When You Think My Grandma Is Mean


A common image many have for grandma is that of a permissive, doting, generous old lady, but some have another kind of grandma come to mind, one that is mean and cantankerous. So what should you do if you find that your vision is the later, and you think, ‘Why is my grandma so mean?’

If you think my grandma is mean, first reflect on whether your perception is accurate, even enlisting family members or close friends for confirmation. If so, work together to investigate reasons for it. Last, support your grandma trying to alleviate stress, fears, or worries.

Having a mean grandma, or even thinking you are a mean grandma, is not ideal. And it’s certainly not healthy for family relations. As a grandma (‘Oma’) of a growing brood, I’ve looked particularly with interest into this disordered state of being, addressing what it might look like, common causes, and what to do about it. Below I’ve shared my findings.

Why is my grandma so mean?

Growing up, I had two grandmas that lived relatively close by throughout my childhood. They also happened to be polar opposites: one being what might constitute a mean grandma. This made me wonder, ‘why is (was) my grandma so mean?’

Wondering why is my grandma so mean is a good first step to addressing the issue, whether it’s you, her, or a combination. Your grandma might be mean because she’s ill, lonely, feeling neglected, or it’s just her personality. In reality, she might not be mean at all and it’s only your perception.

Some grandmas suffer mental illness or failing physical health that affects their personality. Others might feel angry that their friends or partners have passed on and they feel left behind.

For me, I had one grandma that was always in a good mood and could just be described simply as jolly. My other grandma, though, my dad’s mother, was not that way at all. She was a mean grandma!

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So why was she this way? What made one grandma jolly and the other just so darn mean?

I realized that it wasn’t that my grandma was so mean to me. Rather it was that she was just so mean in general. Upon recollection, she was mean to my cousins, my dad, and even my grandpa. I’m sure she was even mean to the mailman!

And on the flipside, that went for my other grandma, too. After thinking it over, I remember that she wasn’t just jolly as a grandma or from being a grandma. She was actually a nice, simple woman from her young adulthood to her elderly days.

These were just their personalities and it didn’t mean that one grandma was better than the other. In fact, in some cases, my mean grandma was probably ‘better’ than my nice one (like with budgets, problem-solving, and keeping us kids in line).

Although, I admit it was probably much more pleasant to be around my jolly grandma most days!

Mental Health Problems Can Create Mean Grandmas

According to research and medical specialists, some elderly are depressed. This can lead to personality shifts, even ‘meanness’.

One thing that can affect an older person’s attitude is their mental health. How can mental health make a grandma mean?

Some mean grandmas (and grandpas) might suffer from mental health issues like depression, dementia, or Alzheimer’s disease. Research has linked depression in elderly with anger and irritability (being ‘mean’); also, a common sign of dementia is a change in personality including agitation and anger.

The Mayo Clinic says that dementia affects different parts of the brain, so symptoms may vary from person to person. This also means that for some a shift in personality is possible, causing some ‘nice grandmas’ to suddenly become mean grandmas.

Frontotemporal dementia is the kind that affects personality, specifically. It’s a deterioration of nerve cells in the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain, the area associated with personality, behavior, and language.

If you suspect that your grandma (or you) might be showing signs of mental health problems like dementia or depression (or other) that’s affecting personality, seek help. First, talk with other close family members. They can shed light on the problem, either by corroborating concerns or providing other valid reasons. Then, proceed as necessary such as with medical support.

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Physical Decline in Elderly Grandmas Can Cause Anger

Another cause for mean grandmas could be declining physical health. Let’s look at some ways this happens.

Declining physical health can create mean grandmas (and grandpas). Research has associated declining health in elderly with anger and depression, affecting personality and disposition. Health concerns tend to become the center of all of our days no matter our age.

This means grandma’s aches and pains also manifest into grumpy attitudes and acting out towards those around her, such as children and grandchildren.

”As most people age, they simply cannot do the activities they once did, or they may experience the loss of a spouse or a decline in their physical mobility and they can become angry,”

Meaghan A. Barlow, MA, of Concordia University

I know that when I’m sick, I often act irritable and rude. Just think about the last time you had a headache; you probably weren’t easy going or fun to be around!

Being elderly often means not being able to move around or do what you once enjoyed. It’s akin to being sick or having a headache everyday. No wonder some grandmas get mean at times!

But this isn’t to justify or condone it- only to understand it. After all, the more we understand the root causes, the better we are able to eradicate them or at least minimize the problems.

So how can we support mean grandmas who are just mean because they’re in pain?

Suggestions to help mean grandmas due to health:

  • Be calm when addressing them.
  • Try not to take irritability personal.
  • Distract grandma with things she likes. Talk about her interests.
  • Go for walks. Often simple activities to promote movement can alleviate aches and pains, especially with arthritis.
  • Enlist other support. Trying to handle it all on your own can overwhelm you. You’ll have better success in numbers!

And if you’re the mean grandma, you can use these suggestions too, just make adjustments in perspective.

For example, talk to your kids about your suspicions. Ask your medical expert for help. Take a daily walk with your grandkids, and so on.

Generation Gaps Can Lead to Mean Grandmas and Grandpas

The millennial catchphrase ‘Ok, Boomers’ ended any semblance of “friendly generational relations” according to the New York Times.

Another reason for mean grandmas may be the generation gap. Why is this?

