The arrival of a grandchild, especially the first one, is a combination of taking gold at the Olympics, winning an Academy Award, and receiving the Nobel Peace Prize. In short, grandparents are over the moon. But, as we’ve so often noted on these pages, where there are people to whom we’re related, there are problems or at least issues to be negotiated. Here is what we learned from the experts and new grandparents about how to make things go smoothly.
Be frank: Tell the parents-to-be to what extent you’d like to be involved and how much you can handle physically. Ask them to be honest with you, too, about whether they want you in the delivery room—or even at the hospital—for the birth, when they want you to visit, and if they want you to stay over. Don’t be surprised (and try not to be offended) if they opt for time alone to bond as a family, sometimes referred to as a “babymoon,” or if your daughter-in-law wants her own mother there and not you.
Be mindful: Even if you do get the go-ahead to visit right away, the experts advise you to stay at a nearby motel instead of in their home, if possible. Thanks to a combination of sleep deprivation and the responsibilities of a new baby, nerves can be frayed in the beginning. If you do stay over, let your offspring set the duration of your visit. Chrissy Charles of Denver initially spent 12 days getting her daughter and son-in-law settled in with their twins. “Since then I only come for long weekends, and I calendar these visits according to what works best for them,” she says.
Be helpful: The experts advise making yourself as useful as possible, tidying up, doing laundry, making meals, and serving as the family photographer. “But always ask permission first,” warns first-time grandma Joanie Kline of Atlanta. “You don’t want to give the impression that the new mother’s housekeeping isn’t up to your standards. Then, too, when you go shopping for the baby, always ask the mother first and, though it’s tempting, don’t buy out the store. You don’t want it to look like you’re taking over.”
Be the babysitter: If you get to babysit and your son gives you detailed instructions, just smile and say, “Great!” Never mind that you raised four children and are a Registered Nurse—in the neonatal unit no less. Chrissy Charles is proud that she and her husband were the twins’ first babysitters. She could tell the new parents were nervous about going out, though, so she sent them texts throughout the night showing the babies eating and sleeping.
Be agreeable. Go along with all the new parents’ choices, no matter how off-the-walls they seem to you. They don’t want the baby to drive with Grandpa? Take an Uber. They worry that visitors transmit germs? Ostentatiously rub Purell on your hands and only kiss the baby on his feet or the back of his head. These early transactions are setting the stage for your role as a grandparent, and you to be thought of as “the easy one.”
Be calm: Or at least appear calm. Calm is catching. Even with a fussy baby and a nervous new mother, you can help lower everyone’s stress level by seeming to take it all in stride. Think back to what worked with your own kids: walking them around, bouncing them on your knee, singing, talking, stroking. Don’t remember? Go online, read a book, or take a grandparenting class.
Be understanding: When the new mom has the blues, you want to provide a nonjudgmental shoulder for her to lean on. “Think of yourself as her cheerleader,” says Joanie Kline. “Remember how scary it was to be responsible for a tiny, helpless human being who can’t tell you what’s bothering them?” According to the experts your new favorite phrases should be, “You’re doing a great job” and “I’m so proud of you!” Don’t give unsolicited advice or recount how you did it.
Be conciliatory: As soon as you hear that the kids are expecting, reach out to the other grandparents, coordinate visits, and stay in touch. After all, who else is going to find 64 ultrasounds fascinating? Now’s also a good time to make peace with your ex, if you have one. You’ll be sharing your grandchildren’s big occasions, and it will be a relief to the new parents to know that there won’t be awkwardness or acrimony when you’re all together.
Be responsive: “Our son was never one to call unless he had a specific topic to discuss,” says Joanie Kline. “Now he’s a regular Chatty Cathy, narrating videos of his baby daughter almost every day. We make sure to get right back to him so he knows we’re with him all the way.”
Be impervious to irritations: “My daughter-in-law is a complainer and she does things in a way I wouldn’t,” says Chrissy Charles. “But when I held the babies in my arms for the first time, nothing else mattered – and six months later, it still doesn’t.”
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