Play your part in setting and keeping grandparent boundaries
When her first grandbaby was born, Jackie was thrilled to be close enough to help out. Her daughter, Lizzie, was thrilled, too. Having mom around to help with laundry, soothe the baby and keep the family fed was a godsend.
Until it wasn’t.
One day, when Jackie stopped by, Lizzie had just gotten the baby to sleep and was looking forward to some time alone. Instead, she found herself listening to her mom’s cheerful chatter until the baby woke up. Because she was so grateful for the help she’d been getting, she found it hard to tell her mother that she needed some space now.
Jackie’s visits continued as the baby grew, often coming at inconvenient times. The more time that went by, the harder it was for Lizzie to speak up. One day, she snapped at Jackie, who had no idea what the problem was. Unkind words passed between them, causing the first rift they’d experienced since Lizzie was a teen. After days of struggling with hurt feelings, they finally sat down together to talk about boundaries.
Grandparents: know the boundaries and keep them
Boundaries around visits and helping will look different in every family. Where some new parents will want their entire extended family at the birth, others want no visitors for a month. Some parents want to do everything with minimal help, while others welcome all the hands and laps they can get.
While many parents are clear about the boundaries they need to keep, others have trouble speaking up to grandparents. Worse, some grandparents don’t respect boundaries even if parents spell them out.
Boundaries are the cornerstone of a healthy parent-grandparent relationship. No matter what the new parents have communicated, here are some tips for new grandparents that will make sure you are a welcome visitor.
Don’t show up unannounced. Even if you’ve been in the habit of dropping in on your son and daughter-in-law in the past, now is the time to stop. Always call or text to see when or if a visit is welcome, and be willing to accommodate their schedule. While it may be frustrating that you can’t stop by after work, supporting new parents often means putting their needs and desires ahead of your own.
Come to an agreement in advance, and check in regularly to see if it’s working. Before the baby is even born, talk to parents about how involved they’d like you to be. So often, tensions rise because a grandparent’s expectations differ from a parent’s. Misunderstandings can be avoided by discussing some of the common areas of disagreement. New Grandparent Essentials includes an entire section to help facilitate your discussion, with conversation starters and advice on establishing a supportive partnership with parents.
Respect new parents’ need for time alone. New parents need time alone, and time alone together. If the baby is sleeping when you arrive for a planned visit, ask if you should come back another time. This can be tricky if you are visiting to help with a new baby, but make sure you give new parents time without your presence. Make a grocery run, take a long walk after dinner, or go hang out at the library. Even if your visit is short, you are more likely to be invited back if you respect their space.
Remember you are not a co-parent. With a few exceptions, grandparents are experienced parents, and they are eager to share their expertise. Sometimes the son- or daughter-in-law feels sidelined by a grandmother who takes on the role of co-parent. Especially if it’s your daughter who has had a baby, make sure you aren’t crowding out her partner in your eagerness to help. Step back and let them figure it out together.
Respect privacy. While this is your grandbaby, there will still be parts of its life that will be off limits to you. Let parents take the lead in what they want to share, and how much they want to integrate you into their home. Nursing mothers may not want an audience, and some parents don’t want you taking photos of the baby being bathed. Be sensitive to their wishes.
Being a grandparent is a supporting role, and that means you will often be watching the star of the show from the wings. The best way to avoid real-life drama is to know when it’s your turn on stage, and when the director wants you to fade into the background.
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