List of Boundaries for Grandparents and How to Set Them

Published May 18, 2022
multigenerational family meal with grandmother and grandchild

Many people wait with joyful hope to become a grandparent. Once their grandchild arrives, their excitement is a beautiful expression of their love. However, a grandparent's eagerness can sometimes spill over and cause conflict in your family life. If you are struggling with grandparents overstepping boundaries, know that you aren't alone. It can be difficult to let those you love know when they are crossing a line, but creating a list of boundaries for grandparents may help prevent future conflicts from occurring.

Helpful Boundaries for Grandparents

Grandparents are excited to welcome a new member into the family and add more love to their lineage, which can sometimes mean that they overstep. This list of boundaries for grandparents may be helpful for families that want to establish clear lines in their household.

Grandparents Should Respect Your Parenting Style

The kind of parenting style you have adopted for your child may be much different than the parenting style that you were raised with. However, grandparents should be respectful of your parenting style, and even help uphold and maintain this style when possible. Grandparents might not understand or agree with the way you run your household, which can cause conflict if they try to intervene and change the way you want to raise your child. This can reinforce outdated gender roles or stereotypes and place limits on children. This boundary can be overstepped by grandparents if they:

  • Enroll grandchildren in stereotypically gendered activities that they aren't interested in
  • Disregard the way a parent chooses to discipline their child
  • Critique the way a parent allows their child to act, dress, etc., and believe they know best

Grandparents Should Enforce Screen Time Limits

The use of social media and overall screen time has continued to rise for children according to research by the National Library of Medicine. Many parents have started limiting their children's screen time, as well as access to electronics such as TVs, tablets, and cellphones. Parents set these boundaries to help improve the health of their child and encourage participation in other activities. When these boundaries are not respected, kids can become confused about what is expected of them. Grandparents may overstep this boundary if they:

  • Ignore a parent's rule about screen time and allow more access when their grandchild is over at their house
  • Buy their grandchild their own tablet or electronic device
  • Aren't truthful with parents about how much screen time they allowed

Grandparents Should Respect Rules Surrounding Home Visits

You won't be surprised to find that grandparents want to spend as much time with their grandchildren as possible. This can lead to unexpected home visits at your house that may disrupt plans you had for the day, or even feel like an invasion of your space. Even though a grandparent may have good intentions about wanting to stop by, you are allowed to ask for visits to be approved beforehand. Grandparents may overstep this boundary if they:

  • Come over unannounced
  • Come over after asking, despite being told that it wasn't a good time
  • Guilt a caregiver into letting them come over after being told no

Grandparents Should Understand Guidelines for Gift Giving

Many grandparents want to spoil their grandchildren and give them all the things that they themselves weren't able to have as a child, and maybe even things they didn't allow you to have as a child. This can feel belittling to parents and give off the impression that the grandparent doesn't think they can provide their child with what they want. Setting spending limits on gifts or informing grandparents of items your child is asking for, but that you don't approve of right now, is one way of setting a boundary for gift giving. Grandparents may overstep this boundary if they:

  • Buy their grandchild an overly expensive gift after the parents said it was too much
  • Knowingly give their grandchild a present that the parents did not want them to have
  • Buy a gift that breaks a different boundary, such as screen time

Grandparents Should Respect Diet Restrictions

grandmother feeding grandson

Parents may have health expectations for their child and their family, such as limiting the amount of meat or sugar they eat. Although, just because they live by this rule, it doesn't mean that a grandparent does. Ignoring dietary restrictions can seem like you are undermining a parent and their health choices for their child. Explaining why these eating habits are important to you and asking the grandparent in your life to follow through with them when they are around your child is one way of setting a boundary. Grandparents may overstep this boundary if they:

  • Feed their grandchild food that a parent asked them to avoid when the grandchild goes over to the grandparent's house
  • Gift their grandchild money to purchase the food themselves
  • Sneak food/snacks to their grandchild when they visit

Grandparents Should Practice Consistency With Discipline

Although it can be difficult for a grandparent to discipline their grandchild, it's important for them to keep rules consistent with the parent's teaching. On the other hand, grandparents may have a different expectation for discipline and may believe in practicing forms of punishment that parents don't agree with. Having different forms of punishment or reinforcing unacceptable behavior can cause conflict between families and confusion for the grandchild. This boundary may be overstepped by grandparents if they:

