Explaining that Grandma is Crazy and What to do About It


Many initially envision a traditional grandma as doting and caring, but upon further thought there are other kinds of grandmas that easily come to mind, too. These are grandmas who are overbearing; judgmental; and even ill-tempered and impatient with grandchildren. But what about crazy grandmas? What is a crazy grandma and what should you do about it?

It’s tricky explaining to your kids or others that your grandma is crazy because it can mean different things. Grandma might literally be crazy and under a doctor’s care; but often, it’s that she’s nontraditional, silly, or stressed. The appropriate response depends entirely on the type of crazy.

As a relatively new grandma myself, I’m sure there’s a time or two (or three…but who’s really counting?) when I’m looked at as crazy. It’s an emotional time for grandmas, learning to fit into a new role. So it’s probably not surprising that this topic piqued my interest, given its personal connection.

Below I’ve shared what it means to be a crazy grandma in the most common intentions of the word; why grandmas react crazily or become crazy in general; how to deal with the ‘crazy grandma issue’ when it arises; and some trivia and personal tidbits too.

What does it mean if grandma is crazy?

So let’s first look at all the variations of ‘grandma is crazy’ when someone says it!

When someone says grandma is crazy they rarely mean it literally, that is, that grandma is mentally ill. Usually describing your grandma as crazy is a way to say she has an extreme personality; is overly emotional or critical; and/or is unreliable and can’t be counted on.

It’s also how you relay your relationship. When you tell others that your grandma is crazy, you’re also telling them that you don’t have a really good, positive relationship.

(Crazy) Grandma Isn’t Like Other Grandmas

For some, saying their grandma is crazy is a way to describe a grandma who is atypical or has a very extreme personality.

This might look like a grandma who is living in her past and wears clothes and make-up as if she’s still a teenager. She might even act flighty or flirty.

This kind of crazy grandma might like adventure sports rather than baking cookies or knitting doilies. This crazy grandma may even be online dating after becoming a widow or getting divorced from grandpa in their old age!

She may think that her behavior makes her cool to her grandkids, but usually, it’s an embarrassment, which is why they call her crazy!

Grandma is Silly (Crazy)

Then there is one of the most common intentions of saying grandma is crazy, and that’s that she’s acting silly or weird. For most, it’s a solitary event or action, but for some, it might be a personality trait that everyone has just come to understand regarding ‘grandma.’

Some one-time crazy actions might be:

  • Grandma purchased something big or out-of-norm impulsively. It could be a car, jewelry, or new furniture. It could be something as simple and innocent as a new scarf or shoes that aren’t her typical style.
  • Grandma went out and got a pet.
  • Grandma started a Tik Tok account, or some other social media account.
  • Grandma started dating.

A character trait for a crazy grandma:

  • Grandma likes to dance and/or takes lessons.
  • Grandma plays in a band.
  • Grandma is politically active and runs campaigns or organizes/participates in political events.
  • Grandma likes to mountain bike.
  • Grandma is just acts flighty and/or kooky, and anything she says can’t be taken seriously.

To be completely upfront, one of my grandmother’s fit this last description. She was sweet and harmless, but very childlike and couldn’t be taken seriously or counted on in a serious matter. This was just how she always was, and it definitely limited the extent of our relationship.

Grandma is (Crazy) Mean

Another common meaning for a crazy grandma is that she’s mean or ill-tempered. If you describe your grandma as crazy, this could be the intention.

Crazy, mean grandmas respond to their grandchildren, or any children, grumpily. They don’t enjoy being around them, in fact. Imagine the curmudgeon figure standing in a doorway or peeking out of the blinds at kids playing outside, upset at the racket and noise.

Parents might explain away this grandma’s nasty behavior to their children by saying, ‘don’t worry. She’s just crazy!’ in order to smooth out hurt feelings.

Grandma is (Crazy) Stressed

In today’s hectic world, though, there’s another reason some grandmas might seem crazy, and that’s because of stress. It’s more and more common for people to delay retirement and continue working, even though their health and well-being suffers from long work days.

For this reason, some grandmas are stressed and overloaded, so their behavior seems crazy at times. It’s not that they’re actually crazy, or hate being grandmas; most of them are quite sane, and nice people, and actually love being a grandma.

It’s just that their workload has created a mountain of stress for them and they come across as crazy, and very well may be acting crazily!

Grandma is Mental (Crazy)

And last, there’s the real, certifiably crazy grandma, and this one is not really all that common.

