Are the grandparents getting too involved with your parenting? Here’s how to establish grandparent boundaries without stepping on toes.
“My parents won’t listen when I tell them no TV!” a friend vented. Her parents care for her kids in their home. And despite my friend’s request to turn the TV off, they continue to keep it on all day.
For many parents, it’s not just TV, either. Grandparents offer food parents forbid, buy too many toys, don’t follow safety rules, and even smoke.
That’s not all. You hear about grandparents who have all sorts of opinions about their kids’ parenting methods or who refuse to follow their routines.
How to establish grandparent boundaries
As aggravating as it is when grandparents disregard your rules or even try to overstep their role, they’re still an important part of your life.
Your child is able to bond and develop a strong relationship with his grandparents. They provide childcare that allows you to work or save money. And they’re your parents or in-laws—at the end of the day, they’re family.
Still, that can make it even harder to set grandparent boundaries. They’re not employees that come and go, and any critiques or comments can linger and fester long after. How can you juggle your role as the parent of your child while still being grateful for all they do?
Take a look at these common problems you might be facing with grandparents and how to resolve them:
Problem 1: Grandparents insist on doing things the way they did
Times have changed in a short period, don’t you think? Take, for instance, technology. My parents’ generation couldn’t rely on a sonogram or even an epidural during their pregnancies. Formula was all the rage, giving solids early was advised, and putting a baby to sleep on his tummy was the norm.
And forget about carseats. I still remember riding in the back of a hatchback with cousins galore, waving at the cars behind us through the window.
So, when grandparents hear the new parenting advice different from what they’re used to, they sometimes roll their eyes. They wonder how quickly advice has change, just from one generation to the next, and don’t always understand your reasoning.
The easy answer should be “Because we’re the parents,” but sometimes that isn’t enough. But if the grandparents insist on doing things the way they did, back your claims with proof.
Explain how the AAP now recommends babies sleep on their back and how doing so has lessened the incidents of SIDS. “Blame” the pediatrician about feeding solids later, and highlight the savings of breastfeeding.
By sharing recommendations from professionals, they might be more likely to listen and follow.
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Problem 2: “Our house, our rules”
Your parents might not be willing to accommodate your rules when your kids are in their house, which can be tricky if they watch your kids regularly.
What do you do if they keep the television on all day, despite your stance against it? What if they smoke, insist on giving your child candy after every meal, or refuse to dice the hotdogs and grapes like you requested?
It all depends.
On one hand, it’d be unfair to expect your parents to change their entire lifestyle for your child. They might be willing to add corner protectors, but not so keen to stow away every breakable figurine. Imagine visiting friends and asking them to “prepare” their home for your arrival.
But at the same time, hold true to your values. How much do you not want your child to be around a television all day? Or cigarette smoke? Or eating candy? If their disregard convinces you to seek alternative child care, then perhaps that’s your best option.
Because while their house is theirs to enjoy, you also need to exert your authority over your child. Besides the occasional treat, there shouldn’t be many exceptions to the rules, an “our house vs. grandma’s house” kind of thing. Having your rules flaunted is disrespectful to you and not in the best interest of your child.
Problem 3: Grandparents offer too much help
Crazy, I know, but some grandparents offer too much help: They want to come over every day, change every diaper, and stock your fridge with food galore.
To me, this is a blessing—I appreciate when people try to help, but I understand that sometimes it can go too far.
If your parents or in-laws are overstepping boundaries, let them know, politely. Acknowledge their desire to help and let them know you appreciate it, but specify how they can help best. Maybe they can come over once a week to take your kids to the park, or visit them for dinner once in a while.
But my best advice? Enjoy it. If your mom wants to change the baby’s diaper, let her. Consider it your mini break from one of the many tasks you have on your plate.
Problem 4: Grandparents are teaching your kids hot topics
“I’ll come home and find these pamphlets about her religion on the coffee table,” another friend said about his mother-in-law. “And my kids have blurted these statements that could only have come from her.”
From religion to sex to drugs, grandparents might be teaching hot topics—things better left for you to explain.
Yes, kids learn their values from their village, but hot topics are reserved for parents. You wouldn’t expect day care staff to teach hot topics—neither should grandparents.
Some parents don’t mind these extra teachers. If you agree with the grandparents, these values are reinforced more so. But sometimes they’re teaching values you don’t agree with or would rather explain yourself.
Express your appreciation for their effort and respect their beliefs and views. But if it makes you uncomfortable, ask them to keep their thoughts private and not mention it to your kids.
Your parents’ lives shouldn’t change too much for your kids, but they need to distinguish between their lives and teaching it to the grand kids.
It’s tough dealing with grandparents trying to parent and undermining your authority. They might insist on doing things “their way,” or insist that it’s their house and rules that matter. Maybe they offer too much help or teaching the kids topics you’d rather they keep to themselves.
But both you and your parents want the same thing: the best for your child. You may just have different thoughts of what that is and the means of getting there.
Get more tips on setting grandparent boundaries:
- How to Tell Grandparents to Stop Spoiling
- Toddler Too Attached to Grandma? How to Cope with Your Emotions
- Why You Should Definitely Intervene when Adults Overwhelm Your Kids
- How to Balance Parenthood with the Rest of Your Life
- Toddler Rejecting Mom? 5 Powerful Ways to Respond
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