Establishing Boundaries With My Adult Children
My dear Adult Child,
Once again, you’ve called to ask me if I can babysit tomorrow. Of course, I love you and I love your children. I’m thrilled they exist, just like I’m thrilled you exist. And I’m happy to spend some time with them, some being the operative word. But like fudgy birthday cake, you can have too much of a good thing.
Here is what is going through my head when you ask me to babysit:
Do you really think I want to turn back the clock and babysit? Finally you are an adult, I’ve paid my dues as a parent and now I want the rewards. This took decades of my life to get you to the point of having your own children. I love buying them gifts, giving my grandchildren treats and playing with them when everyone is happy. The best part of being a grandparent is giving the child back to their parents when it stops being fun. It’s your turn to change diapers and try to understand why the kid is crying! Trust me, you don’t want me in charge if I’m crabby. And crabby I’ll be, if I’m babysitting against my will. Don’t you remember what I was like when you pushed me too much? Like that time you had three friends sleep over, made that huge mess (think lemon drops and Lego) in the living room and I blew up? No, you probably don’t remember, which is just as well. I want to help you out, I really do, but only when it works for both of us.
Now that I’ve earned the right to say all these astounding things, I am speaking up. At least I’ve decided I can (though you may regret my decision), because I know our relationship will survive a bit of discomfort. It’s easier to express these unpopular things in a letter than to tell you over the phone, so I own up to being a bit cowardly while I’m trying to be tough. Intellectually you know that I am not just your parent but a person too, but it’s time for you to acknowledge it in actuality. At this point in my life, I appreciate that I can choose what to do with my time. My own life balance is based on years of planning and not planning, as life tends to unfold only partly according to one’s expectations. I don’t mean to sound selfish with my precious time, but it no longer stretches out to eternity the way it did when I was younger. There are things I want to do that don’t include being house bound. Getting kids to take naps and stop throwing toys at each other just isn’t how I envision spending that time. I’m not saying I’ll never babysit, only that you shouldn’t count on me to do it consistently. When I was raising you, I never had parental help and somehow, I managed. You can too. I could offer to find alternate babysitting solutions for you; however, you’ll be happier if you find your own.
It’s all about boundaries. Boundaries has become one of those buzz words, frequently used in all sorts of relationship discussions and therefore losing its meaning and potency. Boundaries imply a permanent line but often those lines become permeable and flexible, depending on our strength to fortify them in the face of a challenge, or our desire to please other people. The most effective boundaries are ones we create and are not foisted upon us by the outside world. In this case I am setting boundaries to protect myself from giving too much to you, which in turn protects you from my resentment for putting me in the position of saying yes to babysitting when I may not want to. I need to set boundaries for how I spend my time to feel the right balance of doing what I must do and what I want to do. This also ensures I don’t let myself get too absorbed in your life and neglect my own. As a parent we never stop wanting to be part of our child’s life (this is not universally true but it’s safe to say it’s generally true, and it is certainly true for me) and if we’re good parents we learn when to back off. Adult children are actually adults and should be left to lead their own lives, mistakes and all. Yeah, good luck with remembering that when your children are grown!
From Now On….
So let’s establish the rules from now on. Let’s be clear about what the ask is, and let’s be clear that I have the right of refusal. I need you to respect my schedule and ask in advance (emergencies are exempted from this requirement), not just when it occurs to you that you’re going to need babysitting in the very near future. How about calling me with your calendar and we can schedule some babysitting time slots in advance?
Please remember I’m the cake and icing, not the main course, when it comes to your regular diet of babysitters. I trust you to pick good alternatives to me. In fact, I trust you to be a great parent, making all kinds of good decisions for the welfare of my grandchildren. As they “You’ve Got This!” (apologies for another over-used trendy expression), but in all seriousness I know you really do. That’s because I raised you so well (LOL).
Please let me know how all of this sits with you. You may be angry, disappointed, hurt or surprised. I won’t presume to predict, nor will I push back if you want to read me the riot act. I hope you won’t be too upset by my reaction to what you expected to be a simple request. But I believe you’ll understand once you get past this immediate babysitting need. Just put yourself in my shoes when your children have your own grandchildren!
I love you,