Boundries With Grandchildren

My grandchildren live with me. How can I create boundaries in my home and still preserve my relationship with them?

DARCY KIMMEL: There are a lot of reasons why children and grandchildren have to move in with parents and grandparents, and some of them are good. Maybe you’re getting a house built, and you have a temporary situation where you need to hang out for a couple of months. Maybe your spouse is deployed, and you need to hang out with your parents and live with them.

TIM KIMMEL: There are a lot of reasons—some good, some bad.

But here’s the good news. There are millions of grandparents right now who are actually raising their grandkids or have them in their home, and you know that they have done studies on the most effective parenting being done out there, and it’s by these grandparents.

And you think, “Well, duh! Of course. It’s a do-over.”

I’m a golfer. You know what a mulligan is in golf? It’s where you hit one in the lake, and the other people say, “Just tee it up there. We aren’t going to count that one,” or you hit it into the woods.

Well, that’s what grandchildren are. They are a mulligan. We knocked our kids, you know, wherever, but we think we can hit this one down the middle.

So, they actually bring a lot of wisdom and experience to bear. And that’s the cool thing about it. But there are some things you want to make sure they do right.

DARCY: Realize that if it’s going to be a long-term situation, your parents might have to deal with some disappointment, because they may not have planned to have you and your kids in their home. They are going to have to put aside some of those dreams and plans that they had.

So, give them the freedom to deal with that disappointment. Make sure you acknowledge that, “Hey, Mom and Dad. Sorry about this. We didn’t plan on this. You didn’t plan on this. But we would like to make the best of it.”

TIM: You want to encourage them. In fact, you just might want to send this answer over to them from them to look at, because it’s important that we don’t make the grandchildren feel like they are just visiting our house or they are guests in the house, but they are a permanent part of our house.

And that might mean, for instance, that they have access to the refrigerator, just like they would at home. They can decorate their bedrooms the way they want to. This is a good thing. And they are going to have their friends stop by and their friends come in—and you have to have a fairly high gag threshold, but that’s OK.

DARCY: [laughs]

TIM: That’s good. And you want to give them access to the computer, maybe their own place with their own files, things like that, so that they feel like, “I’m at home in this,” and they don’t always feel like they’re going to be in trouble.

And then there’s the music . . .

DARCY: [laughs] Yeah.

I mean, it’s going to be a compromise situation, at best. Your kids need feel at home, and yet you do have to respect the fact that this is your parents’ home.

So before anything blows up, talk about the rules, talk about the boundaries, give and take a little bit. Make sure that everybody feels like their needs are being addressed.

TIM: And then as a grandparent, you don’t want to make the grandkids feel guilty, like, “If it weren’t for me, I don’t know you kids would be, or how you would have solved this.” No, no, no. Once again, it’s an honor, it’s a privilege, it’s a sacred trust that we get to have.

You could reach out to them, but of all the mistakes we can make in this situation, here’s the one you don’t want to make, if you’re the grandparent. Don’t become the parent. Maintain your role as a grandparent. You’re always going to be a grandparent.

There might be a lot of reasons why those parents aren’t in this situation right now, but they might come back into it. For instance, they might have gone to prison, or they’re in some kind of trouble, or they’re addicted to drugs. There are a lot of reasons, but you ultimately want those parents back in the kids’ lives.

So, you keep the role of grandparent. But that might require that they have talked about, “What are we going to do about discipline?” and that’s where the rules can be established between the parent and the grandparent.

DARCY: It’s a workable situation.

TIM: It really is.

DARCY: It may not be the best situation, but sometimes that’s the only option. So, I’d talk things out first, communicate, respect each other, and make the most of it.

TIM: It’s going to be the ride of your life.

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