Is “boundaries” a bad word? Grandparents who don't respect boundaries may think so, or they may just need an open conversation around what healthy grandparent boundaries entail. If you are a grandparent struggling with boundaries set by your adult children, or a parent faced with grandparents who overstep boundaries, read on for some practical advice on healthy boundaries for grandparents.
“I’m so tired of hearing about boundaries. My son and his wife have all these rules about how and when we can see the baby and we constantly have to bow to their schedule. When I had children, we didn’t try to tell our parents what they could and couldn’t do. It seems like this generation of parents has no respect for their elders.” ~Message from a reader
Boundaries are important in every relationship, but are truly vital in the parent-grandparent partnership. We talk about them a lot here at More Than Grand, but when I got this comment from a clearly frustrated grandparent, I started wondering if using the word boundaries was alienating our readers. Try as I might, I cannot find another word that succinctly describes the limits and rules we set to protect relationships.
So I ran a poll on Instagram asking our followers how they felt about the word. Over 90% of the grandparents responded that “boundaries” was not a negative word. Of the 10% who said it rubbed them the wrong way, none of them answered my request for more about why it bothered them.
Is it really just a generational thing? The reader whose comment I shared places the blame on today’s parents, but every generation of parents does things differently. While parents may be more direct about using the word boundaries, I don’t think the desire for them is any different today than it has been in the past. I know I always felt my parents and my in-laws respected our decisions as parents, and most grandparents today seem to be open to working with the rules and guidelines parents find important.
Cindy waited for years to become a grandmother, and it finally happened last May. She finally understood what her friends had been talking about when they said being a grandparent was the best thing ever: Her grandson was the light and love of her life.
But unlike many of her friends, Cindy didn’t get the one-on-one time with her grandson that she’d hoped for. Her offers to babysit were ignored or politely declined. She’d never had a close relationship with the baby’s mother, and the arrival of the baby didn’t magically change that. She could tell her daughter-in-law didn’t trust her with the baby.
It was doubly hard when she found out that the other grandmother, her daughter-in-law’s mother, was babysitting every week. Cindy was worried she’d never have the special relationship with her grandson that she dreamed of.
While we may never know why Cindy wasn’t trusted by her daughter-in-law, we have seen some issues that are cited over and over on parenting forums. If you are wondering why parents won’t trust you with their baby, read on and make sure you haven’t ignored these foundations for being a trusted grandparent.
Commit to safety
For some parents, leaving their baby with anyone else is frightening. They need extra assurance that you will keep their baby safe in their absence. Let them know you have read up on current baby care and safety, and take the steps necessary to make your home a safe place. (The Baby Care & Safety section of New Grandparent Essentials has everything you need to know in one resource—you can get it here.)
Make sure you are prepared for emergencies. Take an infant child CPR class & a choking class. While these classes are valuable to all grandparents, they are vital to any grandparent who will be caring for their grandchild. Also, have Poison Control programmed into your phone. In fact, grab your phone and do that right now: 1-800-222-1222.
Another aspect of safety is more personal. If you are a smoker, use drugs, or drink heavily, parents will likely be hesitant to place their baby in your care. Perception here matters: you may not think that bottle of wine you have with dinner counts as drinking heavily, but parents might.
Be physically able
Many parents are hesitant to leave their baby with a grandparent who has physical limitations. That’s one of the reasons we encourage grandparents to focus on their own health and fitness. If you haven’t made staying fit a priority in your life, there’s no better reason than a grandbaby. Work with your health care provider to develop a program that will give you the strength, endurance and flexibility you will need.
For grandparents who have limitations that lifestyle choices can’t change, you may need to work with parents to create a plan to keep those limitations from affecting your ability to care for the baby.
Know your role
It’s important to parents that anyone who takes care of their baby will respect their parenting decisions. For grandparents, this means recognizing that they may do things differently (even wrong, in your opinion!), but that your job is to support their choices. Hopefully, you’ve set the stage for this by asking questions and listening openly to their answers. Think of yourself as a student of this new family, and work to learn all you can about their needs and limits. Parents will only trust you if they know that you respect their boundaries.
Find out exactly which questions to ask and how to ask them in Partnering with Parents, one of the cornerstones of New Grandparent Essentials.
Doing these three things will go a long way towards showing parents that you understand the privilege of caring for your grandchild. Still, grandparents must understand that even these steps may not be enough for some parents—and that’s their privilege.