  • Don't discipline a child for behavior that a parent has labeled unacceptable
  • Use a form of punishment that was not approved by a parent
  • Don't tell a parent when their grandchild has broken a rule

Babysitting Expectations Should Be Agreed Upon

Some parents have expectations about how their child should behave at another's house, as well as expectations for those watching their child. Parents may only want their child hanging out with adult supervision, have an established curfew/bedtime, or don't want their child participating in certain activities in order to ensure the child's well-being. If these rules aren't kept consistent when a grandchild is being looked after at a grandparent's house, it can become confusing, and even cause a child to lash out at parents for having stricter expectations. Grandparents may overstep this boundary if they:

  • Allow their grandchild to hang out at places a parent doesn't approve of
  • Lie to parents about whether their grandchild was home/went to bed on time
  • Don't ask their grandchild questions about who/where/when they are hanging out

Grandparents Should Know the Parameters Around Exposure

Personal information about children can be shared with the world in just one click. Parents may want to establish rules about what kind of content can be shared about their child, such as whether they want their face to be shown in photos or their location added to posts. In addition, parents may want to create boundaries about grandparents taking their grandchild to new places, or meeting other friends or family members that parents haven't approved of or met themselves, in order to ensure the safety of their child. These boundaries may be overstepped when:

  • Grandparents share photos of their grandchild's face when they were asked not to
  • A grandparent takes their grandchild to meet a friend without the parent's permission
  • Grandparents take their grandchild on a trip without telling the parents

Why Are Boundaries Important?

Although they can be difficult to set, especially when dealing with family, boundaries are important for many reasons. Boundaries will help you feel like you are more in control of your family and life by making sure that your needs and interests are being met and understood by those around you. Respect is a big part of setting boundaries, because overstepping them can be disrespectful to the person who set them and also undermine their role as a parental figure. If a parent feels as though they are being undermined or disrespected, it can complicate the family dynamic and cause harm to the familial relationship.

How Do I Know What Boundaries I Need?

Boundaries will look different from person to person and family to family based on your own unique dynamic. Maybe your family members hardly use social media or always call before coming over to visit. If that's true for your family, you might not need to set boundaries around elements, and just let your family know that you appreciate the way they approach them. You may need to set a boundary around something if you find that it makes you frustrated, upset, or uncomfortable in any way. Try to discover why you are experiencing those feelings, and then set a boundary around the behavior that is causing them. There are no right or wrong boundaries to have. Whatever you and your family need is worth protecting.

What to Do About Grandparents Overstepping Boundaries

adult daughter having serious conversation with mother

If you are experiencing issues with a grandparent who is overstepping boundaries, you may be wondering how to talk to them about it. It can be difficult to tell your parent or your partner's parent that they may be overstepping, but sharing how it's making you feel and clarifying boundaries are good ways to start.

Express Your Feelings

Your child's grandparent may not even know that they have been overstepping boundaries, especially since the bulk of their attention has been focused on their grandchild and not on the parents. Letting them know what you have been noticing and how it has been making you feel is the first step in bringing the problem to their attention. Let them know that you love them and want them to have as much time with their grandchild as possible, which is why you brought these things to their attention.

Listen

After you express how you feel, listen to what they have to say. Maybe they haven't noticed that they were overstepping, or they may have been confused about a boundary that you set. Most likely, they were not intending to hurt you, and want to offer support to you and their grandchild.

Make a Plan to Move Forward

Once you have both shared how you feel and what you want your relationship to look like in the future, make a plan to move forward. This can look like making simple changes in scheduling visits and acknowledging the efforts you have all made to keep your relationship strong and healthy.

Responding to Grandparents Overstepping Boundaries

It's normal for a grandparent to want to take an active role in their grandchild's life. Working with parents and respecting their boundaries is the best way of ensuring that grandparents maintain a healthy relationship throughout the family. As a parent, you get to decide which boundaries to set, and you can all band together to ensure that you are creating the most loving environment for your child.

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List of Boundaries for Grandparents and How to Set Them