Inside: When grandparents want to visit too much, it can stress new parents out, no matter how good of a relationship you have with your parents or in-laws. Here’s a step-by-step game plan for handling this often uncomfortable situation in the most gracious way possible.
Confrontation has never been my strong point. In fact, I tend to run from it, hide from it, and simply avoid it at all costs.
But when it comes to struggles within our extended family, the avoidance approach really doesn’t work, and it can make small problems linger and even snowball over time.
When faced with grandparents who want to visit too much, the resulting strain on your immediate family is probably enough of a wake-up call to know that something has to change. And unfortunately, if you want to see change, you need to initiate it.
So in this post, we’re going to cover several actionable tips to confront the problem head-on. These tips will be especially useful if you’re an avoidant people-pleaser like me.
How Often Should Grandparents Visit?
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If you’re looking for a straightforward, “X number of hours” or “this number of times per week”, I can’t give it to you.
This is solely dependent on the kind of relationship you have with your parents and family dynamics. It is also dependent on your personality and needs – and that of your partner.
If you’re here now, you’re already wrestling with grandparents who are coming over too frequently (or asking to do so). They’re likely crossing your own personal threshold of “too often”, but you don’t know what to do about it.
That’s where we come in.
What to Do When Grandparents Want to Visit Too Much
While some of these ideas could apply to anyone who regularly enters your house without a real invite (lookin’ at you, neighborhood kid) – it’s obviously a much bigger issue when the frequent flyer is a grandparent.
After all, they brought you – or your partner – into this world. You care about them at some level.
You probably want them to visit sometimes and have some kind of relationship with your children, or you would be reading a different type of article entirely (like how to cut toxic family members out of your life).
For grandparents who visit too frequently, the issue is more centered around how to address the issue in a kind and loving way, yet clearly communicates your own needs and your child(ren)’s needs.
1. Remind yourself that your own (the parent’s) mental and emotional health needs to be your highest priority.
When the grandparents are stressing you out, it’s good to remember who you are and what’s really important in this moment.
You are the parent – a darn good one at that – and you have every right to have reasonable expectations about who visits your house, and when. You are the one with a little one completely dependent on you, and you need to be healthy all around to do your job well.
You are also an adult, which sounds obvious, but might not be to your parents or in-laws. They may still look at you like a child who just needs to submit to parental authority.
They might not realize they’re doing this, but it’s very common for grandparents to not see your authority (or your needs) as greater than their own, when it comes to your kids. It’s baffling, I know.
So affirming yourself as a mom and an adult who is worthy of respect and compassion might be the first step in being willing to turn this emotional ship around.
This battle isn’t the first you’ve had as a parent, and granted, it might be one of the trickier ones to navigate. But you can address it, and you should.
The worst thing you can do in this scenario is be a pushover and pretend it doesn’t bother you when the grandparents show up unannounced – again.
2. Determine what’s really bothering you about the frequency of grandparent visits.
In any stressful relationship, making self-care a priority is invaluable to you as the parent, but it’s particularly help in getting to the bottom of why you are stressing about grandparent visits.
By having time to relax and do something you enjoy or simply have a few moments to yourself, you can more easily pinpoint what exactly the issue is here. Knowing why you resent the frequency of grandparent visits will help you solve the problem.
The answer might seem simple: the grandparents are invading your space and privacy, and they’re not respecting your time or schedule.
But the under-the-surface issues may not be as obvious.
Maybe it’s the fact you never have time to clean up the house before they arrive (who does, really?).
Or maybe you feel that the grandparents are secretly – or even openly – critical of your parenting choices.
Identifying and being able to name those stressors can also help you to have better conversations when it’s time to set reasonable boundaries with your visitors.
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3. Set strong boundaries with grandparents as soon as possible.
Boundaries were, I believe, not discussed much in previous generations. Henry Cloud brought them to our attention, though, in his famous books on the topic.
The original Boundaries book is an excellent resource for navigating relationships with our families (and everyone else).
If grandparents aren’t very familiar with the concept (think: Marie Barone in Everyone Loves Raymond), setting any type of boundary will seem offensive to them at first, especially if they feel entitled to their grandchildren anytime they want.
But the fact is having clear, agreed upon boundaries makes life better for everyone. When done well, boundaries actually help to preserve the relationship.
Family members know what to expect and ideally, when boundaries are respected, family bonds are strengthened because everyone’s needs are heard and understood.
Here’s an example of a boundaries conversation you might have with a grandparent who loves to drop in at a moment’s notice.
“I love that you want to visit and spend time with the kids. Here is what we need when you visit (list your needs: a heads up call or text, 24 hours notice, and/or a text back from me confirming that time works for us).“
The longer you wait to set these boundaries, the more difficult it will be for grandparents to 1) receive them and 2) adjust to what, in their eyes, are “new rules”.
What About Overbearing Grandparents?
