Sometimes it’s necessary to establish careful boundaries in an extended family's relationship to make sure everyone feels comfortable. If grandparents lack limits and act in ways that suggest a unhealthy obsession, rein them in with firm -- but loving -- guidelines to shape their relationship with grandchildren.
A grandparent who is overstepping boundaries and acting in a disrespectful manner might not realize the issues created with her behavior. Before you can expect adherence to and respect for boundaries, you must set clear limits, advises The Parents’ Club of Palo Alto and Menlo Park website. Sit down with all parents and grandparents involved and discuss how you want the family relationship to work. Iron out every detail so everyone understands expectations and knows the limits. For example, if you don’t want Grandma to drop by every afternoon to disrupt your son’s nap schedule or if you don’t want to include the grandparents in every family vacation, state these issues in a clear and concise manner.
You might be blurring the healthy boundaries in your relationship by sharing too much information with your children's grandparents. Resist the urge to share too many details about your marital relationship with parents or in-laws, cautions the Dr. Phil website. If you share this information -- particularly negative details -- you risk undermining your marriage if the grandparents try to use this information in the future. It’s difficult to present a strong and united front with grandparents if they know the sordid details of your disagreements about household chores or finances.
Insist on Respect
If a lack of respect and consideration is at the crux of the boundary issues, educate the grandparents about the respect you require, recommends psychologist Marie Hartwell-Walker, with the PsychCentral website. You could say, “We realize and understand how much you love the kids and how important it is to you to stay actively involved in their lives. We need you to respect our position as their parents, though, because we have the ultimate responsibility for their welfare.” Give specific examples of actions you consider disrespectful, if possible, such as giving major gifts or committing to activities with the children without checking with you first.
Maintain the Boundaries
Grandparents with a strong drive for involvement with grandchildren may have trouble adhering to boundaries, especially in the beginning. Show them that you will remain consistent, insisting that they respect and adhere to the instituted limits. If they won’t cooperate, you may need to step back and decrease involvement until they comply.
If the grandparents have been bulldozing boundaries and you establish new limits, create new opportunities for them to interact and stay involved, suggests licensed mental health counselor Debbie Pincus, with the Empowering Parents website. Invite the grandparents to your home or make arrangements for an outing together. Facilitate telephone conversations or use Internet technology for video chatting if distance separates grandparents and your family.
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