Retirement often allows aging individuals to spend more time with family. However, grown children and grandchildren sometimes unknowingly take advantage of retired members. If you find you’re being called on too much to babysit, run errands, or help your kids financially, it may be time to set some boundaries.
Both adult children and retirees should start thinking about boundaries before certain situations arise. For instance, an adult child should consider what he or she is willing to do for a parent in declining health. Similarly, retirees should think about what they’re willing to do to help out their adult children and what they prefer if their own health starts to decline. The answer will look different for every family, but focusing on honest communication from the start can help.
Learning How to Talk About Boundaries
Many problems arise because parents and adult children fail to address boundaries before they reach a breaking point. Instead, situations escalate until one party or the other cannot stand the arrangement and gets upset. These intense confrontations can, unfortunately, ruin relationships and cause unnecessary stress.
Before family dynamics change, sit down and have an honest conversation with the entire family. Do this if:
● A grandparent wants to play a larger role in an adult child’s and/or a grandchild’s life
● A parent needs or wants to move in with an adult child
● An adult child needs or wants to move in with a parent
● Roles start to change unexpectedly (i.e. a grandparent unexpectedly picks up grandchildren from school or starts coming over every day and interrupting their loved one’s routines)
● A grandparent or adult child considers moving closer to extended family members
If you anticipate an unwillingness to talk openly, consider scheduling a session with a family counselor. A counselor is not there to diagnose family dynamics or call out family members on their actions. Instead, a counselor will facilitate communications so that families can work out feelings in a positive, nonthreatening environment. Regardless of whether you choose to see a family counselor, regularly meeting with your family to discuss concerns can improve relationships between every generation and naturally create boundaries that make sense.
Considerations for Setting Boundaries
Before you have a conversation on setting boundaries, think about the issues that are most important as well as the ones in which you might be willing to compromise on:
● Grandparent authority. Parents have the final say over what a grandparent can and cannot do while watching children including disciplinary actions and conversation topics.
● Grandparent limits. A retiree must also determine how much time he or she is willing to spend in a supportive role. Are you okay with picking up the kids every day or would 2 days a week fit your lifestyle better? What do you need from an arrangement to maintain your independence?
● Adult children limits. Similarly, adult children sometimes like to play a larger role in an aging parents’ life. Finding a balance between support and meddling can be difficult. Talk frankly with your child about what you expect from them and when you may need time alone.
● Living circumstances. If something happens to an adult child or an adult parent, do you know how the other party would handle the situation? Talk with your spouse about future possibilities as well with your parents or children. Both parties should try to understand the limits that the others set. Some people are simply not comfortable sharing their homes in certain situations. Others may agree to co habitating, but prefer to have certain limits within the home setting.
● Financial support. Every family feels different about providing financial support to adult children. Consider carefully how you would handle that situation, particularly if you have more than one child. Think about how a request for financial support might affect your retirement planning, and let your adult children know ahead of time. On the other hand, adult children should talk to their parents early on about providing support for long-term care.
Try to develop a plan together instead of waiting until the need arises. Nobody likes to think about long-term care situations, but if you plan ahead of time, the prospect doesn’t have to be quite as stressful for either family member.
● Boomerang kids. Today, many retirees have young adult children who go off to college and then come back home. Their dependency can affect your retirement plans. Many parents are putting off retirement indefinitely or dipping into retirement funds to support their adult children at home. Consider carefully whether you are helping your child find independence or enabling a dependent lifestyle. Have a candid conversation, and start setting boundaries that help you both reach your goals.
Compromising is the Key to Success
Your boundaries may change over time, and that’s perfectly fine. At first, you may not mind your grandchild coming into your room for a goodnight story as you recover from hip surgery. Over time, however, you may need more space. Have ongoing conversations with your family members and pick your battles.
If your family is willing to help you get back on your feet after an accident, you may not “want to be a burden,” but you also don’t have to be a doormat. In the above example, a good compromise might be to set a time and a time limit for visits from your grandchildren or ask them to stay out of your room on certain days.
With strong communication, mutual respect for family members’ feelings, and a willingness to compromise, any family can work through the challenges of aging, retirement, and raising children.