When you become a grandparent, your life changes forever. The first image that comes to mind is that angelic little bundle wrapped in pink or blue gazing up at you. A new life. A new little someone to spoil with time and things you couldn’t give your own children. Your second thought is “My gosh, am I really that old?” You aren’t, of course. Just the same, you’re going to be a grandparent, so it’s time to prepare.
Whether you’ll be a grandparent, a step-grandparent or adopted grandparent makes little difference—children understand love, not labels. Whatever your title, you’re about to become an important part of a young person’s life.
Ready or not
Preparing to be a grandparent is best done in advance. Bringing a new life into the world should be a joyous occasion for a couple, so be happy for them. And be happy they decided to share the news with you. Be positive. Remember, aside from being excited, the parents-to-be probably are nervous and scared. Your reassurance will bolster their confidence throughout the pregnancy and birth.
The news they’re sharing is a fact, so now is not the time to question if they’ve thought this through. Certain questions are better left unasked: “Can you afford a child? Do you have room? What about your job?” All imply a lack of confidence in the prospective parents. Instead, ask questions they’d rather answer, such as “How are you feeling?” and “When is the baby due?”
Spreading the word
After you’ve heard the news, you immediately pick up the phone. Who will you tell first?! But wait a minute: This is the prospective parents’ news, not yours. Be considerate. Give them a chance to tell family and friends. There may be many reasons why they don’t want the news spread just yet. Did you ask? There also might be job-related reasons why the mom-to-be wants to keep the pregnancy secret: A new assignment, promotion or relocation might be adversely affected if her news is leaked prematurely.
Perhaps the parents-to-be want to choose the time and place to talk with an older child, or one from another marriage, about the future sibling. Always be considerate of the parents’ wishes.
Keeping the news secret, however, doesn’t preclude you from making plans. How sweet the vision of your new grandchild in that pretty, white crib your own child slept in, or in the antique highchair you refinished so long ago. They just need a little dusting or repainting, right? Beware! Safety standards have changed considerably in the past 20 or so years. That crib may be coated with lead-based paint or have widely spaced bars that can trap little heads. Highchairs also might have lead-based paint or might topple easily. A sturdy, newly crafted chair might be the best choice.
Infant car-seat designs have been altered extensively in the past several years to keep up with the latest safety standards; for instance, federal law requires infants to be transported in rear-facing car seats and secured in the backseat of any vehicle with a passenger-side air bag.
So, before you rush out to the nearest baby superstore, consider this: Perhaps the best gift you can give the parents-to-be is a check or cash to buy new, approved baby items. If you prefer to pick a present, ask the parents what they need and then visit a baby department store to ensure that the products you purchase meet the most recent safety standards. Not sure what to get? Two inexpensive gift suggestions: an audio monitor for the baby’s room and a rearview mirror to check on the rear-facing baby in the backseat.
During the pregnancy, you might be privy to more medical information from the mother-to-be than you want. Certainly, show concern. Remember, this might be a new experience for both prospective parents, and they are bound to be worried or scared. Just don’t add your own worries to theirs. Let them talk with you about their fears, and allay them as best you can.
Unless you are a doctor, refrain from offering medical advice; prenatal medicine has come a long way since you became a parent. Picking up a current guide to pregnancy and birth for you to read will help you discover how much things have changed and what to expect during each trimester.
Welcome to the world!
Finally, the big day has arrived! Hopefully, you’ve communicated with both parents long before mom went into labor about how you might help during and after the birth and when you might visit the baby. Honor the mom- to-be’s wishes. Clear the time in advance so you can be present if needed. Even if the new mother doesn’t need your help, if you live close enough to the hospital, you might still go there to be with the new father and see the baby.
If you live too far away, consider tapping into technology, suggests new Grandmother Diana Salomon of Venice, Fla. “As soon as the baby was born,” she says, “our son took digital pictures and sent them to us by e-mail. We could see birth pictures on the same day—even though we live 700 miles away.”
Nowadays, fathers often attend the birth and then stay in the hospital room to bond with mother and baby. So, if you plan to visit the new baby, you might offer to help at the couple’s house by taking care of a family pet, retrieving phone messages and gathering mail. If the mother is having a Caesarean, she may need help as soon as she comes home—she’ll be prohibited from lifting anything other than the baby for several weeks.
When the baby or babies come home, be mindful of the needs of both the new parents and the baby. Ask how both parents are feeling—don’t forget dad—and what they need. Sleep deprivation is a major challenge for new parents. You can help:
- Offer to rock the baby and let mommy sleep, change a diaper or prepare a bottle if the baby is not breast-feeding.
- Offer to cook or pick up meals, or contact a local restaurant or chef about having prepared meals delivered.
- Offer to clean the house and do laundry, send in your own cleaning person or call a reputable cleaning service if it’s agreeable to the parents.
- Visit or arrange a visit from someone close to take an older sibling for an outing or a family pet for a walk.
- Offer to shop for needed items; diapers always seem to run out in the middle of the night.
Originally Published on GRAND Magazine in January-February 2007 Issue.