Top Six Mistakes New Grandparents Should Avoid
Today’s grandparents are learning new roles and becoming more involved in their grandchildren’s lives. But good intentions, excitement and a desire to pitch in can sometimes be misinterpreted.
1. Spread the news far and wide
Feel honored that they shared their secret with you, and make sure the parents-to-be are ready to spread the news before you tell anyone else. Sometimes they have reasons for not wanting the world to know too soon — concern for the progress of a first pregnancy, or job-related issues. One young woman came from an upbringing where it was considered “bad luck” to talk about the pregnancy before three months, but her husband couldn’t wait to tell his mother. Of course, she was excited to compare grandparenting notes with her son’s in-laws the next time they met — too bad their daughter hadn’t told them! The birth announcement is probably your very first exchange as a “grandparent-to-be” and it’s a good time to establish that you will respect their wishes where your grandchild is concerned.
- Laugh or gasp when they tell you the name
This generation’s choices are different than yours. When your kids announce they want to name the baby “Apple,” your response must be positive (“Wow!” is always a good answer.) Practice this in advance! I was told about one grandmother who received a call from the new dad as soon as the baby was born. He told her the birth went fine and announced they had named the baby Horatio. Her knee-jerk reaction was to blurt out “You’ve got to be kidding.” Luckily, her son has a sense of humor — but she’s still living that down.
- Act like a baby expert
Baby-raising techniques have changed since you did it. The experts are different, the books are different. The babies who used to sleep on their stomachs now sleep on their backs for a good reason. Rather than offering medical advice, another approach might be to pick up a copy of a current guide to pregnancy and birth for the new parents. The first time this really comes to light is when the new mother brings her baby home. With hospital stays so short these days, often one of the grandmothers comes to help during the first week. I know one grandmother so insistent on her views about the feeding schedule that the parents finally asked her to go home.
- Visit or do things without asking
Lots of grandparents think they’re supposed to “drop in” and visit. A much better idea is to prove your worth, so you’re truly welcome — by baby-sitting, doing dishes, shopping, dog walking or whatever you can do to really help out. It can be your “ticket in” to develop a great relationship with your grandchild. Just be sure to ask first — don’t take over the house. You may think you’re being helpful by cleaning the kitchen, when your daughter (or daughter-in-law) interprets this as criticism of her housekeeping. It all comes back to good communication. Babysitting while the new mom is napping is a big help — if the baby doesn’t sleep, mom doesn’t sleep. That’s why young mothers get exhausted. And after all, how many people will new parents trust to babysit a new baby?
It’s a very short list, and grandparents are usually at the top of it. On the end of the spectrum, new grandmothers who are asked to baby-sit frequently sometimes feel “taken advantage of.” If this is the case, don’t let resentment build up. You can always say “I’m not available to baby-sit, but what else can I do to help?”
- Buy before you ask
Your desire to help your kids can turn sour in a moment if you start buying what you think they need or want. Make offers, listen closely and buy only after agreement has been reached. One mother-in-law showed up at her granddaughter’s christening with a christening dress in hand. Needless to say, they hadn’t planned on christening the baby naked, and had an heirloom gown from her godmother’s family. But worrying about whether or not her mother-in-law’s feelings were hurt added stress to the day. There can also be a delicate balance between your delight in buying gifts for your grandchild and the parents’ concerns about their child becoming spoiled. A good rule of thumb — don’t bring a gift without the parents’ knowledge and approval. It can build up resentment.
- Ignore their rules
Remember that your kids get to set the rules here, not you. Bedtime, feeding time, bath time, naptime, what the child is wearing, what the child is playing with — those decisions belong to the parents. Whether you agree or disagree, the best rule of thumb is to zip your lip. And keep this in mind — only offer advice if you’re asked for it. The corollary to this is praise, praise, praise. The most important thing you can do to ensure your welcome as a new grandparent is to tell your child what a good job they are doing as a parent, and how proud you are of them.