But don’t worry. While some grandparents crave one-on-one time with their grandbaby, it certainly isn’t a requirement for a close relationship. If you aren’t able to care for your grandbaby, you’ll find many other ways to become a special person in his or her life.
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Sharing stories is one of the most important things grandparents can do. But should you share your stories of being a new parent?
Do you remember when you were expecting your first baby? I sure do. I was the first of my friends to get married, and the first to have children. Thanks to having a gaggle of younger siblings, I knew a lot about how to take care of babies, but I didn’t know much about pregnancy and birth.
Here’s what was available to me as I tried to educate myself for the coming months: I went to the local book store and bought What to Expect When You’re Expecting. I took the hospital’s Lamaze classes. I talked to the only woman I knew in town who had given birth, my hairdresser. (She gave me the most descriptive warnings about what to expect!)
I wish I’d had a circle of wise, experienced mothers to share their experiences with me. Parents-to-be today can find such support in online groups and blogs, as well as community organizations. There is a wealth of information and experience out there now, just a quick Google search away.
Why you should share your stories
So with all the advice and expertise today’s parents have available to them, why should grandparents-to-be share their own experiences with their daughters and daughters-in-law? Because it can help your adult children understand that you recognize them as adults, and that you want to forge a new relationship with them as they become parents.
Sharing your own stories of birth and the early days of parenting can help parents-to-be know you have been through the same things they are going through. It can help them understand where you are coming from when you help them after the baby is born. It can be an opening to valuable conversations about the choices they are making, and concerns they may have. These conversations can build connection and trust with new parents.
Sharing stories about how you fed your newborn can also be helpful. What do you wish you had known? Remember that you will have biases based on the choices you made and the experience you had, and that those biases may influence what you want to share. To help combat that, encourage parents-to-be to take a prenatal feeding class like those offered by Like a Sister Support. (You can even gift one to them!)
What not to share
When you share stories about birth experiences with a first-time mom, you must always consider your words carefully. This isn’t the time for dramatic narratives about pain, or stories about things that went wrong. While you don’t need to sugar-coat your own experiences, it’s important to focus on information that will be helpful. Did you use a doctor or midwife? Where did you give birth and what did you like or dislike about it? What options did you have during labor and which ones were useful to you? Did you try different methods of feeding?
Never share without first asking the parents-to-be if they are interested in hearing your stories. The answer may be no! If you are respectful of their decisions, they may change their mind.
Instead, ask them questions about what they plan and where they are getting their information. By showing that you are eager to listen to them, you’ll plant the seeds for healthy communication and boundaries.
(Our digital guide, Partnering with Parents, includes a scripted dialog to help you navigate those boundaries and create relationship based on trust and support. You can get it as part of New Grandparent Essentials, or as a stand-alone guide here.)
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Our grandchildren are being raised differently. Does this mean we were bad parents?
Do you know who your adult children’s favorite parenting expert is? While many grandparents would like to think that they are the one their kids rely on for advice on childrearing, more and more often that isn’t true. When we were raising our kids, we tended to parent either as we had been raised—or as far from that as possible! We had very few experts to choose from: T. Berry Brazelton, Dr. Spock and Penelope Leach are the only ones I can think of! (If you have any more, drop them in the comments!)
Thanks to the wonders of modern communication, parents today have a wide range of experts and parent influencers to lean on for advice about the best way to raise healthy, well-adjusted children. This means that there’s a good chance that the way your grandchildren are being raised is different from the way you raised your kids.
The reason these methods are growing in popularity is that they are based on more recent research, not because what we did was “wrong”. As grandparents, understanding the “new ways” allows us to better support our children’s parenting journey, and helps us appreciate that our own parenting is not being judged.
The New Ways of Parenting
What are those new ways? There are several, but labels include gentle parenting, peaceful parenting, conscious parenting and unconditional parenting. This post isn’t going to go into details about each method’s gurus and differences, but instead focus on what they have in common.
All of these are evidence-based philosophies for fostering the qualities you want in your child by being compassionate and enforcing consistent boundaries. Instead of focusing on children’s behavior, parents focus on their emotions and helping children to learn to regulate themselves. The idea is that by being gentle when a child is angry, frustrated, or acting out, parents are modeling tolerance and flexibility and teaching them how to be well-adjusted humans.
