The Healthy List of Boundaries for Grandparents: 21 Things They Should Never Do

Last Updated on October 26, 2021 by Alexander Burgemeester

When it comes to raising kids, grandparents are often the unsung heroes for many parents. Showering grandkids with love, praise, and even helping out with the occasional babysitting service on date nights all go a long way.

Filled with insight from parenting their own children, it’s wonderful when we’re able to have a good relationship with them. However, there are times when even the most thoughtful grandparents can cross the line and undermine a parent’s authority in front of the children. 

Whether it’s allowing the kids to eat junk food after you explicitly said no or full-on stepping in and setting ground rules that you don’t agree with, there are some things grandparents should never do.

This is why setting healthy boundaries is necessary. However, setting healthy familial boundaries is often easier said than done.

Most of us don’t want to disturb the peace and want to keep our relationships within the family amicable. Even so, setting boundaries is the only way to keep yourself from unnecessary emotional distress.

Setting limits will allow you to maintain your authority as the parent while letting your family members know what is and isn’t allowed. 

It’s quite possible to have incredibly healthy and loving extended family relations with the proper boundaries set in place.

Whether you’re a parent dealing with grandparents crossing boundaries or you’re a grandparent who wants to make sure that you’re maintaining a healthy relationship – this guideline is meant to help highlight how to set and support boundaries.

List of Boundaries for Grandparents: 21 Things Grandparents Should Never Do

Becoming a grandparent is one of the greatest joys of getting older. Witnessing all of the first’s of your grandchildren such as crawling, walking, and more are all incredibly fulfilling.

As a parent, having your child’s grandparents around can be a huge help and stress relief. Many times, their sage advice and parenting skills come in handy.

However, not all grandparents are the same and sometimes they can overstep their place in the relationship. 

Setting boundaries from the start is important for keeping the relationship between grandchild and grandparent healthy. Overstepping boundaries can lead to a tumultuous relationship that adds stress for everyone involved.

Here’s a list of boundaries for grandparents to enforce and ones that should never be crossed. 

21 things grandparents should never do

#1. Showing up to the hospital uninvited 

The birth of a new baby is one of the most exciting milestones in a family. With that in mind, it’s easy to get incredibly excited and want to see your new grandchild as soon as they’re born.

However, showing up at the hospital unexpectedly can be quite imposing on the new parents. It’s important to only show up at the hospital if you’ve either been explicitly invited or if you have asked beforehand.

Giving birth is an intense and life-changing experience and often requires serious recovery. Many new mothers may want to be left alone to recuperate and spend time with the baby before dealing with visitors. 

#2. Asking for more grandkids 

Being a grandparent can be incredibly fulfilling in so many ways. After seeing how much joy one baby has brought the family, you may begin to think that another baby will bring even more joy.

However, not everyone has the financial means or even the desire to have more children. Many couples or single parents are content with one or two kids.

Requesting for more grandkids against the parent’s wishes is a surefire way to create some tension in your relationship.  

#3. Insisting on certain baby names 

Choosing a baby name is one of the most cherished parts of becoming a new parent. However, grandparents should not make the situation about themselves and their name preferences.

Even if the family has a tradition of passing on a name through the years, that doesn’t mean that your children are interested in doing so.

Unless your opinion has been asked, it’s best to keep your name opinions to yourself. If asked to comment on any names chosen, it’s best to avoid expressing extreme distaste.

Expressing outright disdain can easily create resentment, especially if they wind up choosing the name anyway.

Instead, you may want to express that you approve of certain names over others. This helps keep the situation neutral while allowing you to express your opinion. 

#4. Posting your grandkids online without the parent’s permission 

Wanting to share your beautiful grandkid with the world is a beautiful notion, but that’s not always how the parents may feel.

Some parents don’t like having photos of their kids on the internet and others want to wait to announce the baby on their own social media accounts.

Before posting, make sure that you are granted permission to do so. Otherwise, you may have an uncomfortable conversation come up about deleting your latest baby photo album. 

#5. Spoiling the kids too much 

Many grandparents love to spoil their grandchildren. From surprise gifts, favorite candies, sugary sodas, and even spontaneous trips to the zoo – spoiling them is all a part of showing them how much you care.

Some may even use gifts to win over the hearts of their grandchildren or get the kids to listen to them and their requests. 

While it’s perfectly fine to spoil them from time to time, there have to be limits on how much you spend and how much junk food you allow them to consume.

Overspoiling the kids can lead to a falling out between you and the parents.

Your grandchild’s parents may view this behavior as undermining their rules and may even make them come off as ‘bad parents’ in front of their kids when they have to say, “No,” to excessive treats or too much television.

To avoid these types of situations, ensure that you ask beforehand if it’s okay to supply the kids with treats or enable watching television before having dinner. 

