We always knew this day would come. We knew it from the very first time we held them in our arms, and when they took their first step, and inevitably took more steps away from us.
Being a parent means accepting the one shared bittersweet truth- they will move on. And when they do, it’s our role as parents to be there for them every step of the way if they need us, but there’s a fine line between being supportive and stepping on some toes.
So what happens when our children have children of their own? Not only is it a beautiful opportunity to watch your children grow and develop into loving parents themselves, but it’s also a great way for you to reconnect with your parental energy- as now you get to experience the bringing of a life into the world all over again, and nurture and care for them, but this time as grandchildren (see also ‘Activities For Grandchildren And Grandparents Despite Limited Mobility‘).
The best part? Being a grandparent is a no-strings-attached agreement. You get to give them back at the end of an exhaustive day of playing!
I remember when I first became a grandparent, I had so many questions swirling round and round in my brain- What does a grandmother look like? What should my grandchildren call me? What will the other set of grandparents be like? What questions should I avoid asking? What’s the best way for me to help? Do I live too far away? What if something goes wrong? Am I up to the responsibility of being a grandparent?
There are no right answers to any of the above questions, and it can get exhausting if you spend too much time dwelling on such things. Just like parenting, grandparenting isn’t something you can learn overnight, it takes years of real-life practice, and you have to be prepared to learn while on the job.
Don’t be too quick to make assumptions about what your child might want you to do, instead, try to remember how it felt when you were a new mother and how difficult it can be to ask for help, even when you feel desperate.
While this is by no means an ultimate tell-all guidebook on how to be the perfect grandparent, I’ve compiled a list of some of the very best advice, ideas, and guidance that I found most helpful on my grandparenting journey. After all, it’s all about the journey!
Before the Arrival
Hold back on the shopping
I can hold my hands up and plead guilty to going on a baby shopping spree as soon as I found out my daughter was expecting. But it should be avoided, trust me. While I understand that you’re excited, you should be, but it’s all too easy to get carried away.
Before buying any clothes or expensive baby items (such as strollers, bottles, cribs, etc), you should speak with the parents first. Try asking them what they need instead of making assumptions, they’ll probably be relieved and grateful for your generosity, and it’ll encourage them to be more upfront when they need help in the future.
Also, avoid spending your money on gimmicky novelty gifts and instead opt for something a little more timeless. Books make for a great baby gift. Pick out your favorites before they arrive, and they’ll probably still have them long after you’re gone. It’s something special they can keep forever, and they’re educational, too.
Say you love the name, even if you don’t
Whether it’s a new-age one-syllable name you’ve never heard before, or a fancy traditional name that you despise– if the parents choose to tell you what name they’ve picked out, you should tell them it’s a great choice. Raising doubt about an already chosen name can add another problem to the expecting parent’s minds, something they could almost certainly do without at this time.
Keeping your thoughts to yourself won’t hurt anyone, but what you say possibly could. So no matter what name they choose, tell them it’s lovely and perfect for their family. It won’t hurt, I promise.
Freeze some Food
By the time the baby arrives, things will get very hectic, very fast. So, save yourself some sanity by preparing meals for about 7-10 days for both you and the parents, label them, and pop them in the freezer ready for the big day.
This means that during that all-important first week, you’ll be able to put your feet up and spend some quality time with your family and new grandchild without having to worry about preparing food.
Keep A Record
As a bystander to the birth of this new life, you get a unique opportunity to keep a record of how it all went down, as a keepsake for your grandchild to look back on when they’re older. One of the best ways of doing this is to write it all down.
As soon as you get the chance, whether it’s in the hospital waiting room or at your home waiting anxiously by the phone; write down everything- the weather, what everyone is doing and where they are, interview other family members and write down their thoughts and feelings in real-time. The gift of memories is a beautiful one, so I recommend taking a notepad and pen in your purse on the big day.
If you’re not much of a writer, head to the store on the day of the birth and buy a newspaper. Take it straight home and tuck it away somewhere safe.
One day, your grandchild will love reading about all the different things that happened on the day they were born, even the adverts will be fascinating. I advise against taking it with you to the hospital though, as it’ll probably get lost amongst all of the excitement.
After the Arrival & Beyond
Don’t take anything personally
As you already know, having a baby is a huge life change, and fluctuating hormones are at an all-time high. No matter what’s said during and after the birth, try to take it all with a pinch of salt.
It’s best not to assume any ill-intent, instead, give them the benefit of the doubt that they love and respect you (they do!). Try not to hold a grudge and be open to communication and focus your energy on what’s best for the baby, even if that means letting go.
Even as the baby grows, it’s best not to judge or criticize the parent’s decisions too harshly. Whether you think their co-parenting technique is garbage, or you think 12 is far too young for a smartphone, it’s not your place to voice your opinion.
