1. Grown-ups
  2. Grandparents
  3. Family relationships

Grandparents: roles and boundaries

There are many different ways to be a grandparent. You might want to be very hands on, or you might prefer to stay in the background. Being clear about what suits you is a good idea.

Working out your role

It can take some time and thought to work out what kind of grandparent you want to be. But it also depends on your situation. You might feel that too much is expected of you as a grandparent – or you might want to be more involved. On the other hand, you might not see your grandchild regularly if he doesn’t live close to you, or if there are problems with family relationships.

There are lots of things to think about when you’re working out your role. You might want to spend time with your grandchildren and help their parents, but you might still be working. Or you might be retired, planning to travel and looking forward to time to yourself. Your health, commitments and partner are all important considerations too.

Balancing your needs with those of your extended family can be a challenge, especially if you have grandchildren in more than one family. But no-one benefits if you try to do too much.

It’s OK for you to decide on what and how much you want to do as a grandparent – and this might change as other things change. If you can be open and clear with your grandchild’s parents about your choices, it will help everybody understand where the boundaries are.

For some ideas on how grandparents can help grandchildren and their families, you might like to read our article on being a grandparent.

Setting your boundaries as a grandparent

  • You could start by thinking about what you’d like to do and what you’re able to do. For example, you might be keen to spend time with your grandchildren while their parents are around, but you’re not ready to fly solo just yet.
  • You probably have commitments such as work, hobbies, socialising and caring for other grandchildren. You don’t have to give up other things to be a grandparent.
  • If you need to talk with your grandchild’s parents about roles and boundaries, the conversation might go best at a time when you’re all calm and relaxed. You don’t have to make a special time to talk, though – you can bring the issue up at a time that’s good for everyone.
  • If you’re concerned about taking on too much, a trial period might be a good idea. For example, ‘Let’s try it for a month and see how it goes’.
  • If you’re working and you want to help with child care for your grandchildren, you could talk with your employer about flexible work arrangements – for example, rostered days off, personal leave or working from home.
  • Some grandparents looking after grandchildren find it’s more than they can manage. If you feel that expectations of you are too high, you might need to talk about it with your grandchild’s parents when everyone is calm and rested.

Your changing role

Your role is likely to change as your grandchild gets older. This is partly because your commitments might change, and also because your grandchild’s needs and interests will change too.

This means that even if you can’t or don’t want to help so much when your grandchild is little, you might be able to look forward to doing more as she gets older.

For example, babies and toddlers love one-on-one time, playing and learning. School-age children are keen to share interests and activities. So if you’re a grandparent who wants to pass on a love of reading, teach your grandchild about gardening or take your grandchild on special outings, this might be a perfect fit.

Teenagers and adult grandchildren value your support and interest as they become more independent. You might be able to give them different points of view as they work out who they are and what they want to be.

Your role might also change if your grandchild’s family changes – for example, when they welcome a new baby or a parent starts a new job. This can lead to the family needing more, or less, support from you, depending on the situation.

I want to be that special person that when things aren’t maybe going quite as well with Mum and Dad or something, they’ve got someone else that they know who’s there for them as well.
- Isabel, grandmother of four grandchildren aged 7 months to 11 years.

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Last updated or reviewed
13-08-2012

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Raising Children Network is supported by the Australian Government. Member organisations are the Parenting Research Centre and the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute with The Royal Children’s Hospital Centre for Community Child Health.

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