We live in an age when the role of grandparents isn’t clearly defined.
“Grandma, don’t leave me,” my 2-year-old granddaughter wailed.
I started the car engine, ignoring my inclination to rush back into the house, blew her one last kiss, and pulled out of the driveway.
What kind of grandmother could leave her granddaughter under these circumstances? The answer is simple: one who believes in boundaries for grandparents.
My granddaughter wasn’t being mistreated, harmed, or neglected. She and I had just enjoyed a lovely time, gathering shells at the beach and satisfying ourselves on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, before I returned her home for the afternoon. When her mother lovingly but firmly announced that it was time for a nap, I kissed my granddaughter good-bye and slipped out the front door. That’s when her dramatics began.
If I had returned, I would have overstepped my boundaries, undermining her mother’s authority and reinforcing my granddaughter’s attempt to postpone her nap.
Most of us respect physical boundaries such as split-rail and chain-link fences. But do we respect the intangible boundaries surrounding the roles and responsibilities of our grandchildren and their parents? Do we respect the boundaries surrounding our own roles and responsibilities?
In order to practice healthy grandparent boundaries, we need to know what our role as a grandparent is, and what it is not.
We live in an age when the role of grandparents isn’t clearly defined. Society is ambiguous; the Church remains uncharacteristically silent; resources are limited. In order to find a well-defined job description for grandparents, we must turn our attention to Scripture.
God’s Word tells us the role of grandparents is to pass a legacy of faith to future generations. “Watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them” (Deuteronomy 4:9).
When we assume false roles or responsibilities that do not belong to us, we trespass against our grandchildren, their parents, and ourselves. The following scenarios provide present-day examples:
Trespass 1: Grandparents who co-parent. Kathleen insisted upon giving her grandson a pacifier when he came to visit, contrary to his parents’ wishes. Now she’s devastated, because her son and daughter-in-law, exhausted from arguments about the blue binkie, refuse to bring the baby for a visit.
The breakdown in Kathleen’s family began when she failed to respect the authority of her son and daughter-in-law as parents. Decisions about child rearing, from pacifiers to potty training, bedtime to discipline, belong to the parents.
A grandparent who crosses the boundary and begins to co-parent creates the proverbial three-legged race, leaving the grandchild confused about the person who is in the position of authority. The question becomes, “Who’s raising this child?” Eventually, the child will use the confusion to his advantage, manipulating situations to get what he wants.
As Cavin Harper says in his book Courageous Grandparenting, “Our role as grandparents is to walk as allies and help the parents of our grandchildren become the best parents they can be.”
Trespass 2: Grandparents who enable. Betty Lou’s grandson wants to attend an outdoor concert with his high school buddies, but he is scheduled to work delivering pizzas. Betty Lou, in her misguided attempt to be a loving and sympathetic grandmother, forges a work excuse for him. With the stroke of her pen, she not only commits a crime, but also gives her grandson permission to do likewise.
Jesus warns us, “Things that cause people to sin are bound to come, but woe to that person through whom they come. It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck than for him to cause one of the little ones to sin” (Luke 17:1-2).
Trespass 3: Grandparents who buy love. Dave and Brenda enter the checkout line of a superstore, their shopping cart laden with expensive toys and electronics—everything on their grandchildren’s Christmas list and more. They flash a credit card without considering the cost; after all, nothing is too good for their grandchildren.
With each scan of a barcode, Dave and Brenda buy into the cultural lie that God created us to be open wallets or “fun factories” for our grandchildren.
We cannot help but ask if Dave and Brenda are buying their grandchildren’s love—and at what cost? Are they unintentionally teaching their grandchildren to place monetary values on love and self-worth?
Trespass 4: Grandparents who allow themselves to be taken for granted. Tom heaves a sigh as he lifts the last bag of groceries onto the kitchen counter. He and his wife have been running a rent-free boarding house since their daughter and her two children moved in with them. Tom and his wife share the responsibilities—cooking meals, cleaning house, doing laundry, and caring for the little ones—while their daughter chats on Facebook. Tom suspects she is pregnant again.
Tom believes his daughter is taking advantage of their hospitality. He thinks she should assume household responsibilities or find a job and pay rent. His wife, however, fears if they make these demands, their daughter will leave with the grandchildren.
Tom and his wife are being offered a mulligan. They failed to teach their daughter responsibility when she was a child, but they now have the opportunity to fix their mistake. They need to ask her to share the workload, pay rent, or both. They need to model and establish boundaries for the sake of their daughter, themselves, and their grandchildren.
God seeks honest, hard work from all of us. “Those who work their land will have abundant food, but those who chase fantasies have no sense” (Proverbs 12:11). “A sluggard’s appetite is never filled, but the desires of the diligent are fully satisfied” (Proverbs 13:4).
Pray more, say less
Scripture commands us to pass on a legacy of faith to future generations—not to co-parent, enable, or entertain our grandchildren. The only time we have permission to trespass across boundaries is when the physical, emotional, or moral safety of our grandchildren is threatened.
But there is one thing that we can always do. Lillian Penner, author of Grandparenting with a Purpose, suggests that we say less and pray more. After all, the gift of prayer—wearing calluses on our knees on behalf of our grandchildren and their parents—comes without boundaries.
Copyright © 2016 Sherry Schumann. Used with permission. All rights reserved.