4 Ways to Set Healthy Boundaries with Grandparents

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I live across the country from my mom. My husband's family lives the same distance from us. Some of them hop on planes and visit us once a year, but not always. In recent years, I've been able to bring the kids across the country for extended periods of time to spend time with family and get a little nature in our lives, but for most of the year, we are in Los Angeles, and our family members are on the east coast.

Long story short: Our children don't get to see much of their grandparents.

By the miracle that is FaceTime, they keep in touch with them, but it's never enough. It's not the same as fishing with Papa or knitting with Grandma or some other swoon-worthy scene cut from your favorite children's story. Technology is great, but face to face is always better, so we pack in as much time together as we can in the time we have, and then we keep in touch until the next visit. It's not ideal, but it is what it is.

I won't lie: Sometimes when people ask me how to handle “difficult” grandparent-to-parent encounters, I want to answer, “With gratitude.” But I know that's not useful. And I also know that even under the best circumstances, people argue at times.

The truth is that parenting has changed over time, and sometimes, grandparents chime in with “tips” that might have been super useful 30 years ago but don't really work today and that sometimes you just want what you want.

The bond between a child and a grandparent is like no other. They form their own relationship, separate from the parents, and that's a good relationship to have.

Grandparents play a vital role in the lives of children. They provide unconditional love, emotional support, and history. They can bridge the generations and bring families together. They're also a lot of fun!

My nana was a huge source of support for me until the day she died, and I still miss her often. Perhaps that's why I will do almost anything to help my own kids feel close to their grandparents. I know the power of a wonderful grandparent.

So what do you do if the relationship isn't so picturesque? What happens when grandparents interfere or overstep? Tread carefully.

Image via Flickr/ donnierayjones

Assume the best.

You might not like the way your mom or mother-in-law presents her concerns or parenting advice, but try to assume that she's attempting to help in some way. Relationships change when grandchildren enter the picture. That's natural. Suddenly, the attention shifts to the new baby in the family.

{ MORE: Tips for a Great Sleepover at Grandma and Grandpa's }


Trust your gut when it comes to making decisions in the best interest of your child, but don't fight the grandparents every time they offer a tip. The truth is that grandparents also work to define their new roles, and that takes some trial and error.

Image via Flickr/ twodolla

Establish healthy boundaries.

Ask your parents to help with certain tasks. Sometimes, grandparents interfere because they think they can help you out. Instead of getting into power struggles about sleep training or thumb sucking, ask your parents to take the baby for a walk a couple of times a week or hold the baby while you fold laundry.

When you establish clear, but healthy, boundaries, it's easier to navigate the relationship. Part of establishing healthy boundaries includes using open and honest communication. Don't stuff your feelings until you explode. Talk about issues as they arise.

grandpa and grandkids
Image via Flickr/ Tim Pierce


Grandparents do things differently. That's part of the fun for kids! I never would have enjoyed the sweet sensation of a Twinkie if not for my nana. Let them do the fun stuff and bend the rules. When you step back and stop helicoptering the grandparent relationship, your kids have a better opportunity to bond with their grandparents.

{ MORE: What Does a Balanced Diet For a Toddler Look Like? }

I know that my daughter will come home with some kind of over-sized candy every time she hangs out with my mom, but I also know they'll have a ton of fun together. Embrace it. It's part of growing up.

grandparents and grandkids
Image via Flickr/ Lars Plougmann

Talk about routines.

You can't expect other care givers to do things exactly the way you do (my nana was a stickler for a quick bedtime), but you can share your routines and ask grandparents to follow sleep and eating routines to maintain consistency.

{ MORE: Names from the Family Tree: Grandparent and Great-Grandparent Inspired Baby Names }

Grandparents need their grandchildren just as much as their grandchildren need them. Work to make it work, even when it's hard. Your family will be better for it.

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4 Ways to Set Healthy Boundaries with Grandparents

Katie Hurley, LCSW is a Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist and writer in Los Angeles, CA. She is the author of "No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls" and "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World". She earned her BA in Psychology and Women's Studies from Boston College and her MSW from the University of Pennsylvania. She divides her time between her family, her private practice and her writing. Passionate about he ... More

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