Setting Boundaries with Grandparents

Oh – this topic is a doozy!

Grandparents, for the most part, mean well and want only to help. However, new parents sometimes feel resentful of unsolicited advice from both strangers and loved ones. Grandparents – fresh off a couple of decades of being Parents – have lots of great advice and tips to give, it’s usually just a matter of timing and delivery. Where relatives are concerned, there’s a very good chance that even the most well-meaning advice will sound like criticism to you.

Setting boundaries early and talking openly and calmly about your boundaries will help everyone stay happy.

Here are a couple of“battlefield proven tips” for handling grandparents:

  1. Check yourself. Before your head explodes and you give your mother-in-law a piece of your mind, stop and ask yourself if she is trying to offend you or help you? She might be genuinely trying to help but as you haven’t had much sleep lately, and your nipples are ON FIRE and your hormones are having a crazy party while you try to figure out how to be a mommy you may have misunderstood her intentions. Don’t turn on me here – I’m suggesting this only because my mother-in-law and I survived a similar situation. She meant well, I didn’t get it, and now that enough time has passed I do see that she only wanted to help me. Plus–I feel bad for being a cow and yelling at her.
  2. Explain yourself. You need to let grandparents know when you’d like them to visit, what you’d like them to help with and how much help you’re open to receiving. Grandparents aren’t mind readers – they’re human and they just want to hold the baby!
  3. Ask for help. Similar to the last tip, this one is designed to use communication to head off problems. If you beat them to the punch and ask for the things you really need (support, advice, someone to hold the baby while you shower, dinner) you will have a better shot at getting what you need rather than the not-so-helpful advice that you do not need.
  4. Be gracious but firm. Soon enough you’ll have to have the “Stop Spoiling the Children with Toys” talk or the “Stop Giving the Toddler Treats” talk. For now, though, in the early days, know that you cannot spoil a baby and the more love they get from Grandparents the better – also if Grandpa wants to buy silly over priced toys–just let him! Or better yet – direct him to the diaper aisle or the clothing aisle and let him help you with the items you need for Baby.
  5. Be Honest. If Grandma is stepping on your new mommy toes, tell her. But try to tell her right away–before you’re so worked up that you get into a screaming match. Let her know that you appreciate the effort but that you would really like to try to figure it out on your own. Remind her that as Baby gets older there will be plenty of opportunities for her to weigh in.

At the end of the day, I can’t tell you how to deal with your family. All families are different and all families are a little bit crazy. Try to be as open and understanding as possible, preserving your relationships without making yourself miserable. You can’t control other people so don’t try – just ask for what you need and remember that eventually you will need help in some form or another so try not to burn any bridges. You’ve got this, you can do this, and maybe – just maybe – Grandma has some helpful advice to offer too.

Sarah Cosman

Cosman & Webb Townships Organic, Bury, Quebec, Canada