Advice, Grandparents, September/October

Boomers and Boundaries: It’s Okay to Say “No”

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The world needs grandparents now more than ever. Research shows that, in 2020, one in 10 children in the United States live in a household with at least one grandparent. This could be due to a list of factors: a multigenerational household, a family that needs to take care of a grandparent who cannot live on their own, or, most notably, a grandparent that has been tasked with raising their grandchildren. 


According to Divya Saxena, M.S., Family Science Associate, and Sean Brotherson, Ph.D, Family Science Specialist in a North Dakota State University article titled, When Grandparents Become Parents to Their Grandchildren, out of the 7 million grandparents that live with at least one grandchild under the age of 18, “2.5 million grandparents carried the primary responsibility of caring for their grandchildren and meeting their basic needs.”

Even if you are not your grandchild’s primary caregiver, you may feel like an expectation to babysit your grandchildren has been placed upon you. This can be exhausting no matter how much you love to spoil and dote on your grandchild. So, what should you do when you need a break? Here is a list of ways you can establish boundaries:

Share Your Schedule
Parents need to understand that your schedule can be just as busy as theirs. While you may be happily retired with your spouse and drinking coffee on your porch every morning, that doesn’t always mean you will be available.

“It is also important to consider the grandparents’ schedules,” says Laura Kay House in her Silver Connections blog. “Sure, they would like nothing more in the world than spending time with their grandchildren. But, it isn’t fair, or nice to simply always assume that they would rather watch the kids.”

You still have doctors appointments, get-togethers, and hobbies that fill up your calendar. Let the parents of your grandchildren know that, while you would be happy to babysit for them, you will be too busy some days. Tell them the specific days and times you will be available ahead of time to avoid any conflict. It may also help to give the parents a deadline to ask you for babysitting favors; for example, unless it’s a complete emergency, the parents are not allowed to give you less than a 24-hour notice when they want you to watch their child(ren).

Communicate Any Concerns
Of course, it’s important to tell the parents if their child is exhibiting any concerning behavior, but do not feel obligated to take care of your grandchild’s problems if you are uncomfortable. For example, if your grandchild has frequent temper tantrums, it’s okay to tell the parents that you do not feel comfortable babysitting your grandchild until their behavior is under control. You can still offer advice and be there for the parents when they want a parenting resource, but it’s good to distance yourself from any unwanted stress. After all, you’ve already been a parent! Unless your grandchild needs to be under your care for a specific reason, you should not be expected to do the hard part of parenting again.

Put Your Foot Down
It may be tempting to agree to let your grandchild spend the weekend at your house regardless of their behavioral issues, your busy schedule, or the last-minute phone call from Mom, but you need to put your foot down. If you keep agreeing to babysit, you will keep getting asked to babysit.

The parents may also request that you take the grandchild for a few days and add, “he has a doctor’s appointment Monday afternoon, too,” assuming you’re okay with taking him to the doctor. Whether it’s a doctor’s appointment, a playdate, or driving them to and from school, you don’t have to agree to chauffeur your grandchild if you are uncomfortable with it. Try to compromise with the parents by offering to watch your grandchild another time. If you’re willing to drive, but still want to establish a boundary, offer to pick up your grandchild from daycare, school, or a friend’s house if their parents will drop them off, or vice versa.

Have Mutual Respect
Just as the parents of your grandchildren need to respect your boundaries, you need to be respectful of their boundaries in order for this to work out. Grandparenting is often all about spoiling the grandchild with things they don’t normally get at home, such as extra sweets and screentime and a later bedtime. However, there may be things the parents would prefer you not do with your grandchild, no matter how much the child begs. While disrespecting the parents’ wishes can be a surefire way they don’t make you babysit your grandchild, it can lead to unnecessary bitterness that may threaten any chance you have of spending quality time with them. This can be avoided with simple gestures of respect.

Don’t Feel Guilty
Lastly, don’t feel bad about setting these boundaries. Everybody needs their space! Your family needs to see you as a person with their own needs rather than a free, unlimited entertainment system.

It’s important to set boundaries to avoid getting taken advantage of. The conversation may be uncomfortable at first, and it may lead to some disagreements, but it will allow you to have a healthier relationship with your family once things simmer down.

By Emily Drez

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