6 Top Tips for New Grandparents
6 Top Tips for New Grandparents
September 30, 2022

6 Top Tips for New Grandparents

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6 Top Tips for New Grandparents.
6 Top Tips for New Grandparents

Becoming a grandparent ranks near the top of the list of life’s most joyful moments. Many grandparents—especially grandmothers—play a crucial role in supporting families when a baby is born. In an ideal world, grandparents make life easier for the new family, and new parents experience a heightened level of appreciation for grandma as she takes on this new role. This ideal state is achievable, though it requires communication, collaboration, understanding and a little bit of grace from everyone involved.

Growing into your new role as a grandparent may take some time, but being aware of some common boundaries for grandparents—and how to talk about them with your adult children—can deepen your bond with the new parent(s) and help establish a lifelong connection with your grandchild.

What to Expect When Your Child Is Expecting

When they discovered that their daughter Jacqui was pregnant with their first grandchild, Greg and Danielle Kaiser of London, Ontario planned to book plane tickets to Jacqui’s hometown of Hoboken, New Jersey as soon as labor began. They wanted to support their daughter and begin bonding with their grandson as soon as possible.

“For me, it had been roughly 30 years since I held a newborn,” says Greg Kaiser. “That first moment…that first one was magical.”

Becoming a grandparent certainly has its share of magical moments like this one, but it can also be a challenge to navigate your new role. Your desire to snuggle and spoil your grandchild may occasionally be at odds with your sleep-deprived child’s parenting plans.

“When there’s a new baby in the house, the parents are completely on edge,” says Jane Isay, grandmother of four and author of Unconditional Love: A Guide to Navigating the Joys and Challenges of Being a Grandparent Today. Lack of sleep and anxiety about raising a baby the “right” way can send new parents spiraling. Even soothing a crying baby can inadvertently cause tension.

“Imagine that a baby is crying and Grandma offers to hold the baby. If the baby stops crying, that’s very nice for the baby and for Grandma. But it’s not nice for Mom. Mom is left wondering why Grandma can make the baby stop crying and she can’t?” Isay says.

Dr. Marshall P. Duke, member of the National Advisory Council for the Jewish Grandparents Network, professor of psychology at Emory University and proud grandfather of nine, says, “There is a saying that babies do not come with instruction manuals. The same is true for grandparenting.”

Top Tips for Becoming a Grandparent

Tip #1: Open the Lines of Communication before the Baby Arrives

Though it can be fun to talk about what will be on the baby’s registry and what color the nursery walls will be, the most important discussions you can have with your children before the baby arrives are those that will open the lines of communication.

Try this: Sit down with expecting parents and talk about how they grew up. Those old memories build a kind of safety net for when the new baby comes.

Isay encourages grandparents-to-be to talk to their children about their family history—and about their hopes for their growing family’s future.

“Sit down with expecting parents and talk about how they grew up. Find out what your child remembers about their own childhood. Tell them what you remember about their childhood. Those old memories build a kind of safety net for when the new baby comes,” she says.

Once you have a better understanding of what your child values from their own childhood, you can get a better idea of the type of parent your child hopes to be. As a result, you will better understand why they make certain decisions about how to raise their own child. And sharing your memories of being a new parent–especially the not-so-perfect ones–will remind your child that you were once in their shoes, subtly suggesting that you can be called upon as a valuable source of wisdom.

Tip #2: Agree on the Length of Your Visits (and Keep the Dates Flexible)

Many grandmothers will stay with the new family for a period of time to help out when a new baby is born. How long they stay (and how well everyone gets along during this time of adjustment) can vary greatly depending on everyone’s wants and needs. The key is to remain flexible.

Kathy Hyland of Edgewood, Kentucky has three grandsons who live in Chicago, Illinois, and her newest grandson is days away from making his arrival in New York City. Hyland plans to hop on a plane immediately after the birth, but she knows that her role as “Nana” will be slightly different this time.

Try this: Flying to see the new baby? Book a ticket that allows for no-fee changes or cancellations.

Hyland will spend a week with her daughter and son-in-law in their two-bedroom apartment in Queens, which will be closer quarters than when she spent those first newborn days with her grandsons in their Chicago house. She plans to spend a lot of time taking care of household duties—including giving extra love to her “grandpuppy,” Oscar—while the new parents settle into their roles.

“Together, we decided that I will stay with them for just over a week,” Hyland says. But she’s keeping the end date flexible. “[My daughter] doesn’t know how she’s going to feel. She doesn’t know what she’s going to want. I just know that the three weeks my mother stayed with us when I had a newborn was the time that my mom and I got along the very best.”

Tip #3: Use the Internet to Your Advantage

There is likely one major difference between when you brought home a newborn and when your child will bring home a newborn: the Internet.

From books to blogs to social media, the amount of parenting advice available online has exploded in the last decade. Use that to your advantage.

“Smart grandparents go on the Internet to see what today’s parenting advice is. Prepare for the baby’s arrival as if you were preparing for a trip to Morocco. How we raised our children is not how they’re going to raise their children,” Isay says. In other words, do the research.

Isay, Hyland and the Kaisers referenced sleeping positions and feeding options as the two biggest changes through the years. Experts used to tell parents to put babies to sleep on their bellies, but we now know that infants should sleep on their backs. At one point formula was thought to be superior to breastfeeding, but we have now discovered that breastmilk can help babies fight disease and prevent infection. (Take a look at the checklist at the end of this article for recommended sources of information.)