Now, let’s consider that you actually have the overbearing grandparent with a Marie Barone complex.
In this case, you might need to be MUCH firmer, blunt even.
If the delivery comes across as rude, so be it (being firm and blunt isn’t being rude). Overbearing grandparents are, quite frankly, being rude themselves, and they will probably receive any kind of boundary-setting as rude and disrespectful.
Example of Boundary-Setting with an Overbearing Grandparent:
“Marie, I am so glad you love the kids and want to spend time with them. However, in order for us to continue to have a relationship, you must call me 24 hours before visiting so that I can confirm that time works for us. Can you agree to that?”
Notice how you can’t simply drop a hint with a notorious boundary crosser like Marie.
She needs to understand your needs, understand why you need boundaries, and agree to your terms. It is your home and your children, after all.
In either case, we can be pleasant and respectful and acknowledge that we do value the relationship and the time spent together. But in order for everyone to feel valued and enjoy the time together, there has to be some ground rules established.
4. Understand and acknowledge intergenerational differences.
It’s very likely that you parent differently than your parents or in-laws. Each generation (and really each individual, honestly) tends to have slightly different definitions of the same values like respect, love, trust and authority.
Some grandparents feel that respect is automatically warranted regardless of their behavior. They see frequent visiting rights simply as an entitlement of being a grandparent.
Millennials, however, may tend to see respect as something that has to be earned, and may place a higher value on privacy and making plans.
Again, the concepts of honoring/ respecting your “elders” and especially those in the grandparent role, varies greatly by generation and by culture.
They also might assume you want and need their help, which may or may not be the case if the relational dynamics are currently stressful.
In any event, just because you understand why the grandparents in your life are acting the way they are doesn’t mean you need to be a doormat and accept the behavior.
5. Develop (or retain) appropriate empathy.
With all the above said, empathy doesn’t need to be discarded as you work through these issues.
When you’re dealing with a stressful grandparent who just isn’t listening to your needs, it can be tempting to only see things from your point of view. Yes, they are your kids. Yes, you probably have more to juggle with being the actual caretaker day-in and day-out.
I mean, wouldn’t YOU like to drop regular life and just go visit your favorite people whenever you wanted? Sounds fun, right? Except, you don’t have that option and you’re the one getting bombarded- not them.
The fact is, empathy can help us to deescalate tension, in many scenarios.
Consider that the grandparents truly love your kids and miss them terribly when they don’t see them regularly. They feel energized by being around your littles, who fondly remind them of what it was like raising you or your spouse.
Really, grandparents who care enough about your kids to show up- even unannounced – are special people.
They may not understand today’s social norms in the way that you’d hope. They might encroach on your personal space.
But at the end of the day, they just want to hang out with your kids. (And your kids ARE pretty awesome, after all.)
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What If Grandparents Don’t Respect Your Boundaries Around Visits?
One of the hardest things to deal with as a parent is when you have worked hard to communicate your boundaries with a grandparent, only to have them completely ignored.
We have to understand that not everyone is going to respect our boundaries, no matter how hard we try to voice them. BUT that doesn’t mean you are left without options.
Sadly, when you have set reasonable boundaries for grandparents’ visiting schedules and they continue to cross those boundaries, you might have to decide whether you need a break for a season.
Completely cutting off grandparents from visiting your home may seem drastic, but it may be the only way to get their attention and reinforce how important it is that you as the parent be respected as such.
Only you can decide if these steps need to happen. But a break might be just what your grandparents (and maybe extended family in general?) needs a perspective change.
Hopefully, they will realize their relationship with your kids is more important than having their own way. In time, they might agree to establish a better visiting schedule that takes into account your needs as well as theirs.
If this is extremely stressful for you, as in leading to extreme anxiety and depression, please find a qualified therapist to help you navigate the situation. There is no shame in getting help.
When Negotiating Grandparent Visits Is Stressful, Remember This
When you’re at the end of your rope, there are things you can do to address this issue, as we’ve outlined above.
Hopefully, with carefully articulated boundaries, empathy and understanding, you can develop a better relationship with the grandparents in your kids’ life. Some hurt feelings on both ends might be part of the process.
If, in the end, your situation does require some time and space, just know that you did everything you could. Sometimes guarding a healthy family dynamic means making hard decisions, even if our extended family doesn’t always understand it at the time.
Remember that good ol’ Marie Romano may have been the grandmother everyone loved to despise – but her intentions were (mostly) honorable. She simply wanted to spend time with her grandchildren, and see her kids happy and thriving.
But she had to learn (the hard way, usually) that she could not be in charge of her adult kids’ lives and intrude anytime she pleased.
The best way through an obstacle is usually, well, through it. And with some direct, positive, loving conversations, most grandparents will decide to accommodate your needs for the sake of those kiddos they love so much (including you).
Here’s to confronting those sticky situations, with just the right balance of grace, honesty and wisdom. You’ve got this!