Setting boundaries

Q: When Mom and Dad were living on the farm, everything was workable. They would come into town every couple of weeks to pick up groceries and spend time with my husband and me and our three children. Our kids are very young. They loved running around Grandma and Grandpa and I loved the break in routines that their visits gave us. But then Mom and Dad moved into town and now it is different.

It is like my parents are always under foot. Dad spends most of his time at our house and Mom thinks nothing of dropping in, unannounced, and interfering with bedtime routines and spoiling supper with treats for the kids. I love my parents and I would do anything not to hurt their feelings but something has to give somewhere along the way. I am worried that we are going to all get frustrated and say things that might damage that relationship we have treasured for so many years. Do you have any thoughts on this?

A: When things are working well, I am not sure that you are going to find a richer support system than the one that comes through the extended family. When Grandma and Grandpa are there to help Mom and Dad deal with moments of stress with their own children, it is a massive moment of relief.

Realize that both you and your parents still have to recognize that healthy families are built through networks of boundaries.

A boundary is like a fence with a gate on it. Sometimes you open the gate to let other people through and other times you close the gate to protect you privacy.

You probably need to reinforce boundaries separating your family from your parents. The gate should be closed when your children are into their bedtime routines. They should not be dropping over at meal times.

On the other hand, that gate is wide open when any one of your children is performing at a school concert, piano recital or hockey game. Your children are going to love the unequivocal support they get from Grandma and Grandpa.

The development of boundaries comes naturally to many families but not all of them. In your case, Mother and Father moved to town and a new lifestyle. The stress generated by this significant change in their daily routines may be leading them to lean on you and your family more than usual.

I hope that you can be sensitive to how difficult such change can be for seniors. Your parents are gems of support for your children. They just need to be polished a bit more.

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