A cause for mean grandmas may be chalked up to the generation gap, the disparity between the values and expectations of different generations. Depending upon the issues, these differences could result in stereotypes like mean grandmas and lazy grandchildren, that affect meaningful communication.

Today’s grandmas grew up during a time before internet, social media, and handheld devices like cell phones and tablets. It’s only natural that their ideals are going to vary from their grandkids (those of the millennial and Gen X generation, for instance, will be different from the Boomers).

What’s considered important to one generation may be quite different than the other, so it’s understandable that communication can be a challenge. Miscommunication is well-known for leading to arguments or disagreements.

So it may seem that grandma is mean (or grandkids are lazy) when in reality it’s just a difference of perspective.

How do you deal with a mean grandmother?

Having a mean grandma is not ideal, so what’s the most effective way to deal with it?

It’s advisable to avoid blame when dealing with a mean grandmother (or grandfather), but that doesn’t mean doing nothing. From addressing concerns directly (include other family and close friends when possible) to the subtle use of de-escalation techniques, there are many effective methods to try.

For me, I learned to deal with my ‘mean grandmother’ in a way that made it possible for us to maintain a relationship until she died. To this day, I look back on our time together fondly.

  1. First, it meant I showed her respect. I gave her deference, and always kept a cordial and respectful tone. She’s the grandma, after all, and her years of experience earned her that entitlement.
  2. Secondly, I steered conversations to what I know interested her. I didn’t talk to her about movies or music. Instead, I asked her about her day, her crafting, or about other family members. Again, it wasn’t a time to discuss current politics. I only had my grandmother with me for a limited while, so I spent it on things that mattered in the long run.
  3. Lastly, I did what she enjoyed. My grandmother was the instigator of our big extended family gatherings and except for a few times of conflicting schedules, I went to all of them. We talked about holidays and holiday ‘things’ like food, decorations, and any festivities attached.

Now that neither of my grandmas are with us, I long for the days that we had family get togethers and talked about things that mattered!

Why is my grandma acting like a child?

As part of acting like a mean grandma, or in contrast to mean grandmas, sometimes you may wonder why your grandma is acting like a child.

If you’ve wondered why is my grandma acting like a child, it could be she’s acting childish to get attention, either in jest or sincerity, from those around her. Or it could be a symptom of mental decline like dementia or a physical problem affecting her brain like a stroke.

Sometimes grandmas act childish because they haven’t been successful in getting attention. Due to circumstances out of their control, then, they resort to tantrum-like acts to get what they want. It could also simply mean grandma is being silly…so before you respond, clarify that first!

One humorous video posted on YouTube showed a grandma pretending to act like a child, stomping her feet and yelling for cake.

Other issues that could manifest in childlike-behavior from grandma could be due to mental or physical decline. For example, an elderly person who suffered a stroke may have brain damage and act or talk childish.

To relate this idea to our overarching topic in this article (i.e. ‘mean grandmas’), a ‘mean grandma’ could also be a grandma acting like a child in the sense that she is misbehaving to get her way (using manipulative techniques like children are apt to try when testing boundaries, for instance).

When grandmas do this, it’s best to not treat them like children. That’s disrespectful. Instead try to hone in on what your grandma’s goal is and then, decide from there what to do. If grandma is feeling neglected so she’s ‘acting like a child,’ give her attention that’s due her position.

If grandma is acting that way because of some underlying health issue, then address that with her doctor.

Again, whatever the case, it’s important to always treat your grandmother with respect.

Famous Mean Grandmas

Disney’s CoCo (available at Amazon) was released in 2017; CoCo prominently featured an angry (though doting) grandma (‘Abuelita’).

To lighten the subject, let’s conclude with a few references to some not-so-kind, somewhat mean grandmas from the big and small screen!

Abuelita from CoCo– Miguel’s grandmother in the Disney animated film, CoCo, has many moments of meanness towards Miguel in spite of her love for him, most notably connected to Miguel’s passion for music. Now as the movie progresses, viewers learn the reason for her anger (and smashing of his fav guitar). Nonetheless, she remains one of the, if not the only, meanest acting grandmas in all of cartoons!

Grandma Walton from The Waltons– Grandma Walton was one of the harshest looking grandmas in TV history, and not just because of the harsh conditions of the Virginia mountains. From her regular bickering with Grandpa to her disapproval of daughter-in-law Livie’s cooking to her complaints about noise from the grandkids, if Grandma was on screen, she was frowning and looking mean. No one would ever think to describe her as doting or sweet!

Endora on BewitchedEndora is an example of a mean grandma, only not to her grandchildren (she eventually had two as the series progressed). Instead she was mean in spirit (always causing trouble by breaking convention and rules) and especially towards her son-in-law in whom she disapproved due to his human status (yes, she was a witch).

My Grandma Is Mean Takeaway

In summary, if your grandma is mean, there could be several different reasons. (Or if you are the ‘mean grandma’, take stock and figure out what’s causing your behavior before it ruins your relationship with those around you!)

First, make sure your perception is accurate and that grandma is actually ‘mean.’ It could be that this feeling is just a by-product of the generational gap between you and she.

If it seems her actions are indeed mean, then work together with other family and close friends towards a solution. Figure out if it’s from feelings of neglect or loneliness; or if there’s an underlying condition like depression, dementia, or stroke.

Try to be patient with your grandma, because she won’t always be with you!

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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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