While studies do show that more women than men suffer from and are diagnosed with depression and anxiety, it’s still a small percentage of the population for which this is all-encompassing or debilitating to the point of not being able to sustain a normalized lifestyle. In other words, it’s rare for you to actually have a crazy grandma.

And more than likely, if your grandma is mentally ill (i.e. ‘crazy’), you aren’t going to refer to her as ‘crazy.’ We save that description for those who have the ability to affect their behavior, meaning that they’re responsible for their actions.

More from Little Ninja Parenting like this:

Why is grandma crazy?

For some women, entering menopause can be debilitating and evoke a personality change.

Now that we’ve addressed the most common stereotypes of crazy grandmas, why is it exactly that grandma is crazy? What is the reason for it? Because if we understand this, then maybe we can do something about it.

There are several reasons for making your grandma crazy, or for it feeling like she is.

  1. Grandmas sometimes have a hard time dealing with their new role as grandma. After all, for most of their time, they’ve been acting as ‘mom’ and now they have to adjust this. Moms have all the power; they make the rules for the kids about food; bedtime; health; friends; and so on. So when moms become ‘grandmoms’ they might have difficulty adjusting to the shifts in their power. Truly, grandmothers have no say about any of that stuff anymore with their kids, and not at all with their grandkids. It can make a person crazy, indeed! Particularly if grandma is a control freak!
  2. Grandmas also are typically dealing with hormonal changes; this is known as menopause. Most women enter menopause in their mid-50s or a bit thereafter (though some start much sooner), which is also a time when many become grandmothers. So what seems like a problem with being a grandma might actually be a physical problem with aging.
  3. Mid-life crises also are an issue for some at this stage in life. This is true for grandpas and grandmas both, so you might think both are being crazy. It’s natural for older adults to take stock in their lives once they hit mid-life or retirement age, especially as their physical health deteriorates. So they may act out, get emotional, or seem ‘crazy.’
  4. And some might be crazy due to other mental issues, which actually require a doctor’s care and support. It’s hard for many older people to accept that this is happening, so they may resist seeking help, thereby causing the ‘crazy’ behavior to continue and escalate.
  5. Last, some people happen to not be nice. They are narcissistic, selfish, and toxic to others. Unfortunately, there’s going to be some cases where this is the reason behind grandma acting/being crazy.

How to handle it when your grandma is crazy?

Some grandparents are cut out of their grandchildren’s lives for a variety of reasons, including toxic behaviors.

When possible, you want to react/act objectively, thoughtfully, and logically with your grandparents if/when they act crazy. If grandma is behaving crazily, or is known to ‘be crazy’, then your response to that should be aligned.

First, ask yourself, is this normal for grandma? If your grandma isn’t acting like her typical self and is instead being crazy, ask her about it. Don’t say, ‘you’re being crazy’ to a person acting crazy, either!

Ask her what’s wrong and then, how can you help? It may be the simplest way to get to the root of the problem and possible, helpful solutions.

If, however, your grandma is known for being crazy, then keep that in mind. You’re likely used to her behavior and can tailor your reaction accordingly. If grandma is being harmful to you, keep your distance. There’s no reason at all to put yourself in harm’s way just because she’s ‘grandma.’

It’s ideal if you can have a good, healthy relationship with your grandma, but that’s just not always a possibility for people. My grandmas were decent people, but I wasn’t able to cultivate a deep relationship. Growing up they weren’t the doting grandmas; and by the time I was old enough to try to instigate a deeper relationship with either of them, it was too late due to their health.

Special Note: There was a recent trend in grandparent rights, circling the news stations and social media platforms. And as much as I long to have a great, lasting relationship with my grandchildren, I accept that as a grandparent I have no legal right to it. Instead, I work to maintain a healthy relationship with my children, and by extension, will benefit from a relationship with my grandchildren. However, I cannot and should not overstep my role and try to force actions outside of it. It’s up to my kid whether or not I see my grandchildren and when; they’re the parents in this dynamic. I’m personally glad to see that states have upheld parental rights and not moved to assert ‘grandparent rights.’

Famous Crazy Grandma Movies

In full disclosure, spoilers are ahead! So skip this part if you don’t like knowing details about movies you may eventually watch!

The Visit

The Visit was released in 2015, directed by controversial director/writer, M. Night Shyamalan.

“Would you mind getting inside the oven to clean it?” is just one of the crazy things said from the grandma in 2015’s The Visit remake. Teenager Becca and her little brother don’t know their grandmother that well when they’re sent to her house for a week, so at first her behavior is just a bit odd.

However, the longer they stay, the more it seems their grandmother is not only crazy, but maybe sinister too.

