Most grandparents relish the time they get to spend with their grandchildren. To create a healthy family dynamic, establish how often your children should visit their grandparents.
As a close-knit family, my children visit with their grandparents about once a week. However, this wasn’t always the case. When my son was born nine years ago, he was the first grandchild on both sides of the family.
Needless to say, each set of grandparents were over-the-moon happy with the new addition.
While my husband and I were delighted to share our little one with our parents, we noticed the grandparents showing up unannounced more and more often. My mother-in-law was the biggest culprit. Within a few weeks of my son’s birth, my MIL was spending several hours at a time, two to three times a week, parked on my sofa.
Living in a small town, it was easy for Nana and Papa to stop over to drop off a gift or offer unsolicited parenting advice. The grandparents also gave no care as to whether I was busy that day, had errands to run, or simply wanted to be alone with my new bundle.
The last straw was when my MIL insisted on taking my then two-month-old son in late December to visit with friends. My little one had been ill all week with a cold and I didn’t want him leaving the house in subzero temperatures.
It was then that my husband and I decided to set boundaries. The grandparents could visit with my son one to two times a week and only after contacting us first. No more surprise visits.
Now that my son is older, I allow them to take him and his sister for weekend sleepovers once a month so that they can spend one-on-one time with them. While it wasn’t easy to have the “talk,” setting reasonable visits has made our day-to-day life much less stressful.
Most experts agree that grandparents play a crucial role in families. But when comes to exactly how much time grandparents spend with grandskids, the consensus is as much as possible without crossing the boundaries set by the parents. Of course many external factors can makes this challenging, including how far away they live, blended families, and joint custody circumstances.
“There are all types and styles of families that function in a healthy manner… who communicate, are flexible, have secure relationships and trust among each other, and who are clear about their roles,” says Kelly Roberts, Ph.D., LMFT, and assistant professor of educational psychology at the University of North Texas. “They choose to grandparent a certain way and they choose to parent a certain way. Above all, a child will be secure in their environment if expectations are clear.”
What the Experts Say
“Closeness between the generations depends on structural factors that facilitate interaction between the grandparents and grandchild, such as geographic distance and family structure. Grandparenting styles are affected by the number of activities grandparents and grandchildren share and how often they see each other.”
– Lynne M. Casper and Suzanne M. Bianchi, Continuity and Change in the American Family
“Some families are more comfortable having visitors in their home than others. Most of the long-distance grandparents we talked to aimed to see their grandchildren two to four times a year. They stayed from five to ten days, although those who traveled across the world went less often and stayed longer.”
– Peggy Edwards, Intentional Grandparenting: Contemporary Guide
“In the past, grandparents were often looked to for advice about childbearing and child rearing. Healthcare personnel have now become the “experts,” and many grandparents have difficulty adjusting to this change.”
– Emily Slone McKinney and Susan R. James, Maternal-Child Nursing
“When grandparents are denied contact with grandchildren, they may feel an injustice has been done. The grandparents may have heard they have a legal right to see their grandchildren, and, if the family rift appears to be permanent, they may consider litigation.”
– Andrea Bathani, Innocent Sorrow: A Grandmother’s Fight to See Her Grandchildren
“Many grandparents see their relationships with grandchildren as second as importance only to the parent-child relationship. They want to be involved in the pregnancy, and grandmothers often engage in rituals such as shopping and gift-giving showers that confirm their role as important participants.”
– Sharon Smith Murray and Emily Slone McKinney, Foundations of Maternal-Newborn and Women’s Health Nursing
Building the Grandchild-Grandparent Relationship
Grandparents have played a vital role in their grandchildren’s lives for centuries. Some go as far as to providing the bulk of child care. Grandparents provide child care for 23 percent of children under the age of five, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. However, some grandparents are on the opposite end of the spectrum, rarely spending any time with the grandkids.
When it comes to the grandparents, it’s important to find a healthy balance that fits with your unique family dynamic. Remember that what works for another family may not work for yours.
During the newborn phase, many grandparents are eager to see their new grandchild more often. This is especially true for the first grandchild on either side of the family. As the “newness” wears off and more grandchildren enter the picture, grandparents may not visit as often as they once did.
How often the grandparents see their grandchildren will often depend on their location. Local grandparents may visit their grandchildren as often as once or twice a week, while out-of-state grandparents may make a special trip to visit with the grandkids two to three times a year.
While most parents are glad to share their children with the grandparents on a regular basis, too many unannounced visits that disturb your schedule can wreak havoc on your relationship. Unfortunately, most grandparents don’t feel they need an invitation to see their grandchildren.
“Not only do most grandparents see themselves as integral to Baby’s life, they also feel they’re contributing to this wellness by helping you out,” says Scott Haltzman, M.D., author of The Secrets of Happy Families: Eight Keys to Building a Lifetime of Connection and Contentment. “Others may simply be repeating history. If Grammy’s in-laws and parents visited often when your hubby was an infant, she probably thinks it’s expected.”
So how do you respond to an overzealous grandma? “Try this approach first: I’m so happy that you want to spend time with June. But I like to be prepared for company, and I want to keep her on a schedule. Please call or text me before you come over,” says Dr. Haltzman.
The Evolving Role of Grandparents
There are more than 56 million grandparents in the United States, and approximately half live more than 200 miles from their grandchildren, according to Stanford Children’s Health. Whether your children see their grandparents too much, or not enough, it’s important to nourish the bond between them. Do your best to set boundaries while giving your parents the opportunity to create and maintaining fulfilling relationships with their grandchildren.