Notes on Parenting

Insights for parenting babies, toddlers, teens, and young adults.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Boundaries and extended family

by Malina

I almost had my daughter to sleep when I heard the bathtub start to fill with water. Who was taking a bath right now? I went to investigate and found my son getting into the tub. After reminding him I had asked him to put on his pajamas and brush his teeth he said his Uncle told him to take a bath. After getting my daughter back in bed and making sure my boys were in pajamas and brushing their teeth, I went to talk with my brother.

"You cannot tell my kids to do things contradictory to what I have asked them to do!"
"I thought it would be a good idea!"
"That is irrelevant. I am the final authority on what they can do. You do not intervene or contradict me!"

At this point my mom interjected and told my brother to just apologize and promise not to do it again.

My kids and I are visiting family this week. This means lots of playing with Aunts, Uncles, Grandpa & Grandma. It means new toys and adventures. It also means occasional reminders to family members that they are not my child's parent - I am.

I am lucky because my fears of my mom and dad trying to parent my kids her way and not listen to our desires have been unfounded. They have respectfully allowed me (and my husband) to be the parents to our kids and enjoyed their new roles as grandparents.  Occasional reminders when boundaries are overstepped have been acknowledged and conflicts resolved. My siblings have also accepted their roles as aunts and uncles and refer back to my husband and myself when not sure what our answer would be. As a result, I find that I can let my kids out of my immediate sight at my parents home. 

Boundaries in parenting make children feel safe. They know they can't get away with anything and that their are limits to appropriate behaviors, play areas, bedtimes, table manners and more. Boundaries teach appropriate social behaviors and help children become capable members of society. For more on parenting boundaries with kids, see this article or this book.

Boundaries in extended family parenting situations are best established with respectful communication before situations arise to cause conflict. Letting your family know that breaking your parenting rules with your kids will result in consequences is much easier done before a situation arises.

If boundaries have been an issue in your family visits, before you next visit make sure to call and clearly lay out your boundaries. Let them know your basic family rules and make it clear that you expect them to help you keep these rules consistent during your visit. Explain that a lack of respect for your parenting boundaries will result in consequences such as no unsupervised visiting or you returning home earlier than planned.

Having boundaries in your family visits make things much more peaceful. It means you aren't surprised when a gift you do not want given to your child comes home with you anyway. It means your kids don't think they can ask grandma for a treat and get one when you have said no. It means your son doesn't watch an inappropriate movie without your knowledge and consent.

Have you had problems with grandparents or relatives not respecting your role as parent? How have you established boundaries with your extended family?



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