In the United States, 2.7 million grandparents are the head of the household where their grandchildren live, according to 2014 census figures. This number continues to grow with the rise of one-household families and poverty.

Everyone knows someone with children who is living with or has lived with their parents. The question for grandparents is, "How, in today’s world, can you keep your role as a grandparent when your grandchildren live in your home?"

If you are a grandparent who has your adult children and their children living back at home with you, here are some helpful tips.

1. Consider your dual role as finite. In other words, unless you have taken over custody, there is an end to this parallel grandparent/parent role. However, being a grandparent should always take the front seat to parenting when a parent is present. You are a grandparent first; your role is to support when needed.

2. Your grown child is the parent. She or he has the full responsibility and role of being a parent. It’s your duty not to undermine that role, but to provide safe passage during this transition no matter the length of stay. By the way, have a departure date everyone agrees to and a weekly calendar to achieve the goal of when they will move out — and stick to it.

3. Being a grandparent is a supportive role. You are not the parent unless the parent is no longer available. Otherwise, grandparents should allow their grown children who are involved in the children’s lives to do the work to be parents.

4. Discuss and set reasonable expectations for yourself and others living in your home. Sit down as a family — first just adults and then with the grandchildren — to discuss and agree on rules, routines, expectations, tolerances and consequences that everyone should follow through on using.

5. Always try to defer big issues to the parent. You should, however, remind your grandchildren of the rules, routines, expectations, tolerances and consequence that have been established — and that you will enforce.

6. Watch what you say to each other. Adults in the household should avoid putting each other down. This is especially important when children are around. Sit down routinely to calmly discuss concerns and work together until you agree on key issues. It’s okay to agree to disagree on minor quirks.

7. Eat together as a family. Have at least one meal or snack time together as a family each day to keep communication clear and togetherness as the main course of your family life. It’s a good idea after each meal to close the meal by praising the person to your right for something you noticed about them that day. This will help with family connectivity.

8. Reduce complaints about messy behavior. Use chore cards and daily routines for children and adults to follow. Use the routine and chore cards to set the expectation. The card will alert you to use a consequence. When children don’t follow the rules, then parents or grandparents should consistently follow the agreed upon expectations and consequences. It is equally important to a praise good behavior and give a positive consequence when appropriate.

9. Limit the lecturing. Too often, grandparents give frequent and long lectures to grandchildren that they tune out. Stop wasting your time with nagging, lecturing, pleading, etc. Tell your grandkids once what you want — not what you don’t want. Next, remind them of the rule and the consequence that was agree upon.

10. You are NOT the live-in babysitter. Do allow yourself to become the live-in babysitter, co-parent or transportation service who is at everyone’s beck-and-call. It's fine to give support, but it's also important to require respect for your role. Still, remember to:

11. Get a life! Grandparents should not try to live their children’s lives for them. Have your own things to do with your own friends. Avoid falling into the habit of feeling like you need to be include in all of your grandchildren’s daily activities and vice versa.

Finally, enjoy the company while you have it. Sooner than you think, it will be gone. Prepare for that day when they move out and you have to say goodbye. It won’t be easy, but it is necessary when it comes to maintaining your roles as a grandparent.


Bridget Barnes has more than 30 years of experience as a Health and Human Services professional. Bridget joined Boys Town's Family Services Research and Development department to assist with creating what is now the evidence-based Common Sense Parenting program.

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