February 9, 2017
In my line of work, I spend a lot of time with expecting mothers and new families. It’s such a stressful time, when the weight and gravity of every decision seems overwhelming and it feels like even the tiniest misstep can have lifelong implications. Becoming a parent is serious business. But becoming a grandparent, it appears, is anything but!
Full disclosure, I am not a grandparent. So I turned to my friends Jo and Mary, two seasoned grandmothers with nine grandchildren between them, and they were happy to share their wisdom—and indulge in their favorite subject.
Their mood was starkly different than what I’m used to. They were so light and humorous and, as Mary described it, purely joyful. They laughed about sending the wrong birthday card to one child and the potty-training challenges of another, the similarities between menopause and pregnancy (The weight gain! The cravings! No sleep!), and the importance of knowing when to “zip it.” They had a wealth of serious, and not-so-serious, advice.
Diplomacy is Key
Diplomacy, they agreed, is the hallmark of good grandparenting. Knowing when to step back and stay quiet is the most difficult challenge. New parents want to make their own choices for their baby and figure out their own parenting styles. Try to remember they’re scared, tired and doing the best they can. Trust them. They’re doing everything out of love so they’ll make the right decisions.
Respecting those decisions, especially when you might not agree with them, is critical. Listening—and affirming and encouraging—will often be much more meaningful than asserting your advice, no matter how well-intentioned.
Respect Generational Shifts
Recognizing that good grandparenting starts during pregnancy, diplomacy extends to embracing the choices and decisions facing all expecting and new parents. There have been enormous generational shifts in how we view labor, labor support, pain management, breastfeeding and newborn care. No single generation has all the right answers (believe it or not!) and we make the best choices with the best information we have at the time.
For example, Jo shared that when her son was born, the breastfeeding rate was around 14 percent. Today, that rate is closer to 90 percent (at Women & Babies Hospital) because research has shown such vast benefits for mother and baby. Be open to learning about the latest research and evidence; talk frankly about current options; and reserve judgment to set a foundation for good communication.
Consider taking a grandparenting class to learn more about all these topics.*
The Value of Unconditional Love
Both Mary and Jo were overwhelmed by the purity and simplicity of their roles as grandparents. They both started sentences with, “We loved our children, but…” and then laughed. “Every child deserves to have someone who thinks they’re the greatest person in the world,” Mary said, “and a grandparent can fit that role. This is the time when you can love that baby without reservation and leave all the worrying up to the new parents!” Diplomacy, respect and unconditional love...it’s as simple as that.
*Grandparenting in the 21st Century is designed to foster understanding between new parents and grandparents. Offered several times a year at Women & Babies Hospital, the two-hour class explores the latest information on delivery and child development, and includes a tour of the maternity area.