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Starting the DIalogue with Your Aging Parents: Commnication and Boundaries

August 26, 2013

I apologize for not posting last week. Sometimes life unfolds in unexpected ways and we just have to go with the flow.

On that subject: Next week being Labor Day there will be no post so that you and I can have a day with no commitments. Back to regular Monday posts on September 8, 2013. Where has the year gone?

Today’s topic is a relatively touchy subject for some and centers around communication and boundaries. We see articles on boundaries in the press on a daily basis, but rarely is it referencing families and aging parents.  The idea to write a post on the subject came after listening to a co-worker complain about her mother-in-law and some of the stress filled interactions between the two of them.

Qualities and details of my co-worker:

  • Mother of a 5-year old
  • Stepmother of 2 teenage girls and a teenage boy who split their time between their mother’s home and life with my co-worker and her husband
  • Hard worker with a demanding job that requires 24/7 on-call status
  • Loving wife
  • Reluctant to communicate tactfully with her mother-in-law

When it comes to parenting my co-worker tries to treat all the kids equally and she expects everyone else to do so as well regardless of the age disparity of the girls. Recently there were two events that were loudly discussed in the work setting. These events got me to thinking about how this type of thing impacts parents and grandparents and led to this post in an effort to alert my readers to the pitfalls they can avoid by using good communication and setting boundaries.

Here are a few examples of potential problem areas as related by my co-worker:

During this past summer the 5-year old has  spent 1-3 days a week with her paternal grandmother so the family could save some money on day care.  Grandma is an active 60-something and enjoys taking her youngest granddaughter to the park, the pool, fishing at the lake, and on other fun outings.  When they weren’t out on the go grandma and her granddaughter spent time baking and doing crafts for Christmas gifts.

Problems developed last week when grandma and her granddaughter stopped by the elementary school so grandma could say hello to a friend. While there she thought it would be fun for her granddaughter to meet her kindergarten teacher. It wasn’t a planned excursion so the afternoon unfolded on the spur of the moment.

When the excited 5-year old relayed the events of the visit to her mother my co-worker hit the roof. She felt she had been sabotaged by her mother-in-law and that it should have been a mother’s place to introduce her daughter to a teacher. Never mind that this coworker is not available during the time the teacher would be at the school and that her mother-in-law thought she was doing everyone a favor.

The second example involves the teenagers and a planned trip to an amusement park. Originally the entire family was slated to go: my co-worker, her husband, the 5-year old and the teenagers. It was to be a weekend trip with everyone leaving on Friday evening and returning late Sunday night.  Unfortunately, dad had to bail at the last minute due to being called in to work. When he decided not to go my co-worker  decided against the trip for her and the kids.

The grandparents decided to keep their plans since they had arrangements to meet with friends at the campground. They decided to speak with the older kids’ mother and see if she would be willing to let them go anyway even though their dad and stepmom weren’t going. Arrangements were made and it was all settled. At least part of the group would be able to enjoy their original plans.

When my co-worker heard of these arrangements she once again came unglued. She forbid the teenagers from making the trip even though their natural mother had  given her ok. My co-worker then proceeded to accuse the grandparents of favoritism since they were only extending the invitation to the older kids and not including the 5-year old. The entire situation became blown out of proportion and everyone became upset.

I’m sharing these examples with you only to make the point regarding the importance of communicating and setting boundaries. Given the above examples are a private family matter I will not weigh in here with my personal opinion on the matter. Rather I would ask you to stop and think about how you would respond.

If your aging parents are providing childcare then sit with them and outline what you are comfortable with them doing with y our child and when you’d like them to check with you before taking action. Let them know how much you appreciate their help and keep the communication  channels open.

Example 2 shows some of the difficulties inherent in blended families. Once again, keep communication channels open and maintain balance when dealing with older children and ex-spouses. Boundaries in this situation can save confusion, anger, and hurt feelings.

Unless there are negative issues such as violence, manipulation, or substance abuse with the family every effort should be made to keep communication open. This is where our greatest support system can come from in the form of extended family members and close contacts. Don’t let ineffective communication and lack of boundaries get in the way.

Feel free to share how you’ve handled situations with similar circumstances.

What kind of communication do you have with  your aging parents or in-laws? Is everyone on the same page?

What areas could be re-addressed so there is no miscommunication and the experiences remain positive.

Thank you to my readers for your attention and comments. I love sharing what your experiences are and am always willing to answer your questions or heed your suggestions for additional blog posts. Have a wonderful holiday weekend. I’ll be back in your inbox or on your social media feed on September 8th.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 26, 2013 8:32 pm

    Hi Laura – great subject and one that I understand from both personal experience and watching my inlaws interact with their daughter and her family vs. their son and his family. The daughter is very open about communication and expectations for her parents and the result is a lot of positive experiences for my nephew and the whole family. Their son and his wife are not good at positive confrontation and have very different expectations when my inlaws see their other grandson, and it makes for tension all around. My inlaws don’t want to confront it because they fear it will result in them seeing less of their grandson, who lives 1000 miles away as it is.

    It was always easier for me to tell my parents what I expected versus my inlaws when it came to caring for my daughter, because I didn’t want to hurt their feelings, but as my daughter got older and I became more comfortable in my role as a mother, it got a lot easier. Hoping your friend realizes that time with grandparents is special and limited, and kids get to a point where they don’t always want to be with them vs. their friends. Taking things personally instead of trying to understand the other person’s motiviation is key, but so is talking about what you expect. If you don’t say anything, then you get what you get.

    Have a wonderful long weekend and hope all is well!

    • August 27, 2013 5:55 pm

      Thanks Patty. Very insightful comments and yes, the communication factor is hard enough in our own families, let alone adding in the in-laws.

      I guess it all comes down to coming from a place of love and knowing what our own personal boundaries are, stating them with conviction and a huge dose of love.

      Things are great on this end and I’m hoping the long weekend will allow me to spend some time editing the book so I can get it out there.

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