“Grandparenting” is an opportunity to learn how to play again, to love someone new and to appreciate the magic of a developing little mind.
Here are some tips on how to be a super Grandparent:
1. Set the stage for good relationships. Right from the beginning, many expecting parents may experience tension or a feeling of being torn between two sets of grandparents asserting their wishes. This can be very stressful for soon-to-be moms and dads. As much as you can – stay positive, be flexible, and go with the flow. Focus on supporting the expecting parents rather than telling them what you want – they will appreciate it!
When it comes to visits, especially the all-important first visit to see the baby, be sensitive. You may not be invited to attend the birth or come to the hospital or birth center right afterward. Don’t be offended – it’s the new mom and dad’s decision to make. The same goes if they don’t jump on your baby name suggestions.
2. Listen and respect your child’s decisions. It doesn’t matter how many kids you raised or how they turned out, your adult child and his or her spouse or partner are now in charge of the child rearing. Be cautious about offering opinions or advice unless asked directly. And even then, tread lightly and express yourself gently. It’s all about respecting boundaries. Everyone parents differently, and it’s your child’s turn to learn what works for them.
It’s hard to keep your lips zipped when you hear things you disagree with, from what kind of birth the parents are planning to what kind of childcare they’re considering. But you need to. If you try to intervene with a contrary opinion, you’re setting yourself up as an adversary. Over time, you’ll strain your relationship with the new parents and your grandchildren. Let the parents-to-be experiment – not every decision they make will stick. And not everything they put out there needs to provoke a reaction, either. Sometimes they’re just thinking out loud. Allow them to grow in their roles as parents.
Lastly, no gloating or “I told you so” when something you disagreed with doesn’t work. Everyone has to learn things for themselves. As a wise 7-year-old told me, “Everyone makes mistakes”.
3. Be mindful when shopping. With a new grandchild on the way, it’s tempting to go on a shopping spree. But before you do, ask the parents-to-be what they need, what they don’t want and whether there’s a baby registry or wish list you can consult before you buy anything.
Some expectant parents welcome all gifts, but others would prefer to make most of the choices about clothing, toys, and gear themselves. And there may be other factors they’re weighing, like an impending move or limited space. Some parents-to-be take the “less is more” philosophy and don’t want to fill their homes with bulky baby gear, at least not right away. Others would much rather have financial help or contributions to a savings account.
4. Don’t take their choices personally. They’re advocates of co-sleeping? Don’t want to circumcise? Want to name their baby boy North-West-Sky-Blue? Honestly, it’s not your problem. Yes, you may feel a tad embarrassed sharing your grandson’s new name with your friends, but you didn’t name him, right? Just raise your eyebrows and report it with a smile.
5. Follow their rules. You’re used to being the one in charge, but this time it’s your child’s turn. That can be disconcerting, but you may find this role reversal refreshing as well. After all, with authority comes responsibility. Now it’s your turn to do what you’re told – and not worry about whether it’s the best way or not.
If your grandchild has a routine for naps and meals, make sure you maintain it, even if it means cutting an outing short. If every time “George” goes out with Grandma he comes home exhausted and cranky, those outings are not going to happen as often”. If the parents say no solid food yet and to keep the TV off when the baby’s awake, respect their wishes! The same goes for their house rules: If they’re strict about recycling, don’t throw your water bottles in the trash.
And…if the new parents aren’t always gracious when explaining their do’s and don’ts or get snippy with you over something minor, try to keep your cool. Sleep deprivation (and the stresses of new parenthood) are probably to blame.
6. Give new parents a break. It’s easy to forget how overwhelming it is to be a new parent, and how hard it can be to accomplish the basics. This is where you can step in to save the day. During visits, offer to take care of your grandbaby while the parents nap or get other things done. Ask if you can help by running errands, making meals or cleaning up.
Some new parents are reluctant to ask grandparents to help, so you may get better results if you just jump in and do what’s needed, like filling the dishwasher or making sandwiches. If other family members are also dropping by, offer to help field phone calls or emails to schedule visits. This can be invaluable for a nursing mom or sleep-deprived dad. It may be easier for the new parents if you stay in a hotel nearby rather than in their home. This way they won’t try to take on hosting duties on top of their parenting responsibilities.
Forgive the new parents for being overwhelmed and self-absorbed – it’s natural. Your child and his or her spouse or partner probably won’t have time for the things you used to do together and your conversations will likely be all about them, at least for a while. If you expect this and practice patience, you’re less likely to become hurt or resentful. And you can be pleasantly surprised when they emerge from the new-parent fog and become your thoughtful loved ones again.
7. Take it easy together. Make an effort to enjoy leisure time with your grandchildren. As a grandparent, you get to interact with your grandchildren without the same daily pressures of a parent—you don’t have to worry about driving carpool or juggling making dinner for the family with soccer practice and grocery shopping. Allow yourself to slow down and become really absorbed in an activity. Moving at a slower pace than usual can give children a sense that time can be ‘stretched’—that you don’t need to hurry through activities. And, as with adults, it gives them the psychic space to feel, reflect, and express emotions without feeling rushed.
8. Go outside. Children love the outdoors, and trips to the park or the beach can be a great jumping-off point for some wonderful adventures and happy memories. Nature walks and day hikes can provide lots of interesting things to talk about, and water activities can be especially fun. Throwing stones into the water or watching the current play with sticks are simple activities that can be fascinating to children. You can start these activities when kids are toddlers, and expand the games as they get older.
9. Share your interests or your work. Engaging in hobbies and activities that you love or your grandchild loves can be a great way to spend time together and learn about each other. Sometimes, activities that you might not expect your grandchildren to be interested in, like knitting or gardening, might turn out to provide an important point of connection for you. Similarly, if you take an interest in something they are passionate about, like trading cards or the Harry Potter books, they get to share their special area of knowledge and may open up in new ways.
If you are still working, a visit to your place of work can add a dimension to your grandchild’s perception of you. If you are retired, pictures and stories about what your working days were like can do the same.
10. Work to make it work. Most importantly, work to make this work. Parents need their parents, grandparents need their children and grandkids. This relationship is enriching for all. Whether you live close or far away, make sure you find ways to make everyone a part of each other’s lives with love and respect.