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

Jim Daly
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 thereís nothing wrong with intergenerational cooperation. Itís 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 youíre feeling unappreciated, put upon or taken advantage of -- even just a little bit -- then itís safe to say that something needs to change.

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

If youíre finding it difficult to set reasonable boundaries, itís possible that youíre operating on the basis of a guilty sense of obligation or your own co-dependent needs. Neither leads to healthy relationships. Itís also important to remember that while grandparents have a critical role to play in the lives of their grandkids, itís best under normal circumstances that they not take on the role of primary caregivers. Thatís the parentsí 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 donít make yourselves so available.

Q: My 14-year-old daughter tells us that all her friends are dating now and that waiting until sheís 16, like we did, is very ďoutdated.Ē We havenít budged yet on letting her start dating, but my wife and I are questioning if weíre 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 theyíre 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 youíve broken the ice, bring up the subject of dating. Once youíve 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 youíll be observing her (and anyone she goes out with) for evidence of key maturity markers that will indicate sheís ready.

Let her know whatís 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 anotherís 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 arenít 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 or at

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 Familyís website is at




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