Instead, try to support the parent’s no matter what they decide, as a family feud will not be helpful to your grandchild, and won’t set a good example for them as they grow.
Childproof your Home
“Childproofing” wasn’t a term when I had my first child, but it’s so important now. When your grandchild starts crawling, let alone walking, they’ll put just about anything they can get their hands on in their mouth.
So, take a look around your home and consider what items pose even the slightest risk to your grandchild, and move them to a higher location. Childproofing your home means your grandchild is less likely to get hurt while visiting with you, which helps put everyone’s minds at ease and increases trust.
Offer help, but don’t overdo it
Shopping, errands, and cleaning may feel like the last item on a parent’s to-do list when they have a newborn, but they must be done. If you can do this for them, they will most likely be really grateful. Offering to babysit is another way to provide some respite to the parents.
However, there’s a fine line between being supportive and stepping on some toes. Although caring for a newborn baby can be exhausting and unpleasant at times, the time between delivery and the baby’s first months contains some of the most crucial and beautiful bonding moments for the entire family.
Of course, you’re overjoyed to be a new grandparent, but make sure you allow the new family some space and time to themselves while also offering to help with anything they need.
Babies require a lot of equipment, and while you may be able to borrow a lot of stuff from the parents when you babysit, it may be a good idea to purchase your own necessities so that if you are unexpectedly requested to perform babysitter duties, you will be prepared every time.
I’ve compiled a list below of the must-have items to have at home or on the go to always be ready to spend time with your grandchild:
- Car seat – If you have a car, you should fit it with a car seat so you can do emergency pick-ups, and school runs in the future. Car seats are often heavy and cumbersome to lug around, especially at our age. So, we recommend that you buy the lightweight kind, as this will save you a lot of effort, and your knees!
- Stroller – Keep a lightweight stroller in the trunk of your car if you have one, or your garage if you don’t. Be sure to choose one that’s suitable for all terrains.
- Somewhere to sleep – If you plan on baby coming to stay or even just visit, they’re going to need somewhere safe and warm to sleep and nap. While purchasing a luxury wooden crib may sound appealing, actually, you could well hate the bulky sight of it, especially if you only look after your grandchild every once in a while. Instead, opt for a compact travel crib, the foldable kind, and keep it stored in your attic or basement.
- Changing bag – Having a change bag loaded with all of the supplies can come in handy whether you are at home or on the go. If you’re going out, fill this bag with diapers, a plastic bag to put dirty diapers in, baby wipes, baby lotion, diaper rash ointment, a compact changing mat, and a change of clothes in case of diaper explosion.
- Formula or bottled breast milk – Nobody wants a starving child- so, a day of babysitting requires formula (find some that the parents will approve of!) and/or extracted and bottled breast milk. Make sure you have plenty in case the kid is extra hungry that day.
- Somewhere to bathe – Babies under 6 months (and sometimes 12 months) of age lack autonomous head and neck control, which means they require assistance to maintain their heads above water in the bath. Infant baths are little tubs with a hump on the bottom to keep the baby from sliding around in the water. For added comfort, some infant tubs have head and back supports. Purchasing one of these reduces the stress of bath time for both you and your baby.
- Clothing – Make sure you have a variety of baby clothing items on hand in case of puke and diarrhea explosions, as well as sleepwear if the baby is staying overnight, coats, hats, mittens, bibs, and socks. If you don’t want to buy entire sets of brand new baby clothes, ask the parents to put together a set of baby clothes for you to save.
Treasure Every Moment
Being a grandparent is a privilege, not a given right, and as we get older we begin to realize the importance of making every moment count. So, treasure every day you get to spend with your grandchild and the rest of your family.
Here are some first-person accounts of new grandparents that might bring you some comfort:
“When I was handed my first grandchild – a son – I was so excited but it was a different feeling to my own first one. It was a feeling of continuity I think, a realization that I was now “ancestry”.I think one of the best feelings about having grandchildren is that you can be a “treat” for them – not the frazzled young parent who is juggling work and life and trying to do the best they can.”
Diana – Australia
“When my grandson Vincent was finally born I beheld the “circle of life”. My first thought was that I had now taken my grandfather’s place. I lived next door to him as a child, and I worshipped him. I suddenly saw all that as training for my relationship with my own grandchildren. It felt like a revelation.”
Rick – USA
“I don’t really feel any different about my granddaughter than I did my children. I love her so much, as much as I love my kids. Instead, my feelings changed toward my son – her father. I was always proud of him. Well, most of the time. Watching him become a parent and taking on responsibility, and being a great dad has really opened my eyes to his nurturing and loving side. I know he loved us, his family, but watching him grow into parenthood and opening his heart to his child has been a joy to watch. I still feel like a mama bear though, only now I have grandeur.”
Mindy – USA