Should You Babysit for Free? How Grandparents Can Set Boundaries With Their Kids

Step By Step Financial |

Setting boundaries can be challenging as a parent - even as a parent of adults! This can present itself when the idea of babysitting grandkids comes up. You want to be involved and to show you love your kids (and grandkids!), but how do you set them up for success?

By establishing clear boundaries and having open conversations, these situations don’t have to be complicated. Here we’ll cover how to set boundaries with your kids, from babysitting grandkids to finances and beyond! 

Reflect on Your Relationships

Whether you’re facing issues with family dynamics or things are just fine, it’s still important to think through your current relationship with your kids and grandkids. What areas of the relationship might feel strained? 

If something specific comes to mind, it indicates a potential boundary that needs to be set. And it’s important to note that this isn’t a failure on either party's side; all good relationships require healthy boundaries. 

The relationship between adult parents and children can be complicated, especially with grandkids in the mix. It’s a new dynamic to navigate, and it’s OK if you’re not perfect at it now - or ever! It is important to recognize what issues are coming up and do your best to fix them as they arise.

Though setting boundaries may initially appear harsh to some, it’s important to remember that if you don't set boundaries, your kids and grandkids won't know where the line is. Just like when your kids were younger! You’ll soon find that setting boundaries will help your relationships immensely. 

Boundaries In Relationships

So what exactly are boundaries, and how does one set them? The unique thing about boundaries is that they will be different for everyone.

Take, for instance, time spent between grandparents and grandkids. Some grandparents will want close contact, such as talking on the phone frequently, perhaps every few days, or seeing their kids or grandkids weekly. Others may prefer a more independent, empty-nester lifestyle.

In a perfect world, the amount of contact desired would match up. But as we all know, we don’t live in that world.

This is where the reflection we mentioned comes into play. How do you honestly feel about the time you want to spend with kids or grandkids? And how does the other party feel? Beyond emotions, consider what is appropriate or rational (this can be tough, as everyone sees things differently). 

To make the relationship flow more smoothly, you’ll want to establish boundaries or respected “rules” to live by. If your adult child feels they’d prefer not to get a phone call daily, it’s their right to establish that as a boundary.

The conversation might look something like this:

Grandparents: “We’ve been calling you for several days and have left you a few voicemails, is everything OK?

Adult child: “Hi, Mom and Dad. Yes, everything is OK. I’m so happy we have a good relationship, and enjoy catching up when possible. With all my responsibilities as a mother and my job, it won’t be realistic for me always to answer the phone or talk every day. What do you think about having a weekly Sunday evening catch-up over the phone so we can tell you what the kids were up to this week? They could even get on the phone and tell you themselves if they want to!

This is an example of a gentle and thought-out response. The adult child respected the feelings and desires of the grandparent (to talk to them and their grandkids) and established how they wanted that to look (once a week). 

Now what about on your end as a grandparent? We’ll cover that next.

Boundaries Protecting Your Time and Energy

As you enjoy this phase of your life (retirement, being an empty nester, etc.), you may discover new or different ideas of how you want to spend your time and energy. This is an excellent place for boundaries to come into play.

Just because you have more time without work does not mean you’re bound to do anything with your kids or grandkids; it’s still time that belongs to you. You also may have limited energy due to health or simply age. Make sure to protect that precious energy and not push yourself. 

One way boundaries with time and energy can often come up for retirees is with the idea of babysitting your grandkids. Now, of course, most grandparents aren’t charging to babysit. You’re probably excited to spend time with your grandkids.

That said, you want to ensure you aren’t being taken advantage of. It’s perfectly fine for mom and dad to drop off the kids for a date night once or twice a month (or whatever you deem appropriate), but that doesn’t mean that your house can become the go-to space without warning whenever they’re in a pinch, or just need free childcare.

It’s normal to have other plans every once in a while, and beneficial to openly communicate your availability to watch grandkids or other things like pet and house sitting, running an errand, etc. 

An example of that conversation might look like this:

Adult child: “Hey, Mom, my friend asked me to grab dinner after work this evening. I will drop the kids off in a few hours if that’s OK!

Grandmother: “Hi, sweetie. I have a group of friends playing bridge at the house tonight. Was this on our calendar for watching the kids?

Adult child: “Well…no. But I haven’t been able to go out in forever!

Grandmother: “I understand. I’d love to take them some other time so you can go out with friends. Let’s look at our schedules tonight and see when we could plan that in advance so you can have some much-needed time off!

As you can see, the grandmother was firm but loving in her boundary. It’s not your responsibility to drop everything to help, though it might be tempting. Communicating honestly with your loved ones will help the relationship so each party can feel respected and everyone’s needs better met. 

Financial Boundaries

When it comes to finances, these boundaries are often harder to set. No one wants to have frank conversations about money, but again, being upfront and transparent will help your relationships at the end of the day.

If you’re wondering what kind of financial boundaries you may need to set, think through what feels burdensome or what frustrates you financially in the relationship.

Then ask yourself how to set a comfortable boundary for you and your spouse without alienating your kids.

Always come to these conversations from a place of love. Also, remember that you can almost always find a middle ground. For example, continuing to "gift" kids or grandkids things as you want to, but not supporting daily/monthly expenses just “because.” 

Sometimes as grandparents, you may feel compelled to spend money more lavishly, out of love for grandkids or in this era of your life. Just be sure when and how much you spend aligns with your financial goals.

Bottom Line

As you navigate your time as an empty nester, family dynamics will shift. Having these tools in your toolkit will be essential to maintaining healthy relationships. 

Whether it's your time, money, or energy, communicate boundaries lovingly with your family to ensure your golden years are spent how you want them to be! 

If you’re planning your ideal retirement lifestyle, please contact us today. We can help ensure you have everything you need to live your dream retirement.