How parents can negotiate healthy boundaries with grandparents

Posted in Family.

This week Babyology podcast Feed Play Love spoke to Derek McCormack from the Raising Children Network about how parents and grandparents can establish healthy boundaries and work through conflict.

Amazing grandparents

Feed Play Love host Shevonne Hunt noted that having grandparents is a blessing, but things aren’t always peachy. In fact sometimes, things can easily go awry with power dynamics shaken up and tensions on the rise. Navigating those challenging times can be a daunting prospect.

“Grandparents can be an amazing part of your family,” mum-of-two Shevonne points out. “They’re support for you and enriching for your children … but can also create tricky situations. You may see some actions as intrusive or overbearing.”

Derek agrees that grandparents should be valued and loved. But he notes that it’s important to clearly negotiate your roles in a family and put the right boundaries in place to keep conflict to a minimum.

So how on earth do you do this without hurting feelings or treading on too many toes? Derek had lots of ideas on smartly sorting everyone out in your shared quest to do what’s best for the kids.

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Keeping it positive

“One thing you can do to begin with is to talk about some interesting information you came across perhaps opening it on a positive level,” Derek advises on broaching issues positively and sensitively.

“[So perhaps say something like] ‘I learned recently some interesting research or some interesting information about children’s behaviour and what I learned was this and how when it comes to behaviour this can help.'”

“Then you’re talking about something which is genuinely interesting to anybody who is around children,” Derek explains. “From there you can find yourself getting into the conversation without necessarily using the jargon of parenting or parenting styles.”

Balancing everyone’s needs

How can you strike the right balance when grandparents are really enjoying the time they have with little ones – or conversely feeling overwhelmed.

“Talk about, ‘As a parent, I sometimes need a break and I really appreciate the fact that I can have your help or we can find a way to get that break,'” Derek advises. “And likewise if a grandparent is very involved we can talk about what kind of time they have to balance the other things that are happening in their lives and the time they can give.”

“You’re talking there about what’s reasonable as well as what people would like,” he explains. “So then it becomes a conversation about what’s going to be a reasonable expectation.”

Derek also points out that sometimes grandparents might want lots of time with their grandkids, but it might be time the parents want to spend with their kids alone.

“Talk about it in a practical day to day or week to week basis,” he says, working out, “What would be a good arrangement here given what you have on your plate and what we have on our plate.”

Three generations. Grandmother with granddaughter and daughter

Boundary setting 101

Derek says there are three golden guidelines when it comes to setting boundaries with grandparents:

  1. Have an open conversation about the issues at hand, discussing everyone’s needs and expectations.
  2. Establish a trial period – It’s not like you need to make decisions forever so you can suggest a trial period where you’re trying a particular arrangement out and we’ll talk about it again in two weeks or a month or whatever it is.
  3. Be flexible and reassess often – When it comes to negotiating roles it’s okay to talk about the fact that they may change. As the child grows or as circumstances change the roles people have with the children might change too.


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