Blog Article

Healthy Boundaries for Grandparents

Written by Joannie DeBrito from Focus on the Family

The last few decades of television situation comedies served up a steady diet of older adults interfering in the lives of their children and grandchildren.

One example was the character Doris Roberts played in “Everybody Loves Raymond.” She was nosey, intrusive, controlling, demanding, and full of unsolicited advice.  

We’d all be better off if we ignored her example and instead chose a more respectful relationship with our sons and daughters and their spouses that emphasizes healthy boundaries.

Just as living within boundaries imposed by the law, guidelines and general principles of civility tend to contribute to our safety and protection in life.

Practicing good boundaries with our kids and grandkids is likely to protect us from experiencing a lot of conflict with them.

We practice good boundaries when we allow our children to set their own boundaries regarding their family life, use of time, management of their home, parenting practices, and care of their children.

As long as those boundaries are not in violation of any current laws or certain to cause any long-term damage to them or their children, we need to respect the boundaries and seek to adhere to them.

We build trust with our children when we are careful to stick to their requests and reinforce them when we’re with our grandchildren.

For example, if Mom and Dad have asked you to limit the amount of time their kids spend on their screens, you can encourage your grandkids’ respect for their parents by refusing to cave in to their whining or complaining.

So to the comment:

“Oh please Papa, just a few more minutes. Dad will never know and besides, I want to play another game with my friends.”

I would respond something like this:

“Yeah, I know you’d like to play longer buddy but your Dad told me he wanted you to shut off your computer at 8 so I am going to respect him and follow through with what he asked me to do.”

Here are some other important guidelines regarding boundaries:

  1. Be sure to review boundaries with your children prior to caring for your grandchildren and discuss them with grandkids who are old enough to understand them so they know you are both in agreement. It can be helpful to write them down in a place where everyone can see them.
  2. If you disagree with a boundary, ask your children to explain their reasoning for setting it and follow it. If you can’t agree to it, you may need to set a boundary for yourself that removes you from having to enforce the boundary.
  3. Let your children and their spouses invite you to be a part of their lives or help with childcare. It’s best not to assume you are going to be a part of all of their activities or impose on their family time. Instead, let them know you are available and then wait for an invitation.
  4. If you have social media accounts, ask permission before posting pictures or stories about your grandchildren. Ask for the same courtesy in return. Whenever we want to refer to or post a picture of someone else on a social media site, out of respect, we should ask for their permission before we do so.
  5. Talk with your children about their rules for disciplining their children and whether they want you to impose that discipline or report problems to them so they can impose it. It’s helpful to talk through various predictable mistakes their kids may make and the consequences for those mistakes. While it is likely that you will have some disagreements about their strategies for discipline and can certainly discuss those with your children, you should follow their lead, assuming that they are not suggesting anything that is potentially harmful to your grandchildren. If you believe that a grandchild is being subjected to harmful discipline, you should talk with a pediatrician or licensed mental health professional to learn how to protect your grandchild. This is rarely the case, however. Most often, parents and their children simply disagree about the most effective ways to discipline children.
  6. Some other things to discuss with parents include:
    • Food that should be served or avoided
    • When it is ok to provide money to a grandchild for a chore and how much to provide
    • Daily routines, including the bedtime routine
    • Where they are allowed to go and who they can spend time with when you are caring for them
    • How they are expected to care for themselves, their pets, and their home

Finally, intentional Christian grandparenting focuses on being an integral part of a grandchild’s life in order to encourage faith development and a love and dependence on God.

Grandparents have lots of ideas on how to do this and some become a bit overzealous, leaving their children exasperated with too much preaching, lecturing, and scripture reading. This is a boundary issue as well. You can actually go too far in trying to instill faith in your grandchildren.

The truth is that children will always learn more from what they see us doing than from what we tell them to do. Cultivating faith starts with showing them the evidence of the fruits of the Spirit in you, letting them hear you pray, and seeing you turn to God’s word for support and wisdom.

Allow them to observe how God works in your life and how you turn to scripture to help you answer life’s toughest questions.

Let them hear you acknowledge the beauty of God’s creations when you go for a walk or thank Him when you pray together.

Bring them into your world and show them that your faith in God isn’t something that turns on at 9 AM on Sunday morning and off at 10 AM. Show them that your faith is central to who you are and tell them how God has blessed, forgiven, and loved you.

My young neighbors recently told me about how much they love their grandmother because, as one of the girls put it:

“She has been a big part of our life, always there when we need her and ready to leave when it’s time to go home. We miss her but she’s not one of those grandmothers who smothers us with kisses. She always knows when we need a hug.”

Her brother continued:

“Yeah, and don’t try to convince Grammy Donna to do something Mom and Dad won’t let us do. She won’t budge. Once I tried to pay her to let me stay out late. Yeah, that didn’t go so well.”

Sounds like a grandmother with good boundaries to me!

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