#6. Allowing anyone and everyone to hold your grandchild 

While your grandchild may be the cutest thing in the world, that doesn’t mean every person deserves a chance to hold them.

Wanting to show off how cute they are is perfectly natural, however, making sure to limit who can hold the baby is key to keeping the baby safe.

Many parents may also be uncomfortable with strangers and people that they are not close to holding the baby. This is especially important to keep in mind with the state of the pandemic.

Make sure to keep the vulnerable ones safe by keeping them out of the arms of strangers. 

#7. Undermining the parent’s discipline and rules 

If the parents insist on time-outs when a tantrum is thrown or no sweets before dinner, then it’s the grandparent’s job to adhere to the parent’s rules.

Undermining the rules in front of the kids is a good way to create serious rifts in your relationship. Sneaking them candy or potato chips before dinner or insisting that they should be allowed to stay up past their bedtime are all crossing serious boundaries. 

Even if a rule seems absurd to you, they are the parents and the decisions are ultimately theirs. Avoid adding your two cents to situations that are clearly meant to be handled between the parent and child – even if you believe it’s unfair.

The only time it is fair game to intervene is in the case of child abuse. Otherwise, any other interference can come off as disrespectful to the relationship. 

#8. Criticizing them in front of their kids 

This next one goes in line with undermining specific rules set in place for the kids. Criticizing parents and their abilities in front of the children will lead to a lot of resentment in the family.

Treating your son or daughter as adult children, despite their ability to take care of themselves, can come off as rude and incredibly disrespectful.

When interacting within the family dynamic, make sure that you show complete confidence in your children’s ability to raise their own kids. This will also reinforce your grandchildren’s trust in their parents. 

#9. Trying to raise them like you did your own kids 

When it comes down to parenting, you know that you’ve got it all figured out. After all, you managed to raise some pretty great kids of your own.

While it’s great to acknowledge all of the good you did as a parent, it’s also important to remember that every family is unique.

This means that while certain things may have worked back then, your kids may want to raise their kids in an entirely different way.

Trying to push your own ways of parenting onto them is one way to get on everyone’s nerves. Make sure to avoid clashing opinions and allow them to raise their kids how they see fit. 

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#10. Rewarding bad behavior 

Is your grandkid throwing a fit because they weren’t allowed to stay at the park longer than allowed? Or are they upset about not being able to eat a sweet treat right before lunchtime?

While it might seem easier to just let them hang out at the park for as long as they’d like or give them the piece of candy, this reinforces bad behavior.

This also creates an even larger problem when they wind up back home and are no longer listening to the rules of the house. Make sure you’re not making the parents’ lives harder by rewarding bad behavior. 

#11. Talking badly about other family members 

Having a daughter-in-law or son-in-law means having an extended family beyond yourself. Your grandchildren, if they’re lucky, will most likely have two sets of grandparents.

While you may not like how this other couple lives or how they choose to spend time with the grandchildren, it’s not up to you to make any comments about it.

Bad mouthing or gossiping about other family members can lead to a lot of problems and heartaches. You may even strain the relationship between you and your grandkids.

They may even want to see you less as a result of this. When it comes to disagreeing with others, you’re better off keeping it to yourself. 

#12. Calling and video chatting constantly 

There’s nothing more exciting than an adorable new baby. This is especially true when it’s your own family. These days there are so many ways to stay connected with family, even if you live miles away.

Video chatting, phone calls, and social media all make it easy to keep up with your loved ones.

However, it’s important to keep in mind that while we’re able to contact someone at any time throughout the day that doesn’t mean that they have to be available to us 24/7. 

Keeping a set schedule of how often you’re video chatting and calling is important to keep the relationship healthy and balanced. After all, raising a child is a lot of hard work and can be exhausting.

The last thing a mom or dad may want to do is spend all day on the phone with their own or their partner’s parents.

Reach out to see what times work best and adhere to that schedule. 

#13. Watch your language 

Language is a powerful tool, so make sure to use it wisely. It’s easy to make others uncomfortable with the use of certain words.

Do your best to not overuse the word “my” or “mine” when referring to your grandchild.

Oftentimes, parents see this kind of language as signs of obsessed grandparents. This can feel off-putting and comes off as quite possessive language.

Instead, do your best to refer to the child by name or as “the baby.” These are more neutral and positive. 

#14. Demanding that a specific outfit be worn 

Do you absolutely adore that pink striped dress that you bought? Or do you think the baby would look darling in that navy blue suit you got them?

It’s great to buy them some cute outfits, but what’s not great is demanding that they put on the outfit.

While you might think it’s the perfect outfit for the baby photoshoot, that doesn’t mean that everyone else feels the same.

