Wednesday, August 31, 2011

How to be a Good Grandparent

A few months ago, my mom sent me an article about a hospital that offered a "Grandparent School" for soon-to-be grandparents. She made a joke about signing up but honestly she had already mastered most, if not all of it!!

The "school" was a one-day seminar that focused on current safety recommendations, advice concerning their relationships with their children/the new parents, and even a run-down on the latest nursery gear, if I'm remembering correctly.

I thought the idea was brilliant, and it got me thinking about what I would choose to teach if I was going to run a school for grandparents-to-be.

 And let me be clear - this is NOT directed at any of Anna's grandparents, who are all fantastic. In fact, the more horror stories I hear from other new moms about their parents or their in-laws (and believe me, I hear plenty!!), the more I appreciate my own set of grandparents. So, Mom, SuSu, and Poppy- thank you for being sane and for being good grandparents, haha.

So, class, get out your freshly sharpened pencils and your Trapper Keepers: here is my syllabus for Grandparent School.

8:00 - 9:00: Current safety recommendations
          A lot has changed safety-wise since your kiddos were kiddos. Car seats are now legally mandated, babies are put to sleep on their backs, baby-proofing has developed to a whole new level. Take some time to research the new safety recommendations, and make sure you know how to properly work all of the new safety equipment, especially if you are going to be driving with the grandchild or watching the baby in your home.

9:00-11:00: Infant CPR
             Many hospitals, fire stations, pediatrician offices, or independent licensed instructors offer half-day seminars on Infant CPR. They are generally inexpensive and will teach life-saving techniques. Make sure your seminar also includes instructions on what to do if the baby or child is choking.

11:00-12:00: Current Infant Nutrition Recommendations
           We all know that your son Johnny started rice cereal in utero and was eating table food by 2 months, but new parents have updated recommendations in terms of feeding their babies, and if they choose to follow those recommendations - let them! They don't need your commentary or your criticism. If your daughter is choosing to breastfeed, support her. If your baby is on formula, then that's great too (just learn how to properly mix it, if you're in charge of bottles at any point!).        
            Grandparents also need to follow the new parents' lead on feeding the baby once she is on solids. Know what Baby is allowed to have, and what needs to be avoided. Familiarize yourself with the High Allergy Risk list for infants, and also respect the parents' pace for introducing new foods.
             If you are babysitting and get tempted to sneak Baby some cookies and ice cream, please remember that this is not a battle worth picking. You have the rest of their life to fill their tummies with goodies, you don't need to start now and risk getting permanently removed from the babysitter list!

12:00 - 1:00 Recess and Lunch
             Make sure to let your lunch settle before running on the playground, kids!

1:00-2:00 Milestone Hour
             Familiarize yourself with a current milestone chart for infants. Some "old" milestones aren't even considered milestones anymore, and some milestones have been moved to a later part in the development schedule. Nothing stresses a new mom out worse than hearing a constant litany of "Why isn't Baby crawling yet? Why isn't Baby sitting yet? You all were sitting at x months, I think Baby is behind." Believe me, any new mom is hyper-aware of Baby's milestones, and if she is okay with it and the pediatrician is okay with it...your opinion of when Baby should be hitting the milestones really doesn't matter.

2:00 - 3:00 Family Hour
               Here are some suggestions to maintaining a good relationship with your kids, now that there are grandkids in the picture:
               a) Get a life outside of kiddos and grandkiddos. Their little family needs time and space to create their own memories and traditions, and if you are constantly at their house and hovering around, it's difficult to get that time. Find a new hobby, start volunteering - enjoy your free time!!
               b) Speak only when spoken to. I mean this in the way of advice - there is definitely a learning curve to being a parent, but it's important for new parents to figure out stuff on their own. You had your chance to be a parent, now let them have theirs. All parents will make mistakes, but it's important to the learning process!
               All that being said, if they come to you for advice or suggestions or even just some support - offer it without criticism. 
               c) Be involved. I know this seems like it contradicts the above two, but I promise it doesn't. A new parent loves seeing Grandma and Grandpa playing with the baby and seeing that relationship form. Show you care by calling to check in (just not every day!), take interest in the baby's schedule, ask how things are going. Take lots of pictures and be present for the baby's events. And as the grandkiddos get older, find things to do that will create memories and strengthen the bond you have as a grandparent, because it's a pretty special one! SuSu made me laugh one day when Anna was still a teeny baby because she said being a grandparent is great - you get all of the fun and none of the work! She was joking, but it's pretty true - you did your work as parents already, now it's time to enjoy the "fun" of being a grandparent!
               d) Don't take it personally. Chances are, your kids will do a lot of the same things that you did when raising them. But it's also pretty likely that they will try some new techniques or strategies. Don't take it personally - chances are, it has NOTHING to do with you, and just because they choose to tackle something in different way than you did as a parent, it's not an insult to you or your parenting skills.
 3:00 - 4:00 Focus on YOU
              Some grandparents settle happily into their new role with open arms and not a single backwards glance. But, based on my anecdotal experience with plenty of new grandparents, I think it's completely normal to struggle a little bit. With 50 being the new 30 and 60 being the new 40 (or whatever the phrase is, haha), I think it's difficult for a lot of people to adjust to the thought of being "Grandma" or "Grandpa". The stereotype of a grandparent is bifocals, knitting, and senior living homes...while I think the reality is closer to my own experience. Anna's grandparents are healthy, vibrant, fashionable, and sometimes have more energy than we do!! 

Take the time of the pregnancy and the first few years of grandparenthood to adjust to your new role. Reflect on the kind of grandparent you want to be, and know that you don't have to be the stereotypical "old fart". And take comfort in the fact that it's not always an easy transition - I think struggling a little bit to fit in this new role is completely normal and is in no way a reflection on your aptitude as a grandparent!

Congratulations on finishing the Belly Babbles Grandparent School - here is your diploma!

Other new mommas, what would you include in your school, if you were teacher for a day?


Lisa Elaine said...

Love it! I would definitley include a class called Not Spoiling 101: In your generation, the trend was to not hold the baby too much or respond to her cries/hunger too quickly for fear of spoiling. Grandparents should know that those beliefs are outdated and proven false with research- that actually responding to a baby's needs promptly results in less whining and manipulation as they get older. So if your children want to pick up their baby when he or she cries, respect that and try not to say things like "Don't pick up that baby so much or you're going to spoil her, let her cry it's good for her!" :)

Sarah said...

ooo that's a good one, Lisa!

Robin said...

Haha, well, I would include "don't talk to the baby as a way to passive aggressively tell me your opinions on things relating to my child." For example, "You don't have any shoes. You're little feet are going to get cold this winter. I was going to buy you some boots the other day but I don't know what size your feet are since you don't have any shoes." Of course, she doesn't have any shoes, she doesn't walk yet. And trust that we will keep her little feet covered when it gets cold. I guess that is more of a vent than a lesson for Grandparent 101 class ;)

Sarah said...

lol, Robin! I'll have to add that to my "horror stories" list. Anna actually owns shoes and I still don't really know what size she wears, haha.