Just can’t wait to get your hands on that new baby? There’s nothing wrong with enjoying a cuddle or two, but a bigger job awaits: helping the older grandchildren make the leap to big brother or big sister.
The days and weeks after the birth or adoption of a new baby are some of the hardest of an older child’s life. Their routine – something even a whirling dervish of a toddler craves – has been turned on its head. And that, says upstate New York child psychologist Amy Dworetsky, is where grandparents can make all the difference.
“Kids crave structure,” she says. “They crave continuity.”
Grandparents, who aren’t sleep deprived thanks to the new addition and who aren’t spending days in the hospital, then days diapering, feeding and burping, have the time to keep a child’s routine going. Whether the oldest grandchildren are camping out at Grandma and Grandpa’s house for a few days or you’re flying in to lend a hand, this is a time for bonding with the grandchildren you already know.
“When my younger son, John, was born, Nick had my mother to himself,” Dworetsky recalls. “Where everything in his life was different – he even had to move into a new room – he didn’t have to share her. She was the one thing that didn’t change.”
A grandparent’s role is simple: be there. Make dinner. Read a bedtime story. Find out what they’re interested in, and indulge them in a trip to the museum to see their favorite dinosaurs or buy an extra ice cream cone on the way home.
“As the grandparent, you can enjoy the fun of the older child as well as the fun of the new baby,” says Marian Edelman Borden, parenting expert and author of The Baffled Parent’s Guide to Sibling Rivalry (McGraw-Hill, 2003).
When Borden’s mother-in-law died, Borden’s son penned a memorial that spoke volumes about the way a grandparent can make their mark on a child.
“He wrote, ‘She made each one of us feel like they were the favorite,’” Borden recalls.
It’s easy to love newborn babies with their sweet smells and their cuddly nature.
What grandparents have to remember is how to spread that love around. It wouldn’t hurt to show a rare bit of favoritism toward the older grandkids just for the time being.
When people ooh and ahh over Dworetsky’s younger child, the grandmother, Harriet Podbielski, is quick to remind them that 6-year-old Nick has plenty of praiseworthy attributes.
“I throw my two cents in for him,” Podbielski says with a grin. “I say ‘Nick hit a home run today at T-ball’ or ‘Nick got a gold star today at school.’
“He looks up at me and just smiles.”
Even though mom’s lap has disappeared in recent months, grandchildren have learned yours is always open – and now they need to know it’s here to stay.
“It grounds a child,” Podbielski says, “and helps them realize they’re part of this long line of wonderful people.”
Good Read-Alouds for New Siblings:
Darcy and Gran Don’t Like Babies
When You Visit Grandma & Grandpa
Iris and Walter and Baby Rose