It’s ultimately not your choice what the baby wears and keeping that boundary in mind can save you from a family fight. 

#15. Discussing baby weight and weight loss 

Carrying a baby means gaining weight and there’s nothing wrong with that. While the new parent may be thinking about losing weight or finding ways to get back into shape, it’s not your place to comment on this.

Discussing them losing weight or encouraging them to do so doesn’t come off as supportive as you may want it to be.

Giving birth is a huge event for the body to go through and recuperating from it takes time – as each person’s body responds differently.

It’s inappropriate to discuss their weight and it’s best if you keep any comments to yourself when and if the topic gets brought up. 

#16. Discussing the baby’s weight 

While on the topic of issues that shouldn’t be discussed, the baby’s weight is another one that you should keep to yourself.

Whether you believe they’re too skinny or need to shed some weight, that’s not something you should comment out loud to them.

Grandparents who make comments about the kid’s weight are likely to create a rift in the relationship.

As they get older, they may begin to resent you and you may inadvertently create a problem between them and their relationship with food.

Instead, if you’re truly worried, figure out ways to approach the topic to the parents with absolute sensitivity. 

#17. Avoid criticizing what food is being served 

You might not find that there’s a real difference between the organic snacks or the regular ones, but that doesn’t mean you can feed them whatever you want.

If the parents have specific food guidelines in mind, it’s your job to follow those rules.

If you think a dish they’re serving to the grandkids isn’t what you would serve for dinner, it’s not your place to make that comment.

The food that is being served is up to the parent’s discretion. If you would have baked the chicken differently or seasoned it with more “appropriate” spices, that’s your business to keep to yourself. 

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#18. Comparing grandkids to one another 

Is your son Billy’s kid a better student at school than your daughter Cara’s son? Is Cara’s son a better athlete than Billy?

While you may notice these differences, it’s important to not pit the grandchildren against each other.

Making comments that compare them to each other and pit their inherent gifts and skills against each other can cause familial competition.

The kids may already be quite aware of their distinct personalities and differences and having you bring it up could make them question their self-worth. 

#19. Expecting your kids to pass down the same religious beliefs or traditions 

You might believe that there is a “right way” to raise kids and that may involve certain religious beliefs or practices, but that doesn’t mean everyone else feels that way.

Respecting the wishes of the parents to raise their kids with their own beliefs is a big part of being a respectful grandparent.

They may not want to participate in a christening or a bris and your job is to respect that.

Finally, make sure not to go behind their backs and get the ceremony done anyway. Blatant disrespect like that may lead to you never being able to spend time alone with your grandchild again. 

#20. Buying large gifts without asking the parents first 

Have you been hearing the grandkids drop hints about wanting a new iPad or that large teddy bear in the window of the toy store?

Even if it’s not a big deal for you to spend the money on the gift, doing so without consulting with mom or dad first is a big no-no.

They may have been saving up to get the gift themselves or maybe there’s a reason why they don’t want them to have the gift at the moment.

Maybe they’re trying to instill a lesson about money and finances. Either way, it’s best to consult with them before spending on big gifts. 

#21. Influencing education choices 

Maybe you have a long list of educational preferences that you believe would be best for the grandkid’s education.

You could believe that public school gives them the best opportunity to meet others or perhaps you believe that private religious school offers the best education.

Either way, no matter what your preferences are, the decisions of how to school their children will ultimately come down to the parents. 

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What Are Toxic Grandparents?

Grandparents are a huge part of our family culture. They are seen as the extended family members that spoil the grandkids and give them unconditional love.

what are toxic grandparents

Many children love going over to grandma and grandpa’s house as they know they’ll be met with endless affection and some sweet treats as well.

Along with our perception of their relationship to the family, we can also often overlook some of their quirkier habits. However, because of our view of them as loving and affectionate, this can leave us even more susceptible to toxic behaviors. 

While there’s no denying that grandparents can be great, there are times when they push the boundaries and create a problematic environment for everyone involved.

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Toxic grandparents are ones that do not have your or your children’s best interest at heart. 

Lacking respect for your relationship with your child while undermining you at every turn is the sign of a toxic grandparent.

With most relationships in our lives, there is a spectrum to the toxicity. Some may continuously offer you advice that you never asked for.

While others may emotionally abuse your children and put them down. These types of behaviors can leave behind impactful mental health issues on your child. 

If you’re unsure of whether you’re dealing with a truly toxic grandparent, then keep these signs in mind: 

  • They were a difficult parent. Was your own childhood difficult and filled with hardship? While it’s not always the case, if your parent treated you poorly then you can expect them to treat their grandkids similarly. 
  • They play favorites amongst grandkids.Do they dote on one child more than the others? Are they buying special gifts for one child and not the others. Making one child a favorite while the others are the scapegoats can be a form of abuse. 
  • They criticize your kids or belittle them. A subtle form of emotional abuse is being incredibly critical. Putting your children down can negatively impact their self-esteem and self-worth. 
  • They meddle in your parenting choices and criticize them.Do they constantly tell you how you’re screwing up as a parent? Feeling entitled to constantly critiquing your parenting skills is a red flag.

