Relationship Connection: My dad moved in, now he is taking over as parent to my kids

Question

My father recently had a medical condition, which caused him to move into our home permanently. He’s pretty young, and we are looking at 20 or 25 years of this new dynamic. He’s very excited about the ways that he can contribute, and with all his good intentions, he has unintentionally slipped into the role of “dad.” He’s giving my husband and me advice, parenting our children, and parenting me.

Can you help me think of ways we can converse with him that spare his dignity, while simultaneously directing him towards accepting his role as a member of our family, but not a “head” member of our household?

I want to be able to explain to him that although I appreciate the help: 1) He doesn’t need to earn his keep here, and 2) When he gets overly involved in anything (yard work, babysitting, helping around the house, etc.), we feel like he is stepping into our role as parents. My biggest fear is that a conversation like this could make him feel like a burden, and he will leave. And we really want him to stay. We just want him to be “grandpa” in a less active role than a parent.

Answer

If you’re looking at a long-term living arrangement, then your best option is to have a frank heart-to-heart with him about roles and expectations in your family. It sounds like he’s a great man and only wants to jump in and do his part. I agree that his role confusion is completely unintentional and automatic for him.

However, it’s clear that this isn’t going to work much longer without some type of conversation. There is a risk that he will misunderstand your intentions and feel like a burden. It’s a tricky conversation to have, as you don’t want to treat him like a hassle.

I encourage you to structure this conversation as a matter-of-fact discussion on clarifying roles in this new family setup. Now that you’ve had a little time living together, this is a good opportunity to review what’s working well and what needs modification.

He needs to know where he fits in to your family. You can start by describing what you love about his contributions and emphasize where he is needed most. You can then take a turn describing your roles and responsibilities. He’ll hopefully get your point as you explain that you’ll be in charge of all discipline, assigning chores to kids, and so on.

If he continues to insist on being a parent to you and your children, I would take the conversation deeper and be more direct about your roles and his roles, emphasizing that you want to send consistent and clear messages to your children about rules and expectations. Having two different sets of rules and parenting philosophies can be confusing to children and stressful to everyone involved.

Don’t be afraid to have this conversation. It’s much better to navigate a difficult conversation like this than endure years of resentment, avoidance, and frustration. Chances are, he’ll be relieved to know where he’s needed and will excel in his area of influence.

Stay connected!

 

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are solely his and not those of St. George News.

Have a relationship question for Geoff to answer? Submit to:

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @geoffsteurer

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2013, all rights reserved.

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5 Comments

  • Melody June 18, 2013 at 11:20 am

    The father clearly would like to continue to feel involved and important and a contributing member of the household. I feel a good way to approach the discussion, would be asking him to take over certain household chores, giving him something to do and be in charge of. Asking him/arranging with him to have a scheduled weekly or monthly activity with just him and the kids, or asking him to be in charge of a monthly family activity will provide him with something to plan and feel important. You can naturally and easily, at this point – tell him what you expect to be in charge of.

  • Hatalli June 18, 2013 at 11:32 am

    It is a tough situation here. What you basically have is three generations under one roof. In past history, this was not at all unusual, and the “senior” members of the household really were calling the shots. Of course, since this was the norm, you usually never had a time when the senior was not a member of the household, and usually was actually the home owner. No wonder this person was the patriarch or the matriarch.
    But things do change. I understand your frustration. And you have “been out on your own,” way too long for you to allow this situation to ruin your life.
    You are no longer “daddy’s little girl,” you are a grown, married woman, with children of your own. But you will always be his daughter.
    I can’t think of a family dynamic that is more touchy than the one you are in now. You need to be strong, and lovingly tell him what you see as the problems. I agree with Geoff as far as the way to handle this conversation. But it needs to happen, and it needs to happen soon.
    Because Geoff did not touch on this, may I suggest that you find a time when you and your dad are alone together. Turn off the cell phone and ringer on the house phone. If the door bell rings, ignore it.
    This is a time when you two need to have each other’s attention fully, and not divided with interruptions. And you both need to listen, as well as to talk. If you need to, get your husband to take the kids and go somewhere for a few hours. If you are unable to get time alone with him at home, take him for a stroll in the park.
    The main thing, is to do this in a gentle and loving manner. Hopefully, you two can work this out between you, and then you can tell the rest of the family what is going to happen.
    Do be prepared for the possibility that this conversation may not go well. A lot will depend on what your relationship is and was as a child with your father. But whatever happens here, you owe it to your family to put them first.
    Good luck and God Bless

  • ld June 18, 2013 at 2:12 pm

    Clarifying roles is part of it but mainly it is establishing boundaries. If you need extra help in figuring out these there is a good book about it. Its called “Boundaries” By Henry Cloud. Good luck. I have an ex husband that also needs constant care and I have two children with him, he has been living with my current husband and I for 4 years. Talk about awkward! The only reason the situation works is there has always been clear boundaries that cannot be overstepped. Its not easy by any means but everyone knowing the rules and respecting eachothers boundaries makes it tolerable.

    • Joyce Kuzmanic June 18, 2013 at 2:26 pm

      Excellent book recommendation, ld, thanks!

  • ld June 18, 2013 at 5:12 pm

    You’re welcome Joyce!

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