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Grandparenting Boundaries: What I've Learned

10 tips for making sure you don't overstep your parenting boundaries when you become a grandparent

Linda Morgan

Published on: May 04, 2015

Grandmother, mother and young boy

Nothing truly prepares you for grandparenting.

It’s overwhelming, the sheer incredibleness of it all. Here are these gorgeous babies, and you didn’t have to give birth to them! They just magically arrived! And most of the time, they come with two really dependable and loving full-time babysitters! Who knew?

For us, it was all a little surreal. No sooner had we launched our two kids and given away the Transformers and Care Bears, our house was once again filled with toddling girls, then boys. Luckily, the cool robotic-sport-figure wallpaper I’d never removed was still in place and, I’m sure, right back in style.

We transitioned to our new role with ease and, I must say, aplomb. Really, we figured, how difficult could this be? After all, as grandparents, we get to delight in all the firsts without having to do the heavy lifting to get there: first words, first trip to the potty, first ice cream cone, first birthday party.

We realized we get to skim off all the good stuff — the piano recitals, science projects, school concerts — and not have to worry about practicing, prepping and primping. We can watch T-ball games without obsessing over whether the kids are paying attention or being good sports. We really don’t care. We’re just happy they’re out on the field and looking cute.

Like so many Century 21 grandparents, we’re players. We play Monopoly, we play basketball, and heck, if we need to, we’ll play the harmonica in a Melissa and Doug band. We bowl, bike and boogie right alongside the kids. I proudly Shook It Off not long ago on the very same dance floor as my two justifiably horrified granddaughters.

We realized we get to skim off all the good stuff — the piano recitals, science projects, school concerts — and not have to worry about practicing, prepping and primping.

Bleepers and bloopers

Oh sure, there were a few minor missteps along the way. Like the time we — even though we were asked not to — breezed into our kids’ house, right past the parents who were standing at the door like bouncers at a night club.

Or the time we  — even though we were asked not to — plied the grandkids with sugar and returned them just a bit hyped up and in no mood to practice the piano or read a book or do much of anything else. 

Or the countless times we offered very sound advice that’s based on experience, skill and just plain know-how, even though our kids clearly preferred forging their own parenting paths.

So far, we’ve managed to understep more than overstep and are still learning how to watch our step.

What else have we learned? A lot. And in an effort to share that critical knowledge, I’ve come up with an essential list of what not to do once you enter Grandparent Universe.

Parents, send this (anonymously) to your folks:  

1. Don’t ask, don’t tell. Your kids won’t welcome your leading questions (“you’re still breast-feeding?”) or your unsolicited advice.

2. Don’t resurrect this banal oldie: “When we were raising you, we didn’t (fill in the blank) and you turned out just fine!”

3. Don’t fight change. Babies sleep on their backs, kids ride in the back seat, whole milk is good and Sponge Bob is bad. Embrace it.

4. Don’t post your grandkids’ photos on Facebook or Instagram or any other gram without permission.

5. Don’t surprise your kids. Grandkids coming for a sleepover? Alert the parents if you’re taking them out, expecting visitors or watching a Netflix film.

6. Don’t show them that Netflix film unless mom and dad have signed off on it.

7. Don’t be the grandparent who just can’t be bothered with technology (“I don’t do the Twitter”). You’ll be left in the dust with your Princess Phone.

8. Don’t chuckle with indulgent delight when your grandkids use four letter words that rhyme with luck or hit or … you get the idea.

9. Don’t forget to save some love for your kids. What are they, chopped liver?

10. Don’t underestimate grandparent power. You offer your grandchildren unconditional love, a big-picture perspective, a refuge when needed, professionally framed preschool art, and the time and willingness to listen to all the minutia they feel like sharing. It’s pure gold.

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