This doesn’t mean that bad behavior is ignored. One of the common tenets is that while all feelings are acceptable, not all behaviors are. For example, if a toddler grabs a toy from their baby brother, instead of sternly telling them they can’t play with that right now, a gentle approach would be to say, “I know it’s hard when someone else is playing with something you want. You’ll be able to play with the car when Robbie’s done with it. Would you like to draw a picture while you wait?” You’d still enforce the rule of “No Grabbing”, but your response shows you understand your child’s feelings and you are modeling how to handle difficult situations, which will give them the emotional resilience they’ll need as they grow.
How grandparents can help new parents (even from a distance)
This post was originally published in December 2021. It has been updated and expanded for this year!
Do you remember those early holidays as a new family?
I clearly remember the coordination it took to get our family across the country (or the world!) so that we could be with the grandparents for Christmas. Shipping gifts, dealing with time zone changes with a baby, trying to fit in everyone’s requests for time with the baby—I was perpetually exhausted. But it was still worth it!
Even if there is no travel involved, there is so much to do! Decorating the house, buying and wrapping gifts, prepping for guests, planning meals and baking cookies and making memories! All on top of the day-to-day chaos of the baby and toddler years. For some reason, the elves never show up to help with the dishes, or the gift wrapping, or anything at all!
Luckily, grandparents can help new parents in a variety of ways during the holidays, whether they live close by or far away. But be warned, grandparents can also make life harder for new parents. Read on to find out how to be helpful without adding to the stress of being a new parent.
Helping new parents when you live nearby
If you live close by, there are lots of things you can do to help new parents. Here are some things you might offer to do:
The key is to help out without making things harder for them. Having them over for dinner gives them a break from cooking, but it also creates another obligation on their time and energy. They might like having someone else do the grocery shopping, or they might like having someone watch the baby while they go to the store all by themselves. It’s easy to figure out what to do: just ask, listen, and then respect their answer.
Helping new parents when they visit
Make travel easier. The less parents need to bring with them, the more likely they are to repeat the journey next year. Having basic equipment at your house can make their life easier, so find out what they’ll need. Things like
Having car seats properly installed for airport pickup will earn you major bonus points! Just make sure you’ve got the right size seat, and that it’s installed in compliance with both the seat manufacturer and your car’s owner manual.
Keep things simple. This is not the time to attempt lots of outings or make promises to visit friends and neighbors. While you are welcome to schedule your own activities, check with parents before making plans on their behalf. Keep the focus on spending time together.
Lighten their load. New parents should get a pass on doing a fair share of the holiday work. Offering to watch the baby while they do the dishes is not a fair trade. They will have plenty of years to balance the scales, so try not to make too many demands on their time this year.
Keep your gift giving in check. Parents’ number one complaint about grandparents at the holidays is to stop buying so many gifts. Read this post before buying anything, and then have a conversation with the parents. Offer to ship gifts home to them so they don’t have to try to pack them all in their luggage.
Helping new parents when you visit
If you live at a distance and will be visiting for the holidays, your ability to help will be more limited, especially if your visit is short. Your focus should be on making your visit as easy as possible for them. Here are some tips:
Come without demands. The shorter the visit, the more important this is. A holiday visit isn’t the time to insist you take the baby for photos with Santa, or that Christmas brunch won’t be complete without your mother’s traditional cranberry crêpes.
Be willing helpers. Let them know ahead of time you hope to be useful while you are there. Ask them to think of a list of things they could delegate, and write them down in advance.
Offer to stay at a hotel. House guests, no matter how helpful, are draining. Time alone can be a blessing for all of you. We have often found an AirBnB in the same neighborhood as our grandchildren, which is an economical and convenient solution.
Offer to cook a meal or pay for takeout, and then clean up afterwards.
See the rest of our suggestions for holiday visits in our post, What Parents Want Grandparents to Know About Celebrating Holidays.
Helping new parents when you are far away
If you live at a distance and won’t be visiting, there are still ways to help new parents. Here are a few ideas:
Give an edible gift. Consider giving them a gift that will help with holiday meals. Send a fully baked-ham, an Edible Arrangement, or a local restaurant gift card.
Offer to pay for help. Meal delivery, laundry services, housekeeping—it can all be arranged from a distance. See our suggestions for household help that can lighten the load for new parents here.
