Grandparents and Rules

How do I set boundaries with the grandparents?

Question

My kids (ages 5 and 7) love their grandparents, and my husband and I want to help foster that relationship. The problem is my parents won’t help enforce our rules. How can we address this with my parents?

Answer

This is such a common problem that by now you’d think there would be some pat solutions. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Given the unique personalities, values and background of every couple and every multigenerational family system and the wide variety of “rules” some deem as important, there is no “one size fits all” for these common situations.

The good news is that there are some principles many couples have found helpful in navigating what at times can be the rough rapids of different approaches to parenting. A valuable first step is for you and your husband to pray daily and thank God for your parents and for the wisdom and discernment they’ve gleaned over the years and for their love for your kids. Ask God to give you wisdom to clarify what the core issues are and how to communicate in ways that will reflect love, communicate respect and lead to increased understanding on both sides.

What are the rules you are concerned about? List them on a scale from one to ten, with one being low ticket and ten being high ticket. Next to each one give at least two reasons why it is important. If there is some biblical support for the rule, be sure to include that. We’ve discovered that in these situations many parents can blur high ticket and low ticket issues and every little difference becomes high ticket. This simple process will help you determine what’s really important and why.

During this process keep in mind that when parents of adult children are asked what they would do differently if they could do it all over again, one of the things included on almost every list is that they would lighten up, have fewer rules and make sure they were majoring on majors. With this fact in mind ask yourself if all of these rules are really important? What are the consequences to the kids if the rules not being consistently applied?

It makes good sense that you would want your kids to have a consistent model and thus want your parents to be in line with your values. However, are you open to the fact that God might want to use your parents to help you see some things more clearly? Sometimes grandparents see things through more experienced and wiser eyes. Perhaps some of your rules are unnecessary and could even have a negative effect. Are you open to that possibility? Are you open to what the Holy Spirit might want to say to you through this process?

After your prayer, reflection, list-making and discussion, pick one rule that you are both are convinced is high ticket and that they might be open to discussing. Remember, when you talk to your parents how you approach the conversation and how you speak to them may be more powerful that what you say.

Begin the conversation by thanking them for their love for you and for their visible love for the kids and for their willingness to spend time with them. Let them know you appreciate God’s using them to build values and a sense of tradition into them and for the break that it gives you to do other things. When you share your concern avoid the “we’re right and you’re wrong” approach and talk about your mutual love and concern for the kids. Acknowledge the validity of the difference of opinion and at the same time the need for the kids to get the same message from grandma and grandpa as they get from mom and dad. If they are believers we’d encourage you to open and close your conversation with prayer.

You may have to have more than one conversation but most couples tell us that when they approach these situations with a thoughtful, prepared and open heart, God can take what is often an explosive and divisive conversation and actually use it to build bridges of increased love and understanding between generations.

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