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6 Tips for Setting Boundaries with Grandparents

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Updated on Mar 26, 2012

You just welcomed your first-born, and your life has done a complete 180. In the excitement—and exhaustion—of becoming a new parent, it's easy to forget that life's also changed for everyone around you. Your own parents were instantly transformed from mom and dad into grandpa and grandma the moment you brought your infant home.

Learning to be a mom with your own mother and father hovering over you can be a challenge. How do you deal with a brand-new grandma and grandpa while learning to be a parent yourself? Do the new nana and papa give too much unwelcome advice, or are they absent? And what about the in-laws—they may have very different views on child-rearing than you do. How do you deal with issues like discipline, baby's diet and the dreaded "drop-in"?

Every family is different, and there's no inflexible set of rules and routines that fits everyone. The key to successful "grand-parenting" is awareness of your family dynamics, good communication and a proactive approach to dealing with child-care across the generations. These expert tips will help you successfully manage your extended family after the new baby arrives:

  • Check your expectations. Talk to your parents and in-laws ahead of time about your expectations for their role in your little one's life. AARP inter-generational issues expert Amy Goyer says, "The most common problem I hear about is unrealistic expectations—both on the part of grandparents and parents. Grandparents may have ideas about how much time they'll spend with the grandchildren, how they will or won't babysit, how often the new parents will be in touch, etc.—but they may not match up with the ideas the new parents have!" Get your stories straight before the baby comes to avoid awkward disagreements down the road.
  • Keep in touch. Not knowing what's going on can make new grandparents nervous—remember, they're as anxious about the new family addition as you are. Call them often and fill them in on their new grandchild. If unexpected granddaddy drop-ins make you nervous, get your dad a cell phone so he has no excuse for not calling and announcing his arrival. Teach grandma to use Skype—it's free, so she can coo and babble all she wants while admiring the baby's beautiful face!
  • Set boundaries. Good boundaries make good grandparents. Talk about expectations first and then set some rules that work. If there's resistance to rigid rules, create some concrete guidelines—and be sure to present them in a positive way. Instead of, "Weekdays aren't great for guests," try, "We'd love to have you over this weekend; we'll have lots of time to spend with you then." Your parents have been there, and will likely be respectful of your wishes; alone time is crucial for new family bonding.
  • Be flexible. Where's the fun in being a nana if you can't bend the rules a bit? If you ban sweets and later find out that grandma slips your tot an occasional cookie, try not to overreact. Remember, she's been waiting for a grandkid to spoil, so find a middle ground. Compromising with strawberries dipped in a little sugar will give your mom the chance to spoil your little one while preventing a serious sugar-high, and subsequent crash.
  • Parents are people too. Gone are the days of grandma and grandpa sitting in rocking chairs waiting for you to call. According to the AARP's Grandparent Study Report, first-time grandparents are getting younger and younger—nearly half are under fifty when they have their first grandchild. You might think that your mom's willing to watch junior on a moment's notice, only to be surprised when she refuses to babysit on her girls' night out—or can't call you back because she's planning a big business trip. Grandparents more likely than ever to still be working full-time or enjoying a vigorous baby-boomer retirement with vacations and activities galore. Be respectful of their busy lives and plan ahead if you need help.
  • Positive reinforcement—for your parents! Your parents may have their own ideas about child-rearing, but they love their grandchild and want the best. Dr. Cheryl Wu, a pediatrician and parenting expert, advises new moms and dads to make an extra effort to show their appreciation to their own parents. If the folks teach you something useful—a new burping technique or a beloved lullaby—say thank you. When you tell your parents that they're right, they're much less inclined to criticize you. We seldom realize how hard our own parents had to work until we have children of our own—and that's one message that new grandparents will be happy to hear. Recognition and mutual respect can help your whole family bond and grow closer.

Remember, working to create a good relationship with your baby's new grandparents doesn't just make your life easier, it's beneficial to your kid as well. Generations may clash, but Dr. Wu reminds us of this important fact: "An immutable bond skips this generational clash. The grandparent-grandchild bond is perhaps the purest kind, where the two parties are completely okay with each other's differences and come to love the other exactly as they are." So the next time your mom oversteps, stop to consider her point-of-view before intervening. Give your child and parents the space to build their own relationship, and you'll be blessed with a tight-knit brood for years to come.

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