Being a grandparent is great, but it does take some getting used to. For a first-timer, the first thought is usually something like, “I’m not old enough to be a grandparent”. Children really do grow up fast. The sad thing is that by the time you realize it, it’s too late. Having children is a great feeling, but nothing like the feeling you get when your children have children. It really drives home the ‘Circle of Life’ thing. We were in total awe as we watched our children become nurturing parents. But there is also a down-side. Grand parenting is not always easy.
If you think back to when you were new parents, you will remember, and understand what I mean. There is a fine line between being helpful, and interfering, and being a nuisance. The trick is to stay on the good side. Your first impulse when your children (whom you were convinced would never be able to walk and chew gum at the same time) have their first child. Panic sets in because you know from experience that nothing on this Earth will keep you busier, or has a larger capacity to overwhelm normally intelligent adults, and turn them into blithering idiots, than a newborn. And now, they have the fate of a new human being completely in their hands. You want to jump in and rescue them with your experience. The truth of the matter (and I know it is very hard to accept) is that it’s the wrong thing to do, for several reasons.
The first reason is that the parents need time to bond with the newborn, and get used to it. Anything you try to do to help at this point may be regarded as interference. The best thing to do is to let them know that you are available for them whenever they need you. Remember, there is another set of grandparents on the spouse’s side of the family that will be doing the same thing. In addition, if you jump in and try to take-over, no matter how well your intentions may be, you could make your children feel like you have no confidence in them. This is bad. One thing you should never do is alienate your children, or the other grandparents. Offer to help out, and don’t be offended if it is refused. Many new parents prefer to adjust, and work it out their own way.
Another thing to consider is, as much as we hate to admit it; it is a different world than when we became new parents. A lot has happened in 30 years or so. When we were expecting, they couldn’t even tell you the gender of your child until it was born, and office pools were traditional. Ultrasound Imaging has taken a lot of the guesswork out of the experience of having a child. Advances in medicine, and child rearing have changed the accepted way of doing things. Your children do not want to hear about how they are doing it wrong, and about how you did it (albeit, successfully) 30 years ago. A lot of hospitals and other places have classes on how to be an effective grandparent in the modern world. They are definitely worth your time.
Here is a situation that I can guarantee you will come up at some point. This is where you really find out that grand parenting is not always easy: You are babysitting, and the child/children refuse to behave. How do you discipline them without making your children mad? One way to avoid this is to establish the rules with your children ahead of time, and find out how they wish their children to be corrected. If it gets to be a problem, then offer to pay for a professional baby-sitter occasionally so they can go out. Accepted practices for correcting children have changed greatly in the last few decades.
Babies haven’t changed in 30 years, but what we know about them has. As I said earlier, it’s a new world, full of mandatory car seats, Umbilical Cord Blood Banking, the introduction of solid foods at age 6 months, breast-pumps and breast-feeding, and other technological and social ‘advances’. We may not agree with all of them, but that’s the way it is. Much has changed in birthing, feeding and sleeping practices, and you should catch up on current trends.
The best thing you can do for your children and grandchildren is to practice Positive Grand Parenting. This means being supportive, a good listener, and be open to learning new things. Your experience is still very valuable. You just may need to learn when, and when not to use it.
Here are a few more tips that may be helpful:
- Don’t give any advice until you’re asked, and then, be diplomatic.
- Offer to baby-sit if you want to, but you are not obligated to. You can offer to grocery shop for them, cook, clean house, laundry, or offer to pay for a baby-sitter instead.
- Try not to argue about the merits of how things are done now, as opposed to how you did them.
- Hold the baby, change the diapers, etc. the way the parents want it done, even though you did it successfully a different way a few decades ago.
- Use positive words when correcting the grandchildren, instead of negative words that will start a rebuttal before they are even finished. Instead of saying “You can’t play video games until you finish your homework”, say “You can play video games after you finish your homework”. Your choice of words greatly affects the feelings associated with the event.
- Make every effort to get along with the other grandparents. Your children and grandchildren do not need any more stress.
- Do your best not to spoil the children, or the parents will be reluctant to bring them over.
As you can see, grand parenting is not always easy, but if you take some extra care and time, you can avoid many of the pitfalls. Being a grandparent can be the greatest job in the world.