“Grandparent friends say: ‘It’s not the same as it used to be when we had kids.’ And no, it’s not,” says Danielle Kaiser. “Sometimes it’s hard for people to understand that things are done differently now.”

“I think our parents said the same thing!” jokes her husband Greg.

Tip #4: Always Defer to the Parent(s)

Some grandparents have a difficult time accepting the “rules” their children set for them. For example, your child may ask you to visit only at certain times or rewash your hands before touching your grandchild.

“Listen very carefully to the parents’ rules,” says Isay. “They are in charge. You’re not.” She stresses that staying in your child’s good graces is your “ticket” to spending time with your grandchildren. So it’s best to stick to the rules—even if you don’t agree with them.

In fact, Duke’s most important suggestion for grandparents is that they “accept a secondary role in raising grandkids…and defer to the parents. Even if they see the parents doing something [the grandparents] consider ill-advised, they should not interfere unless asked for advice.”

Hyland and the Kaisers both stress the importance of following rules and routines established by their children. Hyland said that she would “never, never tell her children what to do. I never try to even say, ‘Can I make a suggestion?’ If something’s bothering me, I’ll ask why they made a particular decision and I’ll respect that they know my grandchildren better than I do.”

Greg Kaiser adds: “If you come on too strong, it’s just going to cause tension.”

So, if your kids want to stick to a strict nap schedule, feed the baby in a particular way, or forbid pacifiers, those choices belong to them, not you. The best thing you can do is respect their wishes.

Isay suggests that rules can be a parent’s way of coping with the overwhelming uncertainty of raising a child, and they view any advice you may give them as criticism. Rather than taking offense, think about why your children made those rules in the first place.

“Figure out ways to not be bothered by your children’s rules. If you’re tempted to say something like, ‘But I did it this way…,’ tell it to your girlfriends—not to your daughter-in-law,” she says.

Baby Basics for New Grandparents

How much has changed since you were a parent? A lot! Here are some approved sources we recommend to find the latest information.

Pediatrician-led advice on attaining optimal physical, mental, and social health and well-being at every stage

Everything you need to know about the current recommendations and explanations about breastfeeding

Official formula feeding do’s and don’ts from the FDA

Policies and info on the latest recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics

A list of popular baby products that do more harm than good

Tip #5: Know Your Grandparent Boundaries and Stick to Them

Danielle and Greg Kaiser’s daughter Jacqui says that in setting boundaries with grandparents, one of the most helpful things her parents do is that they ask a lot of questions, like when they can visit or if they can send the grandkids a particular gift. “They’re very conscious about all of that,” she says. “And it makes a huge difference when they think through the implications of that visit or that giant gift.”

“We feel that it’s important not to step on anybody’s toes,” Danielle Kaiser adds.

Try this: Turn statements into questions. Instead of “I want to visit this weekend,” ask, “Would you like a break this weekend? I can come to watch the baby.”

When in doubt, just ask! The parents will appreciate you granting them the decision-making power.

Keep in mind that your child may have to balance your role in the grandkids’ lives with their partner’s parents. Having two (or more!) sets of grandparents can sometimes generate competition for the grandkids’ attention and affection, but remember: there’s more than enough love to go around.

“It seems like there’s a ‘Fitbit for Grandparents’ that is monitoring the amount of time and money each set of grandparents spends on their grandkids,” says Isay, who has personally struggled with this issue. “But I finally resolved that by saying to myself that the more love these kids get, the better. We are united with the in-laws even if we’re competing for the love of those grandkids. If you put those grandkids in the pole position, everyone wins.”

Tip #6: Seek Opportunities for One-on-One Time

Both Hyland and the Kaisers enjoy spending solo time with their grandchildren. It gives them those moments of connection that they crave while also providing priceless support for the parents.

Hyland routinely drives five hours to visit her grandsons (who are now 13, 11 and eight years old) in Chicago to watch their games or simply hang out while their parents go out to dinner. She even stayed with the boys for 10 days when her son and daughter-in-law traveled to Hawaii, shuttling the boys to school, sports and activities. “I don’t know if I could have done that if I hadn’t known them so well from the time they were babies,” she says.

The Kaisers met their first grandson, Silas (now three years old), on the first day of his life, but they didn’t meet his brother Aidan (now one) until ten months after he arrived. Aidan was born in September 2020 during the Covid-19 pandemic, so the Kaisers couldn’t leave Canada to travel to New Jersey until the border opened the following summer.

They recently spent a long weekend with the boys while their daughter and her husband traveled to a wedding on the west coast. The Kaisers laughed when they recalled the “bible” that their daughter left for them with detailed daily activities, suggestions, and translations for Silas’s three-year-old language. But even though they poked fun at their daughter’s thorough instructions, they appreciated the guidance and structure the bible provided.

Because it had been so challenging to forge relationships during pandemic-induced Zoom calls, the Kaisers relished having individual quiet time with each of the boys: they observed quietly while Aidan played with Play-Doh, and they snuggled with Silas while they read books to him. “It gave us that opportunity to get to know them—and for them to know us—other than on a screen,” Danielle Kaiser says. “And now when we do Zoom calls, there’s a lot more recognition there.”

It may take some time—and some trial and error—to figure out how to become an essential part of your grandchild’s life in a way that works for both you and for the parents, but when you lead with love and understanding, you’ll soon find your way.

“You will have an enormous impact on your grandchildren’s lives,” said Isay. “Know that they will remember the love, and they’ll appreciate you—quirks and all.”

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