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When you join your home with your elderly parent, a dozen scenarios float through your mind. You picture your parent and your children developing this closeness. They will be experiencing life together, more intimate than most.
You might even go so far as to picture your parent and your kids becoming the best of friends despite the great chasm in their ages.
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This was certainly a dream of mine. My husband and I had been living in very close proximity to my in-laws for most of our marriage. I cooked dinner in their kitchen almost every night. My son loved spending time with his Grandpa Lee and Nana. It really was an idyllic situation; my son being spoiled by his grandparents multiple times a day.
When we became my MIL’s caregivers following the death of my FIL, my great expectations continued. I was certain my children would have a wonderfully close relationship with their Nana. She would read them stories, play with them, listen to their woes.
I was not prepared for the reality that awaited me.
I gave birth to my second child, our daughter, about 2 months after moving in with my MIL and taking on the role of her caregiver. My son was two.
My husband, my MIL, and I were having a conversation in the kitchen. It was not going well. My MIL was unhappy with the new but very necessary boundaries my husband and I had set. A typical two-year-old boy, my son was loudly running around my legs
My MIL snapped.
She grabbed my son by his arm and yanked him in her direction. Getting into his face she yelled, “Cut the crap out!”.
What not to do…
This was my breaking point. My personality will happily allow you to use me as your verbal punching bag but I will not have my young children tarnished by your bad temper.
I turned to my husband, “I’ve had enough!”, I exclaimed. Quickly packing a bag and gathering my children, I loaded the minivan and went down the road to my mother’s.
This left my husband in a horrible position. He wanted to support me but he also knew I was being unreasonable. He wanted to defend his mother (let’s be honest, we want our children to do the same for us) but not throw his wife under the bus.
Why You Need Boundaries
Setting boundaries for your elderly parent is important because it protects your kids and your own sanity, but it also protects your elderly parent. Without these boundaries the roles become muddy and confusion reigns.
For example, in this early confrontation, my MIL was confused about what role she specifically filled. This was her home and until this point, she had been the authority figure.
For sandwiched homes, boundaries have numerous benefits.
- They keep you from losing your cool and give you a clear road map to follow. There is no question about whether you are over- or under-reacting.
- They keep your elderly parent from always feeling like a victim. Boundaries should be enforced with and for your elderly parent.
- They keep your elderly parent from overstepping and trying to parent your children. When the boundaries are enforced, diffusing situations become a simple matter of reminding rather than a complicated role discussion.
5 Ways to Set Boundaries in Your Sandwiched Home
1. Set some ground rules.
Why rules matter in your sandwiched home
We had been in our new home with my MIL for less than a week. I was still worried about my son being in a new place and on the opposite side of the home from me. That along with my 8-month pregnant bladder, I was up very frequently.
It was 2am. I was about to get up and use the bathroom but habit had me check the baby monitor first. What I saw frightened about 10 years off my life.
My two year old was not there.
I screamed to my husband that the baby was gone as I raced into my son’s new room. My husband wasn’t far behind me. After a frantic search and still no baby, I sobbed to my husband to call 911.
About this time, my MIL came out of her room holding my very sleepy toddler. I grabbed him and collapsed on the floor in an exhausted heap and barely heard my husband reprimanding his mom for “kidnapping” our son.
What rules to set
Of course, this sparked a conversation about personal spaces. My MIL knows that while she’s welcome in the communal parts of the house (kitchen, living room, bathroom) and her own room at night, other rooms (bedrooms and the playroom) are off limits.
When setting rules, make them simple, evergreen (never changing), and logical.
- Respect of personal spaces
- Enforcement of quiet times and “lights out”
- Chores (we’re all part of this family after all)
We all follow these rules so no one feels unfairly singled out.
2. Remind them that their job is to be a loving grandparent, not the parent.
One of the best ways I keep my MIL from trying to be a parent to my kids is just remind her that she doesn’t have to do that. I always spin it in a positive let-me-be-the-bad-guy way so that my MIL does not feel reprimanded.
Reminding her that parenting is something she no longer has to do instead of chastising her for overstepping goes a long way in keeping the peace in our home.
3. Make sure your kids are taught to respect your parent’s space.
When your kids are allowed to run amok and invade your parent’s personal space, you cannot expect your parent to be silent. Make sure your parent has a kid-free zone and your kids learn early on to respect that.
Related Post:Teaching Your Kids to Be Amazing Caregivers
My kids are taught that they are not to go into Nana’s room unless they are invited by Mommy or Nana and they are to leave as soon as asked. Nana knows that her room is her space. When she needs kid-free time, she retreats to her room.
Sometimes, when she gets particularly “parental” I encourage her to seek the refuge of her room while I parent my children.
4. Let your parent see you discipline your kids.
I do not believe my kids to be without flaw. It’s important to me that my MIL witness me being the parent to my kids. She needs to know that I am aware my kids act out. She needs to witness that I do not always take their side.
My daughter is a very verbal child. Unfortunately this means that she is often disrespectful with her words. Recently she started “reminding” Nana to “obey Mommy” and put on her underwear or go to the bathroom. Essentially, just like bossy children try to be the parent to their siblings, my daughter is trying to be the caregiver to her Nana.
This is highly disrespectful and humiliating for my MIL. While I’ve had private discussions about this with my daughter, she is four and often “forgets” my instruction.
In these instances it’s important that my MIL see me reprimand my daughter for her disrespect, remind her of appropriate behavior, and apologize to her Nana for overstepping.
5. Don’t be afraid to assert your authority as a parent.
While this is usually my last resort, sometimes I do have to remind my MIL that I’m the mom. Her agreement with my parenting is not required. If she is unhappy, I remind her that she has a safe space she can go to where she will be unbothered by both my kids and my parenting.
Related Post: How to Involve Kids in Caregiving
One of my MIL’s least favorite rules in our home is our screen-time limits. The TV is only on during the day for “movie time” and sometimes while I’m making dinner. During that time the programming must be kid friendly. My MIL would rather watch her mysteries or crime shows which lets face it, is really not kid appropriate.
While I agree with her assertions that she is an adult and should be able to watch whatever she desires in her own home, I also have a duty to keep my kids’ minds pure for as long as possible. It’s during these times that I remind her that my kids come before her television “needs”.
- setting some simple rules,
- gentle reminders of their role as a grandparent (not the parent!),
- teaching your kids to respect your parent’s space,
- letting your parent witness your parenting, and
- asserting your authority as a parent,
you will be well on your way to setting boundaries with and for your elderly parent. Your kids will feel more secure knowing grandma won’t suddenly become “mom” and will learn to set their own boundaries. Most importantly, boundaries will let your elderly parent just be the grandparent.
Did you like this post? How have you set boundaries in your sandwiched home? Let me know in the comments below.
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