If you relied on the internet, you’d think grandparents purposely ignore boundaries. Google “grandparent boundaries” and you’ll get over 1,640,000 results with headlines like “TikTok Moms Call Out Boomer Grandparents Who Overstep” and “Toxic Grandparent Checklist: 10 Signs That There Is a Problem”. Parent forums and websites like Buzzfeed are full of stories about grandparents overstepping boundaries.
And yet, few grandparents set out to undermine parents by deliberately ignoring boundaries. Most often, it’s a question of not having had clear conversations about why certain rules are important. Those conversations are vital to maintaining a good relationship with your grandchild’s parents. And a good relationship with your grandchild’s parents is vital to having a good relationship with your grandchild.
How grandparents can avoid overstepping boundaries
Don’t wait to talk about boundaries until you’re asked to stop doing something. Grandparents who want to be supportive partners to parents will be proactive in learning about parent boundaries. Keep these tips in mind:
Start the conversation. The burden of communicating boundaries should not fall completely on parents. Grandparents should take the initiative and start the conversation, ideally before the baby is born. Questions about things like visitors after the birth and plans for childcare will make sure that everyone is on the same page. (New Grandparent Essentials includes guided conversation starters for all the most pressing issues.)
Find a good time to talk. Set up a dinner date or schedule a Saturday phone call to have an unhurried conversation. This should be the first conversation of many: parents need to know you are open to discussing your role and how you can support them.
Set your ego aside. Sorry, Granny, their choices aren’t about you. Don’t get offended if your offer to babysit isn’t accepted, or you’re told that they don’t want any photos of their child posted online. They get to make the rules about their child, just as you did when you were a parent.
Listen carefully. Make sure you understand what they are asking. If their plan for post-delivery visitors is unclear, ask questions to clarify. Use active listening techniques like the ones in this post.
Be open to learning. If their request that you make sure your vaccinations are up-to-date seems absurd, don’t challenge it. It’s okay to ask for more information, but try your hardest to do it in a non-confrontational way. Instead of “Are you sure that’s necessary/what you want/a good idea?”, say “That’s new to me! Where can I learn more about it?”
Communicate your own expectations. Boundaries are a two-way street. Let parents know that you can’t commit to babysitting. Tell them you hope you can FaceTime at least once a week, and want to find a regular time that works for all concerned. Ask when or if you can share the news on social media.
Keep the conversation going. Check in regularly as your grandbaby grows. Parents can change their thinking when the reality of life with baby hits. Boundaries also shift and change as the baby gets older.
Being a grandparent can be one of the most rewarding roles in your life. Don’t let miscommunication take away any of the joy—talk with parents to set and respect boundaries before issues arise.
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