Gift the gift of a gofer. Ask if they’d like you to pay for someone to help with holiday errands like standing in line at the post office. You can even hire out gift wrapping!
Be flexible about virtual time together. Share your hopes for video chats, but let them know you are flexible and will take whatever you can get. Often, it's nearly impossible to carve out time for a phone call on the holiday itself.
You can see more ideas on how to help new parents from a distance in our discussion of creative ways to help new parents when grandparents can’t be there.
Whether you are near or far, new parents will appreciate your help at the holidays, as long as it is help they really need. If you’ve set up good communication habits, you won’t have any trouble finding out what you can do to make their holiday brighter.
For more ways to help new parents and make the holidays merry for all, get A Grandparent's Guide to Happy Holidays, on sale now!
What’s the secret to happy holidays with family? Having a well thought out holiday plan of attack.
When you’re a grandparent, holidays are even more complicated. There’s so much more to consider than planning your Thanksgiving menu and getting Christmas gifts for the grandkids. There are a lot of logistics to work out if you are having visitors, or visiting your grandchildren. The meal planning alone is stressful—not to mention the cooking!
Your grandchildren’s parents are beginning to worry, too. Why? Because they know there are bound to be conflicts with you over the hot spots that holidays bring.
So how do you prepare for a holiday season that will leave you with happy memories?
As with everything, it’s vital that you start with an open conversation with your adult children. Most of the stress and disappointment around holidays comes from unmet expectations. Take the time to share what you hope will happen and listen to your adult kids about what works for them. A ten-minute conversation can prevent days of misunderstanding or resentment. It can set you up for happy holidays well into the future.
The three main areas of holiday stress are visits, gifts and meals. Questions about these topics range from simple to complex:
We’ve answered all these questions, and a whole lot more, in A Grandparent’s Guide to Happy Holidays. This 12-page PDF guide includes grandparent-tested and parent-approved advice on navigating the most common hot spots of family holidays, from juggling schedules to picky grandkids.
We consulted with both grandparents and parents to make sure that we covered the all things that they worry about as holidays approach. Our guide will help you recognize issues you might not have thought of, and give you the chance to discuss them while you still have plenty of time to make holiday plans.
Of course, a conversation is just the start. There will still be lots of holiday organizing to be done! That’s why we’ve included customizable, fillable worksheets for organizing every aspect of your holiday planning, from budgeting and gift-giving to getting help in the kitchen. You’ll get access to holiday planners in both Excel and Google Sheets so you can use whichever works best for you.
When you buy A Grandparent’s Guide to Happy Holidays, you’ll also get our exclusive cheat sheet, My Favorite Things, to help make sure you always give the best gifts! It goes beyond “what’s your favorite color?” to help you know what gifts your daughter-in-law or brother will really appreciate, so you don’t have to hope that a pine-scented candle is the perfect present. Just send them this fillable PDF and become the best giver-of-gifts in the family!
While no holiday organizer, holiday plan checklist, or holiday planner can ensure a stress-free family celebration, A Grandparent’s Guide to Happy Holidays will set you up for success. At under $10, it’s the cheapest holiday insurance on the market! Go get your copy today!
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Grandma Sonia was at the playground with her daughter, watching her grandson navigate the play structure. He was concentrating hard, carefully placing each hand and foot to go up the pretend rock climbing wall. When he made it to the top and turned to beam at his mother and grandmother, Sonia crowed, “Good job!”
“Mom, we don’t say ‛good job’,” said her daughter.
“What the heck?” thought Sonia. But instead of saying that, she asked her daughter to share the reasons behind the philosophy.
Maybe you’ve been in a similar situation—or maybe you haven’t yet, but will someday soon! Many parents are familiar with research which shows that rewarding kids with phrases like “Good job!” can have a negative effect on their self-worth. Alfie Kohn, a researcher and lecturer on human behavior, education, and parenting, lists five reasons that “good job” should be eliminated from adults’ vocabulary.
For many of us, a “Good job” falls off our lips every time our grandchild does anything! Even knowing that it can undermine their development isn’t enough to curb our desire to provide positive feedback.
What to say instead of “Good Job”
If you Google alternatives to saying “good job”, you will stumble upon multiple blog posts and articles. Many of them, however, offer alternatives that are basically the same thing: offering value judgements for a child’s action or achievement. I try to keep my reactions to one of these things:
Offering a comment that is pure commentary. “The blocks are all picked up!” or “We can read a story now that you’ve brushed your teeth” shows that I’ve noticed without offering my own judgement.
