What right do you have Grandma?

A few years ago I heard John Sandford teach that once a child leaves home into adulthood,  ‘Parents do not have a right to enter their adult child’s life. Instead, being involved in their life is a privilege given by invitation.’

I think this is supported by the biblical idea that, especially once married, an adult child leaves the parents and is joined to their spouse. Thus, forming a completely new and separate family unit before God.  I personally find this concept very healthy and helpful – thus my few thoughts on a topic that has more diversity than codependency has letters.

This morning I posted some questions to grandparents regarding their interaction and connection with their grandchildren. As I expected, the responses varied as every situation is unique. I also received some comments from mothers of children regarding their parent’s involvement with the grandchildren.

I know this is a touchy topic but I have had so many disappointed women with adult children who have approached me after ministering somewhere who tell me about an estranged relationship with their adult child that is painful and messy to them. Sometimes this means limited or no access to grandchildren as well. At times it’s a son or daughter-in-law who has put a strong boundary of sorts up. Those boundaries can take many forms.

I personally think it’s good for us to remember that:

[1] We all need others in our lives. As the saying goes, it takes a village (community) to raise a child. That community can, but doesn’t have to be, in-laws or out-laws. Remember parents, you are under no obligation to open your home and life to your own parents. This is, and needs to be, a free will mutual choice. It has to be something you GET to do, not something you feel you HAVE to do (and do so reluctantly).

[2] Parents of adult children need to move into a healthy mutual adult-to-adult relationship for life to work well.  This means some of you 50+-year-old ladies who still refer to your 25+-year-old married son as ‘your boy’ need to mature past this and cut those apron strings. Yes, it’ll hurt to release him but it’s necessary. You probably should have done it a long time ago.  Your son’s heart does not belong to you. It belongs to his wife and as long as you have a piece of it, there will remain a part that his wife longs for. (And men, your heart needs to rest with the woman you married and not your mum. see Prov 31:11)  The same can be said of women and their fathers, although it’s not as common.

[3] Parents of young children need to also respect the free will of grandparents who don’t want to, or cannot co-care for the children you decided to have.  It’s you who are ultimately responsible for raising them. This may mean you have to make some lifestyle and budgetary adjustments for your children’s sake and in respect of your ageing parents.

In the landscape of today’s fractured family life, I think efforts towards exercising love, patience, honour and forgiveness are needed more than ever.

Feel free to share your thoughts, experiences or questions.

David Tensen

P.S.  By no means have I been a perfect son, brother, dad, husband or friend. (Many will attest to that.)  Nor have my parents, wife, children or friends. I’m sharing these FEW thoughts as a white, Aussie 38yr old father of 3 based on what I see in my vocation on a regular basis is problematic.   I’m aware that what I have written above may leave some saying ‘That’s me! I’m in pain. How do I fix that?’  Can I recommend you consider booking a session with my amazing wife Natalie? She may be able to help you unpack some areas to work on. You can do that here: BOOK NATALIE


  1. Jessica E March 18, 2017 at 9:58 pm

    Hello, thank you for sharing. I am writing this with the hope that maybe you could offer some advice for my situation.

    My In-Laws have not treated me with love and open arms since my (now) husband told his family his intentions of marrying me. I received a letter that was not kind regarding her own fears of how I would be a good military wife. My mother in law has also called me names if I do not respond to her well and she says many hurtful things in passive aggressive ways. To sum my story up, I will end with this, last December (we were married for 7 months at the time) we told my husbands family that are expecting. Again, we both were not welcomed with love. Now my mother in law is trying to make amends with me, but after everything I’m not ready for her to be a bigger part of my life. Im reading the book boundaries to help with this new approach with her.

  2. Joyce March 18, 2017 at 10:02 pm

    I have a good relationship with my daughters and son-in-laws, who feel it is important to have grandparents in the lives of their grandchildren. They encouraged me to move closer to them when I retired so I would be more connected to the grandchildren. I also help out when needed to care for the children when my daughters work, they do not take advantage of me in this area, one works part-time at home (has to go to office once in a while), the other works part-time out of the home and does pay me since I go there weekly for 1 and 1/2 days. They also teach my grandchildren to respect me as well. Both families homeschool and I get involved is this as well.

  3. Stacie Nicholson March 19, 2017 at 2:16 am

    Such good reminders! This affirms the ultimate goal as we raise our children into the next phase of their life, adulthood. This transition is not easy and as a Mom who can tend to be over doting, it is important for me to be reminded so that I can prepare my heart to release them kindly and respectfully as adults. Thank you, David!

  4. Shawn Rasberry March 19, 2017 at 3:05 am

    My situation is one of necessity. My daughter has 2 children and her husband left her without any support. They lived with us till she remaried but I still have to keep the children as they can not afford daycare. The hard part is that it is expected and not appreciated. Because I don’t work I have no reason not to.

  5. David Tensen March 19, 2017 at 5:19 am

    A book on boundaries may help you to see things from a healthier perspective. The one by Cloud and Townsend is good. Some cultures have only what I can call a spiritual dynamic that empowers the matriarch in the family to make like difficult. It’s deeply self-centred, sometimes subtle, often un-self-aware and always rooted in unhealed wounding. My advice, read the books (perhaps both of you), look around at healthier family models (they do exist) and make the tough choices. After all, it’s YOUR life to govern. You married your husband, not your mother-in-law. The covenant is between him, you and God. Blessings!

  6. Moira Stein March 19, 2017 at 7:38 am

    Henry cloud has some wonderful books on boundaries …met him at a Cr conference in Orlando. ..he has helped me understand how to be there for my children but not fix everything …

  7. David Tensen March 19, 2017 at 8:23 am

    Fantastic. Their material is great.

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