Grandparenting – 21st Century Style
BY CHERYL HARBOUR
Are you ready for this GRAND new role? Maybe the news that you’re about to become a grandparent for the first time or again has hit you suddenly…or maybe you’ve been wishing for grandchildren for a while. Now that it’s happening, you’ll want to jump right in with enthusiasm. Knowing what you need to know, and anticipating some of the questions and issues that may arise, will give you a head start.
We all bring lessons from our past
Some people have vivid memories of their grandparents: The grandmother who let you help her in the garden, the grandfather who taught you how to ride a bike.
Not all of us are lucky enough to have those warm memories, but we HAD parents and we WERE parents. The wait for your new grandchild is a good time to think about how you were parented, as well as what kinds of experiences you had when you were parenting your own children.
Most people who are grandparents today were raised at a time when women and men had prescribed roles. Fathers typically worked long hours outside the house, and mothers primarily were responsible for home and kids. Dad was often the disciplinarian – with the louder, sterner voice – and Mom would say, “Wait until your father gets home.” (Then she’d sneak into your bedroom later to make sure you weren’t too sad.)
But society evolves. Today, we have more working mothers (in the U.S. women make up more than half of the workforce), more stay-at-home dads, more blended families, more single parents, and more same-sex parents. Grandparents are often the primary caregivers for a child outside of his or her parents. A full 30% of working women depend on grandparents as the primary source of childcare. What’s more, the U.S. Census Bureau found that by 2012, 2.7 million grandparents were actually raising their grandchildren, and the number has grown since then.
Within that shifting structure, families and individuals evolve, too. If the model we observed with our parents or grandparents is no longer do-able or if we have different ideas – we can invent our own model of grandparenting.
Which traits make us most effective as grandparents?
From talking to professionals and hundreds of experienced grandparents, here’s a short list of traits that go hand-in-hand with successful grandparents, right from the start.
Interests and pastimes you truly enjoy are the most sustainable. That doesn’t mean if you get down on the floor a few times and play with the singing elephant you’ll always need to do that. But if you prefer rocking, rock. If you prefer pushing the stroller, go for walks. If you prefer cuddling and cooing, do that as often as possible. Interests that are shared strengthen the bond, and as your grandbaby gets older, you’ll have more and more opportunities.
We can invent our own model of grandparenting.
This doesn’t mean drop everything you’re doing. It means carve out some time. Make the effort. Be proactive. Depending on how near or far you live – or your ability to travel – see your grandchild as often as you can. If you can’t be there face-to-face – use Facetime or Skype.
The more you know, the better prepared you are to handle a newborn confidently and to understand the developmental stages as they occur. A lot has changed since we were raising our own children! The first year of life is vitally important, so learn all you can to make the most of that first year. Don’t miss the opportunity to enrich your grandbaby’s life and well-being.
Wise grandparents say one of the most important things to remember is that you are not the parent. Try to empathize with the new parents, but don’t assume. Let them lead the way and support – don’t subvert – their parenting philosophies and practices. Also be considerate of the others in your grandbaby’s network, including the grandparents from the other side of the family.
Keep your sense of humor
Starting now and through the years to come, find the simple joy and laughter in grandparenting situations. Babies are hilarious and they love to laugh. Let’s face it, you can be pretty silly, too, if you let yourself.
You and your new GRANDbaby are about to start a wonderful journey together – so enjoy!
Grandparenting…full of stereotypes and surprises
Whether it’s Tyler Perry’s Medea or the grandma in “Vacation” movies or even Moana’s grandma, the media hardly represents the grandmothers we know today – youthful, smart, active, and vibrant. And we don’t know many “Bad Grandpas” either. But here’s a video that sums it all up: No matter what the cliché’, grandparents can be unique and surprising!
Practical Matters: Immunizations You’ll Need
You definitely don’t want the first thing you give your grandchild to be an illness, so make sure to have these immunizations.
Measles, Mumps, Rubella (MMR Vaccine) – If you were born in 1957 or later and aren’t sure if you were ever immunized, you can get a blood test to confirm your immunity.
Influenza – Yearly flu shot is recommended
Chickenpox – Talk to your doctor if you’ve never had chickenpox
Tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (whooping cough) – Get a DTAP or TDAP
Hepatitis B – Vaccine is recommended If you’re sixty or older with diabetes or work in health care
Shingles – If you’re sixty or older
Pneumonia – If you’re sixty-five or older
Family pets will need to adjust, too
Before your new grandbaby visits your home for the first time, you’ll want to prepare Bowser or Snuggles, too.
For dogs, experts suggest a visit to the groomer – including a bath and nail trim – as well as a check-up with the vet to make sure your dog is healthy and up-to-date with immunizations. If your dog needs a refresher on basic obedience, such as sit, stay, down, leave it, and drop it, this is a good time to brush up those skills. After the baby is born, you might want to bring home some items that have the baby’s smell on them and let your dog get used to that new smell.
When your grandbaby comes into your home for the first time, it’s wise to have a helper who will attend to the dog if you’ll be holding the baby. The helper will have your dog on a leash, but in a relaxed manner and have treats on hand to reward good behavior. Try to keep the first interactions calm and positive and take little steps, such as letting the dog sniff the baby’s feet while you talk to the dog affectionately.
With your cat, you can also use treats and praise to get the friendship off to the right start. There’s a myth that cats try to smother babies. That’s not true, but cats are usually more able than dogs to do things like jump into the crib, so you can avoid that by keeping the room where the baby sleeps when visiting off-limits to the cat.
People have different levels of comfort about contact between babies and pets, so you’ll want to support the parents’ wishes. Allergies tend to run in families – and this goes for all kinds of allergies. Unless a baby is allergy-prone, experts now agree that exposure to common allergens, such as pet dander, may actually protect a child from developing an allergy to them.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR – Cheryl Harbour
Cheryl Harbour is the special editor of our “My GRANDbaby” section and author of Good to Be Grand: making the Most of your Grandchild’s First Year, a combination of up-to-date information and grandparently inspiration.