We love our close relatives, but sometimes aunts, uncles and grandparents can cross the line when it comes to what we think is appropriate behavior. This mom asks how should she respond when a grandparent says or does things contrary to her beliefs.
Q: I have 5 kids ranging from 3 months to 7 years old. Both sets of grandparents live local and are involved. One set is often overreaching. They hold some Christian beliefs, but they’ve said things that aren’t what we believe. For example, they recently told our children that men could have their ears pierced. Grandpa also has a tendency to use poor language, particularly in the car, and speak unkindly about others. My husband and I are concerned about how our children will react to these things. How do we set boundaries with them?
A: Ah, the problem with outside influences can crop up close to home, can’t it? We all have near and far relatives, church members or neighbors, classmates or friends who exhibit less-than-stellar behavior. And our kids are like little sponges, soaking it all up.
All too often, our response when confronted with these situations is to shield our children from potential contamination, and to a certain extent, that’s prudent. But we can’t shelter them from everything, and we shouldn’t want to! Our job as Christian parents isn’t to ensure our children never encounter meanness or foul language or bad behavior in others—it’s to give them the tools to handle such encounters with grace and love and discernment.
So we use moments like you’re describing as teachable moments, and have conversations with our kids about Grandpa’s behavior. Not lecturing—we do way too much of this with our kids!—but asking questions and listening to their answers. Like, “Why do you think Grandpa puts people down like he did on the way to the grocery store?” and “How did you feel when you heard Grandpa say that about X?” Follow up by asking how they could be kind and show their Grandpa kindness, even when he’s not being kind.
All too often, our response when confronted with these situations is to shield our children from potential contamination, and to a certain extent, that’s prudent. But we can’t shelter them from everything, and we shouldn’t want to!
You can certainly ask Grandpa to modify his salty language around the kids, but that may or may not happen. A frank, “Kids, you know Grandpa uses language we don’t. He’s old and he’s likely not to change. I expect you to be respectful but not to emulate his speech,” will go a long ways to reminding them of his special place in your lives and that while he’s not perfect, he’s still their grandfather.
In my opinion, it’s also better not to get into discussion about whether or not men should have pierced ears, or no one should have tattoos or specifics like that. Better to instill more general values, like modesty (and why it’s important to value our bodies with appropriate clothing and actions) and looking beyond the surface (and why that means we shouldn’t judge on outside appearances alone). Those discussions will lay a good foundation as the questions get harder and tougher as kids grow older and spend more time outside your home.
As for boundaries in general: Be as generous as you can and pull back slowly after giving ample time for the other to rectify the situation. In other words—don’t over-react and withdraw at the first offense and make sure you’re not being overly sensitive. Kids get that other people don’t live like you do. Even among like-minded people, you’ll find variations as to dress, food, media consumption, etc. Instill your values but help your kids learn to navigate the world as they find it, not as you’d like it to be.