Focus on the Family: Grandparents should not be used as stand-in parents

Jim Daly

Q: Our son and his wife both work and have extremely busy lives -- probably too busy. My husband and I frequently take care of our grandchildren so that their mom and dad can keep their hectic pace. We love being with the kids, but do you think this is a healthy arrangement?

Jim: You obviously love your grandkids, and there’s nothing wrong with intergenerational cooperation. It’s a good thing for family members to help one another as needs arise. But a great deal depends on the attitudes and expectations of your son and his wife. If you’re feeling unappreciated, put upon or taken advantage of -- even just a little bit -- then it’s safe to say that something needs to change.

If you want your interactions with your son, his wife and your grandchildren to remain positive, I’d encourage you to establish appropriate boundaries. Arrangements like yours usually work best when everyone agrees on some specific limitations. For example, you can say, “We’ll keep the kids two afternoons a week until your graduate coursework is finished in December.” If things remain vague and open-ended, it’s only a matter of time until you’ll begin to resent it.

If you’re finding it difficult to set reasonable boundaries, it’s possible that you’re operating on the basis of a guilty sense of obligation or your own co-dependent needs. Neither leads to healthy relationships. It’s also important to remember that while grandparents have a critical role to play in the lives of their grandkids, it’s best under normal circumstances that they not take on the role of primary caregivers. That’s the parents’ job.

If you honestly feel that Mom and Dad are missing out on opportunities to strengthen their connection with their own children, it may be best for everyone if you don’t make yourselves so available.

Q: My 14-year-old daughter tells us that all her friends are dating now and that waiting until she’s 16, like we did, is very “outdated.” We haven’t budged yet on letting her start dating, but my wife and I are questioning if we’re being too strict. What do you think?

Dr. Greg Smalley, Vice President, Family Ministries: My first suggestion would be to put less stock in age. Birthdays are legal milestones when it comes to a teen driving a car or casting a vote, but they’re an unreliable measure of maturity. When it comes to our sons and daughters dating, character is king.

At this point, invite your daughter on a date for some ice cream. After you’ve broken the ice, bring up the subject of dating. Once you’ve respectfully listened to her thoughts, tell her how special she is and that you want only good experiences for her when it comes time for her to date. Let her know you’ll be observing her (and anyone she goes out with) for evidence of key maturity markers that will indicate she’s ready.

Let her know what’s on your list, such as integrity, trustworthiness, respect for herself and others, honesty and responsibility. Spell out what these qualities look like, and give both positive reinforcement and corrective feedback based on what you see in the coming months.

That said, you still would be wise to institute some age-related restrictions. Consider limiting opposite-sex interactions to mixed-group settings, such as a church youth group, until your daughter has turned 17. This can offer a more secure environment and allow boys and girls the opportunity to learn how to relate and enjoy one another’s company without the awkwardness and sexual tension that often goes along with unsupervised dates.

Above all, keep the lines of communication open. The teen years aren’t simple, but your daughter needs you now more than ever.

Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at www.jimdalyblog.com or at www.facebook.com/DalyFocus.

Focus on the Family counselors are available Monday through Friday between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m. Mountain time at 855-771-HELP (4357). Focus on the Family’s website is at www.focusonthefamily.com.

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