Grandparent Boundaries

Five ideas for how to help your new grandchild's parents without becoming too intrusive.

Mother-in-law jokes are as old as marriage and common as the cold. My daughter and I are close, emotionally and geographically, so I worry about becoming one of “those” mother-in-laws. Now that there is a grandchild involved, I am even more aware of the possibility of me wearing out my welcome and becoming a dreaded visitor rather than a pleasant one. The magnetic pull of my cute grandson, just a mile away, waiting to be held in my loving arms, is almost too much to resist. Here are a few ideas I’ve come up with to avoid being ‘that” mother-in-law.


I’ve very clearly discussed my intentions with my daughter and son in law. I have instructed them that they are to let me know if I am there too often or they feel I am overstepping my role in any way.

Discuss expectations

What is the role of the grandparent according to your adult child? Their relationship with their grandparents influences what they expect, but it’s good to discuss. My son-in-law’s grandmother lived a block away and was very involved in his life, seeing him almost every day. My parents were also very involved so my grandchild’s parents are happy with a high level of participation from grandparents.

Provide assistance

Two weeks into the grandparent game, I am visiting every day and although I have the ulterior motive of baby snuggles, I also try to offer a little help each time I visit. When my son in law is at work, I offer to take care of the baby long enough that my daughter can take a shower and a nap. If she’s busy nursing the baby I do the dishes, fold a load of laundry or run an errand. I’m not much of a cook but I’ve made several batches of easy to make, high protein balls for her to snack on while she’s nursing. Click here for the recipe. I’ve also made something rather strange called Lactation Cookies that are not scientifically proven to increase milk production but enthusiastically endorsed by multitudes of nursing mothers. Click here for that recipe.

Keep quiet

I haven’t been tempted to give unsolicited advice for three reasons; I have a terrible memory and can’t remember many details from my sleep deprived days of raising babies, I am aware many theories and practices have changed in the last thirty years and most importantly, my daughter and son-in -law are very competent parents and are doing a fantastic job! I know many grandparents struggle with this but unless you feel your grandchild is in danger, keep your opinion to yourself!

Understand your role.

This is their child, not yours. Don’t refer to the baby as your baby, it’s your grandbaby. This is their experience and as a grandparent you are an important part but you are not the star of the show. I have an acquaintance that thought she should be allowed to hold her newborn grandchild before the parents. Crossing a boundary like that ensures you will not be a welcomed frequent visitor.  You don’t like the name they chose? Too bad, get over it and smile.

When I brought my second child home from the hospital, my oldest daughter was only 15 months old.  I remember feeling extremely overwhelmed and desperate for help. I was sleep deprived, trying to recover from a caesarean section while taking care of a house and two babies while my husband worked long hours.  I try to channel the memories and offer what I needed as the mother of a newborn, but I also directly ask what type of help they want.  As my grandson grows I’m sure his parents’ needs will change, and we will need to keep the communication lines open so I can be of assistance without overstepping the boundaries. My goal is to avoid being such a nuisance that I become the butt of mother-in-law jokes yet be there enough to help my grandson’s parents and form a strong bond with him. It may be a delicate balance.


Categories: Grand Life