Relationships with adult children and grandchildren can be rewarding and enjoyable – but they can also have their challenges. It’s important that you feel comfortable and safe with your children and grandchildren, and establishing boundaries can help with this.
Boundaries define how we’d like to be treated by others. They can protect our mental, physical, and emotional wellbeing within our relationships. Having clear boundaries can contribute to healthy, safe relationships within your family.
Boundaries benefit family relationships
When your children and grandchildren become adults, the roles you play in each other’s lives naturally change. You might be finding it difficult to navigate these changes.
It’s likely you had a parental responsibility to teach, look after and provide for your children when they were young. These responsibilities may also have applied to your grandchildren. But as your kids and grandkids become adults, their needs change – and so do yours.
Signs that it’s time to set boundaries
If you’re feeling stress, strain or dissatisfaction in your relationships with your adult children or grandchildren, it may be time to set some boundaries. Here are some particular signs to look for:
You experience strong reactions to your adult child or grandchild.
You feel emotionally exhausted after interacting with them.
The relationship feels one-sided, like you’re the only one trying.
You often feel that your personal space or time is being invaded.
You’re putting in more time or energy than you’re comfortable with.
You feel taken advantage of or used by your adult child or grandchild.
You feel like you’re walking on eggshells whenever you’re around them. Keep in mind that setting boundaries isn’t selfish. It can help to foster your self-respect and protect your wellbeing, which are important. If you’re feeling uncomfortable or taken advantage of, it’s critical to prioritise yourself over keeping the peace.
How to identify your boundaries
The first step in setting boundaries is to identify what they are.
Boundaries are about prioritising yourself and your needs, so they should focus on your feelings and values. Sometimes, they relate to past trauma or personal experiences. Your boundaries may not be what anyone else wants or needs – but they reflect what you need.
Examples of healthy boundaries you could establish with your adult children and grandchildren include:
being clear that you want to make your own decisions
asking that they only offer advice when you ask them for it
setting guidelines around communication (like not calling after 9 pm)
being clear about your availability for childminding and other assistance
expressing where you want to live and what level of caretaking you prefer
speaking up when you feel uncomfortable with their behaviour
establishing expectations that they will take responsibility for their own finances
respecting each other’s personal space and time (like not dropping by unannounced)
creating a written agreement about financial contributions, especially if you live together.
How to set boundaries
Once you have identified your boundaries, it’s time to establish them.
Tell your adult children and grandchildren clearly and confidently what your boundaries are.
Use ‘’‘I’ statements instead of ‘’‘you’ statements: ‘I feel …’ instead of ‘‘You make me feel …’
Maintain consistent boundaries – speak up every time you believe they are not being respected.
Consider attending family mediation together to explore options in a safe, supportive environment.
Ask for help if you need it
Everyone, regardless of their age, deserves to feel safe in their family relationships. If you’re in a situation where you don’t feel safe about setting boundaries, you may be experiencing elder abuse. It’s okay to reach out for help – support is available.
This article is based on a Relationships Australia Queensland article. Through its state and territory branches, Relationships Australia supports older people through counselling, mediation, legal aid, referrals and more. If you’re an older adult in Queensland, Relationship Australia Queensland’s Senior Relationship Services offers free support to help you be connected, protected and empowered.