walk and understands things, it has actually gotten worse. We not visit them once a month but I feel that at every visit, she does some manipulative thing to him. For example, last time she kept asking my child to invite her over several times and guilt tripped him for not visiting her often, because she would “love it if he invited her”, she “loves him and misses him so much” etc. Finally, when we were leaving, my kid said to her “I want to take you with me”. She was over the moon. When my husband told her to stop fishing for invitations, she replied “I am not fishing with you, but with your child”. Now I am finding that we have entered a dangerous territory, My child is unable to recognize emotional manipulation and my mil can put on a very good show of being a loving and caring grandma who misses him dearly. I am finding myself in a bind. Can’t go no contact because she hasn’t done anything so crazy but I want tot protect my son also. It’s difficult because she’s so experienced in this domain and I am not. everytime I prepare for some scenario, she does something new and I don’t understand what to do. I don’t want to appear to my son as someone who wants to keep him away from his loving grandma.
    I have read that around 5 years of age, kids can recognize unhealthy behavior but until then I can see it’s going to be a tough road. Also, now that I am pregnant with our #2, my husband wants to tell his parents, and I am already dreading what is to come. I have considered moving 2 hours away from them (instead of the current 20 mins drive) but my husband thinks it may be worse because then they might come to visit and stay.
    Good luck to all the parents out there dealing with this toxicity in their lives and hats off to those who have successfully managed to protect their kids without becoming the object of their hatred for separating them from their grandparents.

    • Sarah Mabry

      FCW and “Anonymous” – this comment struck me…”Can’t go no contact because she hasn’t done anything so crazy but I want to protect my son also”. A woman who tries to prevent a helpless infant from feeding, and emotionally manipulates a toddler, is pretty crazy. Also pretty abusive. “Anonymous”, you may want to consider (1)a Facebook support group (I belong to Adult children of narcissistic parent(s), (2)reading books like Susan Forward’s (a)Toxic Inlaws and (b)Emotional Blackmail, (c)Karyl McBride’s Will I Ever Be Good Enough, or (d)Henry Cloud’s Boundaries. FCW, my apologies if I’m not supposed to post specific recommendations in your comments section, feel free to remove this if you need.

  13. anon

    Hi. Congratulations on your pregnancy.
    Sorry to hear about the problems you are experiencing with your mil.
    Regarding children recognising unhealthy behaviour at age 5… I would treat that statement with a lot of caution. It places a huge amount of inappropriate responsibility on the child to recognise (and presumably object to?) unhealthy behaviour. People who have experienced manipulative behaviour will not be in the position to recognise unhealthy behaviour, let along call it out.
    As an example, my maternal grandmother was a ‘devoted’ grandmother. She gave my sisters and me a lot of care and attention, taught us to knit and played lots of card games with us. It wasn’t until I was in my forties (I’m now 44) that I recognised how unhealthy (in an emotionally manipulative and narcissistic way) some of her behaviour was to me. I struggle to come to terms with it and to recognise what was ‘love’ and what wasn’t.
    I realise that everyone’s experience is different, but I’m just giving a bit of background.
    I hope you find lots of useful resources on this site eg on grandparent grooming (I know I have) that will help you deal with this situation. My personal advice would be that you are the parents and your children’s relationships with grandparents are on your terms ie in the best interest of your children.
    (I now have the situation where my parents show very little interest in any of their grandchildren. Although I struggle with this, (rejection of my children and nephews) I tell myself that at least there is no chance of the grandchilden being groomed by the grandparents!)
    Good luck

  14. Jessica

    My situation is similar. But the grandmother, is a maternal grandparent, of a deceased daughter. So she is nothing to my husband or I. His biological child, I’ve adopted her, and am the only mother she’s ever known. But when contact was restricted after 6 years of taking her abuse, she is suing us for grandparent visitation. And I live in a state that had grandparent rights. I’m at a loss.

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