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  • Writer's pictureEmily Pardy, LMFT

How to Set Boundaries as a Grandparent: More Than Just Babysitting

By: Emily Pardy, LMFT, Founder & CEO


You’re a new grandparent, congratulations! You finally get to be called that sweet new nickname like Gigi, or Meemaw, or whatever version of Papa is trending now. You finally get to spoil a little baby without reaping any of the miserable consequences. And best of all, you get to develop a new relationship with a child who will look up to you without the pressures of raising them yourself. 


Becoming a grandparent is a journey filled with new adventures. As you embark on this next chapter, it's natural to feel an overwhelming desire to shower your grandchild with love and attention. However, finding the balance between providing childcare support and nurturing your relationship with your grandchild can be a delicate dance. If you’re going to help with childcare, it’s important to set boundaries to ensure that you don't feel like you're solely fulfilling the role of childcare provider, but rather, fostering meaningful connections and bonds that will last a lifetime.


As a grandparent, you have the unique opportunity to offer love, wisdom, and support to your grandchild as they navigate the world around them. While providing childcare may be a significant part of your role, it's essential to recognize that grandparenting is about much more than just babysitting duties. You also want to make sure that you don’t end up feeling taken advantage of or resentful towards your adult children.


As the Child Caregiver:


  • Communication is Key: Open and honest communication with your adult children is essential in establishing boundaries around childcare responsibilities. Discuss your availability, preferences, and limitations upfront to ensure that everyone is on the same page. Mean what you say and say what you mean. If you have other commitments or obligations, let them know ahead of time so you can all plan accordingly.

  • Set Clear Expectations: Clearly define your role as a grandparent from the outset. Make it known that while you are more than willing to help with childcare when needed, you also value your time together for building relationships and creating memories. Your “Grandparent time” can include treats and special outings, while your “Childcare time” may need to stick to a more rigid routine.

  • Respect Your Own Needs: Remember that your needs and desires are just as important as those of your grandchild and their parents. Don't be afraid to assert yourself and set boundaries around your availability and level of involvement in childcare. Again, if you have obligations that are important to you, don’t say you’ll be available to watch the child and then show up with mixed feelings or resentment. Keeping your self-care a priority will free you up to look forward to your time with your grandchild.

  • Maintain Flexibility: While it's essential to establish boundaries and routines, it's also important to remain flexible and adaptable. Life can be unpredictable, and there may be times when your assistance with childcare is needed more than usual. Be honest about your limitations of time or energy. Be willing to adjust your plans if they can be rescheduled and accommodate the needs of your family when necessary. Flexibility means you’re able to make things work, however, and don’t mean that you have to sacrifice something to the point of suffering. In other words, maybe you can skip one week of playing pickle ball, but you should reschedule a doctor’s appointment you’ve had on the calendar for months.

  • Prioritize Quality Time: Make a conscious effort to prioritize quality time with your grandchild outside of childcare duties. Being intentional about building a lasting relationship means you show up for things beyond the regular “needs” of the home. Plan special outings, engage in meaningful activities together, and create lasting memories that go beyond the day-to-day responsibilities of caregiving. This will help motivate you to know your grandchild on a deeper level and vice versa. 


As the Grandparent:


  • Be Present and Engaged: When you're spending time with your grandchild, be fully present and engaged in the moment. This relationship is different than parenting, and allows for sweet moments of intention with far less obligations or responsibilities. Put away distractions, actively listen to their stories and interests, and cherish the time you have together. You know how quickly time flies.

  • Encourage Independence: While it's natural to want to dote on your grandchild, it's also important to encourage their independence and self-sufficiency. Reserve your energy as you observe how curious they are at their young age. Allow them to explore and discover the world around them at their own pace, offering guidance and support along the way.

  • Share Your Wisdom and Values: As a grandparent, you have a wealth of life experience to draw upon. Share your wisdom, values, and traditions with your grandchild, imparting lessons that will shape their character and worldview for years to come. Be sure to respect the beliefs and boundaries of your adult children so they can freely support your developing relationship and don’t feel defensive about what you have to offer. 

  • Celebrate Milestones Respectfully: Take pride in your grandchild's accomplishments, no matter how big or small. Celebrate their milestones with enthusiasm and encouragement, letting them know how proud you are of their growth and achievements. Be aware of how the grandchild’s parents are celebrating their child as well, so you can support them in participating in those plans. Be careful not to “hijack” celebrations from their family, rather respecting the way they want to acknowledge these achievements.

  • Create Special Traditions: Establishing special traditions and rituals can help strengthen the bond between you and your grandchild. This can extend into cultural traditions, or family togetherness that brings meaning to your relationship. Whether it's a weekly game night, an annual camping trip, or baking cookies together every holiday season, these shared experiences will create lasting memories and deepen your connection.


As a new grandparent, finding the balance between providing childcare support and nurturing meaningful connections with your grandchild is essential. By setting boundaries, prioritizing quality time, and fostering open communication, you can ensure that your role as a grandparent is fulfilling and rewarding. Your role can truly offer help and support for your adult children as you embrace the journey of grandparenting with an open heart and a willingness to create lasting memories that will be cherished for generations to come.


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If you find yourself in need of professional help, don't hesitate to reach out to us and schedule a session. Our dedicated team at Empty Nest Counseling is here to help you navigate life's challenges and transitions with care and compassion. Whether you're experiencing difficulties related to the milestones of becoming an Empty Nester or new grandparent or finding balance in how you relate to your adult children, our therapists are ready to support you. We offer both in-person and virtual therapy. Schedule a therapy session with us today and take the first step towards a healthier you. Remember, you don't have to face it alone – we're here for you.


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