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.
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.
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.
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