Meeting your new grandchild for the first time signals the start of a whole new phase in your life. Here’s how to handle the ups and downs
1. Watch out for the gender gap
2. Don’t play competitive grandparenting
Whatever you do, try not to compare yourself to the other set of grandparents. Instead, accept that each grandparent can show their grandchild something new because everyone is different. “It’s about celebrating these differences rather than being critical or seeing the other grandparents as competitors,” says Denise. “Raising this child has to be a joint effort.”
3. Be tech savvy
Okay, so if you live hundreds of miles away from your grandchild, you may find it difficult to be there for every birthday, let alone sports days and nativity plays. But by scheduling video calls on Skype and FaceTime, it’s still possible to marvel over your grandchild’s development milestones, for example their first steps.
“Technology can also help your bond grow because if you and your grandchild have seen each other at incremental stages, you won’t be such a stranger to them when you get to see them in person,” says Denise. But don’t forget snail mail too. Denise suggests sending a little card to your grandchild occasionally, reminding them that you’re thinking of them and hoping that a particular event goes well.
4. Respect that times have changed
If you don’t agree with how your grandchild is being parented, yet the child is happy and the parents are not asking you for help, try to keep quiet. “As long as the child is thriving, and neither parent nor child is in distress, it’s best to avoid stepping in with your suggestions or criticism,” says Denise. “Recognise that while your way worked for you and your children, this mother is doing things differently and her family is doing just fine. Sometimes grandparents have to accept that times have changed and things have moved on.”
5. Set limits on gifts
Of course, if you don’t get to see your grandchild often, it’s completely understandable that you want to lavish them with gifts and sweets. But it’s best to ask the parents before whipping out your credit card. If you’re too extravagant, it can affect all your relationships – particularly if the parents are struggling to make ends meet.
“If grandparents spend a lot on gifts, the child can end up saying, ‘Well, we’ll just ask Nanny – she’ll get it for me’,” says Denise. “The parents and grandparents need to grasp the impact this has on the family dynamic and, in the interests of the child, work together to set limits.”
6. Build a bond by paying attention
As a grandparent, you don’t have to interrupt what you’re doing to make a bottle, load the washing machine with dirty baby clothes or fill in that form for nursery – you can just give your grandchild your complete attention. This can often mean getting down on the floor and playing. Indeed, you may find that you spend more time playing with your grandchild than you did with your own children, when you were at the sharp end of raising a young family. This makes it a very special relationship.