Grandparents and Other Family Members


“Should I accept help from grandparents even if they can be overbearing?”

If you are having feelings of doubt or worry about the future for your child or the benefits of current treatments or therapies, it is safe to assume that your child’s grandparents, if they have been involved, are struggling as well. They may have seen a change in your demeanor or attitude. They may have picked up on worrisome developments in your child’s condition or treatments if there have changes. The grandparents, who are usually confident and positive, may now be feeling growing doubts about whether improvements are possible for your child. They are probably very afraid and worry that they aren’t being told everything. Even if they live far away, they can probably tell that you are more concerned about your child. A parent, as you know, may pick up on all kinds of feelings that you think you are hiding even just by the sound of your voice.


With uncertainties it is natural to begin questioning yourself and the doctors and nurses about whether you are doing the right thing right now for your child. You may question whether the current treatment is the best way to approach the illness. You may feel that you want to know whether there are other options you should be considering such as experimental therapies or consultations with new doctors.


Some parents will want to seek the advice of their own parents or in-laws, but others will have reservations about involving grandparents in the decision making. It will be your decision about how much and at what time you share these quiet doubts or concerns with grandparents and whether you ask for their advice. Your relationships with your child’s grandparents will likely determine whether you are comfortable to seek their comfort and advice at this time or whether their opinions might feel imposing or insensitive. It is completely up to you and your spouse to decide whether to ask for advice from your parents or in-laws. You and your spouse might disagree about whether to involve your parents or your spouse’s parents and/or whose parents to involve. This can get complicated and add additional stress to an already difficult time. You might need to talk it over with a counselor, clergy, impartial friend or family member.


Grandparents usually have their own issues, perspectives, and beliefs about your child’s circumstances. They may think that they know what is best for your child. Their opinions will likely be influenced by their own life experiences, their own love for this grandchild, and their own hopes for you. Consider also that grandparents may have strong feelings about what is “the right thing to do”. These feelings may be influenced by their cultural traditions, faith/spiritual beliefs, or family attitudes. They may have communication styles regarding illness, life and death and religious beliefs that are very different from yours.


We are only human, therefore not perfect, but trust your instincts when it comes to the level of involvement of grandparents. Hopefully, they will be a genuine source of strength and practical help. It may be very important for them to have a significant role in your lives at this time. Like you, they may also be frustrated by feelings of powerlessness as they struggle to make sense of your child’s illness. Perhaps allowing them to share this major life experience with you and your child will help you all to grow in unimaginable ways as you each come to terms with the seriousness of your child’s condition.


If the emotional needs of your parents or inlaws become overbearing for you and your spouse, suggest a support group for them or encourage them to talk with their own pastor, priest, or counselor.