Why is Setting Boundaries with Grandparents Important?

Even if you have the best parents in the world, or even the best in-laws, setting boundaries is incredibly important. Grandparents will eventually overstep boundaries, even if they have the best of intentions.

Why Setting Boundaries with Grandparents is Important

Setting firm boundaries is a way to let others know that there are certain lines that you don’t want to be crossed. It keeps the relationship sailing more smoothly and also allows you to identify when your boundaries have been crossed. It doesn’t have to mean that your parents or in-laws are toxic, either. 

Boundaries are a way to protect your family and the rules you’ve put in place. Acting as basic rules for grandparents, you’re able to control how your children and even you are treated.

Not everybody sees situations in the same light. What might seem completely fine for your mother is not going to fly with you.

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Because of such different life perspectives, boundaries help to create realistic expectations from both parties. After all, how will grandparents know what upsets you or makes you uncomfortable if you don’t let them know?

Along with making sure that everyone is on the same page, boundaries also ensure that everyone is treated fairly and with respect.

These rules facilitate compromise and encourage a deeper relationship between everyone involved. This also prevents big explosive fights from taking place. With clear boundaries, no one has to guess or tip-toe around each other.

Grandparents can then make decisions that they know align with your values and will know not to feed the kids certain foods or engage in certain activities. 

The experience of being a parent is overwhelming enough. Dealing with overzealous grandparents that want to be involved and may even give too much only adds to the stress of the situation.

Boundaries help determine everyone’s role in the new family dynamics and allow for an established set of rules to be followed without any second-guessing. 

How Do I Set Boundaries with My Grandparents?

If you’re growing concerned about grandparents overstepping their roles in your child’s life, then it’s time to start setting some boundaries.

While it’s easy to acknowledge that rules need to be put in place, sometimes figuring out how to do that can be the more difficult part.

If you’re having a hard time figuring out how to put boundaries in place, then follow through with these steps: 

How to set boundaries with your grandparents?

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1. Figure out what your values are 

To set boundaries, you’re going to need to know what your values are. Before having a difficult conversation with your parents or in-laws, it’s important to speak with your partner. Figure out what you’re looking to accomplish and how you want your children to be treated. This is important as you want to present a clear and coherent message once you decide to have the conversation. 

2. Act as early as possible 

Waiting until issues begin to arise is the perfect recipe for disaster. Instead, plan to have a conversation before patterns begin to set themselves up. This allows for any bad habits to be nipped in the bud immediately and will keep your relationship from reaching an unnecessary breaking point. 

3. Keep your tone calm and gentle 

Avoid sounding upset or manipulative by keeping your tone calm and maintaining gentleness in your voice. This allows for your message to be heard and won’t have anyone feeling like they need to be on the defense. 

4. Be specific 

When it comes to the rules, make sure you’re as specific as possible. Leaving room for interpretation means that certain rules and boundaries can be misconstrued. 

5. Be realistic 

Grandparents are only human, and they’re going to mess up from time to time. However, setting realistic boundaries makes it less likely for there to be any big blowouts. After all, being flexible is key when it comes to raising kids. 

What are Signs of Obsessed Grandparents?

There are many different types of grandparents, ranging from the helpful, the indifferent, and the overbearing. Obsessed grandparents are often ones that are interfering in everyday tasks and asking to see the grandkids constantly.

It’s not always easy to identify when a grandparent is obsessed, as many times we can understand their excitement. However, there are a few signs that present themselves when dealing with an overly obsessed grandparent. 

  • They bypass you when communicating with the kids. Alienating you when it comes to communicating with the children is a major red flag. When obsessed, grandparents may begin to overindulge their need to see and communicate with the grandkids. 
  • They play the victim when their desires aren’t indulged. Have you had to say no to a sleepover at grandma or grandpas? How did they go? If they’re acting as if any time they don’t get to spend with the kids is life or death, then this is a clear sign of obsession. 
  • Relying on grandkids to satisfy all their emotional needs. Grandchildren are there to be a source of joy and fun in their lives. They are not, however, meant to be the only thing that brings them happiness or fulfills their emotional needs. Not having a life outside of their grandkids is a sign of unhealthy obsession. 

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Alexander Burgemeester

Alexander Burgemeester has a Master in Neuropsychology. He studied at the University of Amsterdam and has a bachelor's in Clinical Psychology. Want to know more?

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