To find out more, you can watch The Visit at Amazon Prime through several viewing options.

Paranormal Activity 3

Paranormal Activity 3 provided a backstory that involved a wickedly crazy grandmother.

It’s all crazy grandma’s fault! That is, this is what audience’s learn from the third installment of the surprise hit horror sage, Paranormal Activity (free to watch for Amazon Prime members), which details the curse of evil spirit, Toby.

Apparently, the crazy, evil grandma made a pact with the devil, or one of the devil’s minions, that impacted not only herself but also her future grandchildren Katie and Kristi.

We see something similar in the movie, Hereditary, from 2018, starring Toni Collette.

Flowers in the Attic

The Flowers in the Attic movie from 1987 and later several TV series editions features a very nasty, crazy grandmother.

And then there’s the 80s crazy, scary grandma portrayed in Flowers in the Attic (linked to Amazon), which is a cult classic favorite at this point. It was published in 1979, and gauging from my middle school days, V.C. Andrews’ book was in the hands of just about every female thirteen and up during this time period!

Flowers was so popular that it brought about an entire series featuring the central characters, and also led to several copycat ‘other series’ as well, including from Andrews herself (the similar ‘Heaven’ series comes to mind, free with an Audible trial, too).

But it’s perhaps the melodramatic, cheesy movie and subsequent TV series that really put the crazy grandmother image in all of our minds!

Actress Louise Fletcher played ‘Grandmother’ to the craziest ‘t’. Her ‘Grandmother’ was large and looming; religiously fanatical; abusive; conniving; envious; and completely, seemingly, uncaring towards her picture-perfect grandchildren.

I daresay that there’s probably not a grandchild alive, who after viewing Fletcher’s portrayal in this cult classic, didn’t look a bit sideways at their own grandma for at least a few days!

Napoleon Dynamite

Napoleon Dynamite, from 2004, provides an example of both a traditional and nontraditional grandma in one character.

Now even though the aforementioned movies with grandmas seem to imply all Hollywood ‘crazy grandmas’ are sinister, this isn’t the case. Just consider Napoleon’s grandma in our family’s favorite movie, Napoleon Dynamite.

Napoleon’s grandma, played by actress Sandy Martin, doesn’t have much screen time in the film; however, she makes quite the impression!

As a traditional grandmother, she’s taking care of her grandsons, Napoleon and Kip (the movie doesn’t reveal anything about their parents).

  • She’s concerned about their day, having in one scene, asking precisely to Napoleon, “How was school?” (to which he dramatically exclaims in teenager-fashion, “the worst day of my life, what do you think?”).
  • And she’s wearing traditional grandma garb too. In this case, we see her in a ‘straw hat wearing teddy-bear t-shirt’ as well as donning her spectacles around her neck like any sensible grandma would do.

But she also exhibits nontraditional, grandma habits, too.

  • She’s explaining in the same scene how she’ll be gone all night with some friends. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never heard of a traditional grandma staying out all night with her gal pals while her teenage grandsons fended for themselves at home.
  • And later, we learn she’s injured from riding the dunes! This grandma is certainly full of surprises!
  • And in a very un-grandmotherly way, she doesn’t prepare food in advance for the grandsons, either but rather impatiently tells a sulking Napoleon to make himself a “dang quesa-DILLah” when he asks what to eat in her absence.

So is Napoleon’s grandma crazy?

From her traditional grandmother fashion choices to her un-traditional hobbies, Napoleon’s grandma can certainly be described as crazy (but also just as likely as the sanest one in Napoleon’s family)!

The Takeaway of Grandma is Crazy

So the takeaway about your grandma being crazy is this: think about why she’s being crazy before you respond or react. And then respond based on that.

This means if ‘crazy’ is her natural state of being, respond accordingly with that in mind. If it’s unhealthy for you to maintain a relationship with a crazy grandma, you shouldn’t feel obligated. Beyond trying to lend a hand for her safety’s sake, if that’s your place (that is, your parents should be the direct line of support), you don’t have to be involved at all.

If, however, your grandma isn’t typically crazy, then you should try to discuss her behavior with her and look for solutions. Include your parents, too, if it’s possible. Together you can offer support that your grandmother might need.

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Jackie Booe

Jackie Booe is a Catholic mother of four, grandmother ("Oma") to two, and wife to Mat since 1994. She is a former public school teacher of 18 years, licensed in 3 states and certified to teach elementary, secondary English, and English Language Learners. In addition, she also taught education courses online as an adjunct professor, mentored numerous education interns, hosted professional development for educators, and tutored, as well as homeschooled.

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