A quick TikTok search of "grandparent boundaries" will pull up all sorts of parents calling out their in-laws or their own parents who overstep their boundaries with their kids – and how detrimental it has been for their relationship.
Lisa Pontius is a mom of three and TikToker who isn't afraid to speak her mind when it comes to boundaries. In fact, we spoke to Lisa about her view on how kids don't owe their parents anything earlier this year. Now Lisa is siding with other parents who believe in the importance of setting grandparent boundaries.
In one of her viral TikToks, she said, "In case no one told you, having boundaries is not the same as keeping your kids away from your parents. That's a whole different relationship dynamic – one that I don't have. My parents see my kids. My parents see my kids actually kind of a lot; they live pretty close to us. I still have boundaries with my parents in regard to my children. They still have boundaries with me over when and how often and how much they're going to watch said grandchildren. We each acknowledge and respect each other's boundaries. That's how you have a mutually respectful, adult relationship."
BuzzFeed spoke to Lisa who has been able to successfully navigate grandparent boundaries and is sharing what has worked for her to help others. "I have always been interested in interpersonal relationships and family structures. I was an anthropology major in college and just always found observing these things fascinating. When I started sharing my life on social media, I included a lot of commentary on motherhood – including the very common struggle with navigating in-law relationships as a new mom."
Lisa believes the whole parent/grandparent relationship should be based on respect for one another. If the grandparent is trying to act like the parent of the grandchildren, Lisa said it can be extremely frustrating, especially for a parent who is trying to establish authority and rules with their child. "Being undermined by a third party (even if it’s a seemingly well-intentioned grandparent) can cause a lot of strife. The parent ends up feeling completely disrespected. The parent needs to let it be known in a direct way that their parenting decisions are to be respected and honored if the grandparents want to participate."
Boundaries can be small things, like telling the grandparent to call before they come over or asking them not to give your child sweets, according to Lisa. "Boundaries don’t have to be big or start a fight necessarily. Most boundaries I’ve set with my in-laws have been small things like that. Some have been bigger and needed larger conversations. The word 'boundaries' scares a lot of people, they can be seen as threatening, but in reality, they serve to protect a relationship. Boundaries are a way to navigate these relationships in a way that resentments don’t build," she said.
And therapist – and mom – Princess Audia Reggie, AMFT has also been candid about grandparent boundaries on TikTok, backing parents who are speaking out. "This is a message to all the entitled grandparents out there: Having a relationship with your grandchildren is a privilege. It is not a right," she stated in one of her TikToks.
Princess holds a master’s degree in clinical psychology, marital, and family therapy. "I am a mental health therapist whose clinical specialty is intergenerational trauma and parenting. I am passionate about helping my clients identify and disrupt unhealthy patterns of behavior and communication that are often passed from parent to child through unhealthy parenting practices. In my clinical practice, I emphasize the importance of learning new skills to cope with a variety of mental health issues," she told BuzzFeed.
Princess said grandparents and extended family members should treat their relationship with their grandchildren and nieces/nephews as a privilege rather than a right. "This will help to reduce harmful behavior brought on by a sense of entitlement such as ignoring or overstepping boundaries of the primary caregivers," she said.
Princess said communication of your parental boundaries is key. "Boundaries operate best in three ways. The first is to articulate the boundary out loud to others. It’s a mistake to assume people can read your mind, so be sure to speak your boundaries out loud. Second, all boundaries must have consequences. Before speaking about your boundaries out loud, have a conversation with yourself and others, such as your partner, about what the consequences for overstepped boundaries will be. This must be a collaborative effort because it will require that you and your partner are on board with the consequences as well. And third, when boundaries are overstepped or ignored, the consequences need to be put into action by the primary caregivers."
It’s also important to examine what cultural differences there may be. "A few examples of cultural differences are the way and what we eat, how and what language we speak, and how we dress. Cultural differences are not that we have passed on generational patterns of physical, emotional, and/or verbal abuse perpetrated against children. Unfortunately, for far too many people, abusive parenting practices have been normalized and accepted as 'cultural differences' when this is not the case," Princess explained.
For parents who specifically struggle with in-laws trying to parent the way they would instead of how the parent asks them to, Princess said this is challenging to navigate. "This scenario is very common, and it is crucial that the parent sit down with their partner and have a conversation about how they will directly address this issue with the in-laws. Conflicts like this with in-laws can easily turn into conflicts between primary caregivers that can have a negative impact on the relationship. It is important to move as a united front when child-rearing-related conflicts with in-laws arise."
"As a new generation of parents emerge alongside a time when therapy has become less stigmatized and more mainstream, parents have begun to process their own childhoods as a way to find healing not only for themselves but also for generations they will never meet. When we break unhealthy generational patterns, it not only impacts ourselves and our children, it impacts your grandchildren and great-grandchildren because you’ve established a new framework for each future generation," Princess concluded.