Showing gratitude. “Thanks for showing me your picture!” or a simple “Thank you” when a child follows directions reinforces good manners and acknowledges their effort without praising it.
Asking questions. “How did you get those cars cleaned up so fast?” or “Can you tell me more about the house you drew?” helps them reinforce their own effort, rather than offering external validation.
Saying nothing. Instead of praising your grandchild next time they accomplish something, watch their face instead. If they look to you for validation, smile and say nothing. A child who successfully assembled a jigsaw puzzle already knows they did a good job—the completed puzzle proves it.
Maybe it’s okay if grandparents say “Good job!”?
If you spend a lot of time with your grandchildren, it’s important to cooperate with parents on subjects like this. If they would like you to avoid offering excess praise, you’ll want to practice the alternatives. It’s not easy, but it becomes more natural with practice.
If you don’t see your grandchildren often, I’d argue that frequent praise is not only okay, but possibly healthy for your relationship with your grandchild. Studies on the grandparent-grandchild relationship have shown that children will actively seek out advice and support from a grandparent they viewed as an uncritical advocate. Showing enthusiasm for their accomplishments is just one way to let them know you are always on their side.
What do you think? I’d love to hear your experience or opinion in the comments!
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Today's post was written by award-winning educator, author, and speaker Shirley Showalter, co-author of The Mindful Grandparent, The Art of Loving Our Children's Children.
If I had a magic Fairy Grandmother wand, I would make it possible for every child to start out life in a three-generation arrangement of some kind. And for every grandparent to spend at least a little time as a Grandnanny.
What is a grandnanny?
A grandparent who spends time living near or with a child’s family while a grandchild is young. Instead of hiring a nanny, the parents plan with the grandparents to provide part or all of the childcare.
My husband Stuart and I have been grandparents for nearly 12 years. We have three grandchildren and were able to be grandnannies to two of the three. Both times we spent ten months, arriving after the maternity/paternity leaves and saying good-bye just as the babies were starting to walk at about 14 months.
Six years after our time in Brooklyn with our son’s family, we traveled to Pittsburgh to be with our daughter’s family after the birth of their baby Lydia.
In Brooklyn we lived in a small apartment in a high rise within walking distance of our son’s apartment.
In Pittsburgh we moved around from location to location until the third floor of the family home was renovated. We loved our cozy little space with kitchenette, and small dining/living/bedroom area. As Lydia got older, she treated the space like a clubhouse during the day, but we had privacy at night and on weekends.
How did we do this? This is where the magic wand came in. We know we were lucky.
Work. Most people can’t take off a year if they are still working fulltime.
We were doing part-time work with flexible hours. I was retired.
Expenses. We could rent our house in Virginia to students at the local university. This gave us some income to use on adventures in the new location.
Financially, we neither made money or lost money. We had enough to live, including enough for some treats – Broadway shows, museums, concerts, etc.
Health. Even though we are older grandparents (I was 63 when Owen was born and 69 when Lydia was born), both of us were up to the rigors of strolling, rocking, feeding, diaper changing, cleaning, and cooking.
We fortunately had no illnesses during our stints.
The magical ratio: 2:1
Two is better than one when it comes to Grandnannying. We luckily had each other, and both of us wanted to do this. Babies can’t have too many people to love them, and one adult could make it possible for three other adults to work or have respite from childcare.
What were the benefits?
What if I can’t be a Grandnanny?
If the circumstances aren’t right for the experience of grandnannying, don’t worry. There are still many ways to give yourself deeply, intentionally, and mindfully to the role of grandparent. There is only one chapter in our book on being a grandnanny. There are 51 others on many other ways to be close, have fun, and leave a legacy.
Shirley Hershey Showalter is an award-winning educator, author, and speaker. With a PhD from the University of Texas at Austin, Showalter served as professor and then president of Goshen College in Indiana and as a foundation executive at the Fetzer Institute in Michigan. She and her husband live in Lititz, PA.
Website: shirleyshowalter.com where many posts refer to the grandnanny, or grannynanny, experience.
For more: Shirley blogged about her year in Brooklyn on a platform called Posterous, which is no longer in business. Those posts were transferred to a Tumblr account.