I read an article on Huff Post titled: “How Parents Can Set Boundaries with Their Own Parents and In-Laws.” Experts shared their tips for creating healthy boundaries without causing extra strife. Although the article is directed toward young parents, I think it’s helpful for us grandparents to read the younger generation’s perspective and learn from it. In addition, it gives us an idea of the advice our children are reading and how to respond to it.
When young parents are in the throes of chaos, confusion and total exhaustion, we grandparents can serve as a helpful support system. But for the sake of everyone’s well-being and the health of these special grandparent relationships, it’s often necessary for the parents to establish some boundaries.
“When a couple has parents or in-laws who want to be overly involved with their children, the good news is that the grandchildren have more people in their lives who love them and want to be around them. The bad news is that this can cause tension if parents and in-laws don’t respect the family’s time or values,” says Becky Stuempfig, a marriage and family therapist.
Creating boundaries allows parents to clarify their needs, wants and comfort levels and helps foster healthy relationships with their parents and in-laws. It also helps children learn how to assert their needs and wants with other people and to handle disagreements in a respectful manner.
According to Steumpfig, the key is for parents to “set flexible boundaries that let people into their lives in ways that feel safe and supportive. Boundaries are one way that couples can work on solidifying their family identity and discover which values are important to them.”
Respect Their Values
She advises young parents to have an open conversation between themselves to establish their values as parents and as a family so they present a united front and clear message.
If they’re clear on their values, they can communicate their needs, boundaries, and standards to us grandparents with more clarity. If they see grandma doing something they don’t like but haven’t thought about why, they’re probably going to snap back in a way that’s not helpful to fostering a loving relationship.
For example, many parents want to raise emotionally intelligent children but believe the grandparents are stifling those efforts by discouraging their grandkids from crying or showing their feelings. Parents can talk to each other about the reasons they want to raise high-EQ children who feel comfortable expressing emotions and then ask grandparents to support this value.
Have a Conversation Together
My advice is to sit down with your children and ask them about their parenting philosophies and methods. Ask questions and show a genuine interest. Today’s parents have many different ideas about raising their children than we did when we raised them. I’ve learned so much from watching how my children parent and have embraced their style because I respect how well they’re doing it.
For couples struggling with grandparents who overstep boundaries, Stuempfig recommends couples deal with it early. If they notice a pattern they’re uncomfortable with, having the difficult conversation early will save a lot of future stress for everyone. Otherwise, boundary violations will just intensify.
Don’t be the grandparents who take things into your own hands because you think you know better. Even if you believe you’re coming from a place of love and concern. That will not win you points!
Show Your Appreciation
The advice Stuempfig offers about appreciation is really a two-way street. She says: “Communication with parents and in-laws will be best received if it is approached with appreciation for the special role that grandparents play in a child’s life.”
You can easily flip that same advice for grandparents to remind us that when we communicate with our adult children, we need to appreciate how important they are in their child’s life.”
Pay Attention to the Parents’ Cues
Your adult child might say, “We understand the baby’s bedtime routine is a little different than what you’re used to, and we’d appreciate it if you stuck to the schedule we have set up.”
Another example that you might be overstepping your boundaries is if the parents say, “We appreciate your love for your grandchild, but sometimes we have to set some limits for the sake of our child. I hope you can support us in that.”
No matter how much this stings, you need to respect their request and learn from it. The more you respect the parents’ values, the more they’ll see you as part of the team and ask for your help.
“Boundaries paradoxically free people up to be themselves because they know the rules and can behave however they want within those parameters,” says Jacob Goldsmith, director of The Family Institute at Northwestern University.
Keep Things in Perspective
The article ends by reassuring parents “it’s okay to be a little flexible with grandparents’ different approaches. Ultimately, your kids know that you are the parents and the main adult figures in their lives, and it’s nice for them to have some quality moments with relatives from different generations.”
To keep things in perspective, parents can try to focus on the joy in grandchild-grandparent relationships and how they’re different from other relationships kids have.
Stuempfig reminds parents to “recall special moments with their own grandparents that they cherish. Typically, it’s the small, maybe quirky qualities that stand out — grandma’s candy bowls that you were allowed to enjoy without being reprimanded, music your grandpa liked to play in the car, special nicknames your grandparents had for you, small gifts they brought you, food they cooked, and the stories they told you. These small life moments become cherished memories.”
She added, “If parents can try to embrace the quirks and understand that their child’s relationship with their grandparents is another layer of support in their child’s life, it can help create more joy in the family.”
I was happy to see the article end on this positive note. I hope grandparents read this with an open mind and heart. We grandparents need to realize we are up against lots of advice to young parents who read many different sources for their parenting methods.
You can read the full Huff Post article at this link.