Tips for Your First Grandchild

How to Help Without Becoming a Hindrance

It’s said that being a grandparent is the best job in the world. And while most seasoned grandparents will readily agree with this statement, the prospect of becoming a grandma or grandpa can be daunting for first-timers.

Much has changed since you were a parent: New technology and evolutions in medicine have forever altered the parenting landscape. In addition to these numerous changes, how do you walk the fine line of being supportive without overstepping your bounds? Such thoughts can overwhelm grandparents-to-be.

Thankfully, there are thoroughly tested pieces of advice and an assortment of classes to help ease the transition into the world’s best job.

Closing the Generation Gap

Susan Newman has done a great deal of research in attempts to ease the generational gap. She is a social psychologist, and author of many relationship books, including Little Things Mean a Lot: Creating Happy Memories With Your Grandchildren (Crown, 1996).

“Grandparenting affords you certain privileges, but with them come some cautions,” Newman says. “Offer to help, but don’t be upset if your offers are refused. Many new parents prefer to adjust and find their own way.”

Newman gently reminds new grandmas and grandpas that yes, it’s your grandchild, but you are not the parent. She says never to imply or tell your child that they are doing something incorrectly with the baby. After all, much has changed since your time in the hot seat of parenting.

One significant point of contention is the unexpected visits that excited grandparents may force upon the new family. “Visit only when invited,” Newman urges. “Don’t pop in unexpectedly and don’t stop by every day unless you are requested to do so.”

Finally, she suggests giving things a little bit of time. This significant life change will take some getting used to for all involved, including grandparents.

“Don’t expect everything to fall into place immediately; everyone, including you, needs time to adjust to his or her new role,” Newman says.

Do Your Research

Dr Ari Brown is a paediatrician in private practice and the co-author of Baby 411: Clear Answers and Smart Advice for Your Baby’s First Year (Windsor Peak Press, 2003), and her favourite mantra is, “Babies haven’t changed in the past 30 years, but what we have learned about them has.”

Dr Brown says that some new technology may give grandparents pause: car seats, metabolic screening, cord blood banking and countless other revolutions in how we care for and prevent harm to our new little ones.

“One of the biggest changes: feeding! Breastfeeding and introduction of solid foods at 6 months are ‘new’ trends that grandparents do not relate to well,” Dr Brown says. “My advice for grandparents – do some reading.”

For the more difficult hands-on experiences, grandparents can now turn to their local hospitals, many of which offer classes specifically tailored to alleviate fears of first-timers. The Atlantic Health System in New Jersey provides classes at Overlook Hospital, Morristown Memorial and Mountainside Hospital for parents and grandparents to ease the gap between the generations.

“We started the classes two years ago,” says Amy Gole, the manager of all three parent-education departments at Atlantic Health System. “Over the years we would often hear from our students in both prenatal and postpartum classes that there was a need for their parents to ‘hear the latest’ on not only products, but accepted norms of pregnancy and infant care practices (i.e. weight gain during pregnancy, involvement of fathers in labor, positioning infants on their backs to sleep, the importance of breastfeeding, etc.).”

Gole says the classes rely on various learning modules, including lectures, group discussion, videos, hands-on teaching with lifelike dolls and a tour of the maternity centre.

“The post program evaluations on these programs are some of the best we receive,” Gole says. “Although this is a testament to the wonderful instructors, it also says something about the attendees: They are excited and engaged, grateful for any information and insight to help them as they transition into their new roles.”

Mary Pat Bogart attended the class held at Mountainside Hospital in anticipation of her first grandchild. “I decided to take the class because this will be my first grandchild and I’ve not been around babies for 20 years. Things have changed – everything has changed!”

Among the things that Bogart learned was to be relaxed and enjoy the child. “Also, try not to do the things that your mother did to you when you were children!” she says. “I think the class is a wonderful opportunity and all of us need to be educated no matter what.”

Another such class is offered at Munson Medical Center in Traverse City, Mich. The “Bonding the Generations” class is specially designed for grandparents. The course provides the latest information on current birthing practices, infant feeding techniques, infant brain development, safety concerns and changing grandparent roles in today’s world.

Maggie Eitzen teaches the course, which was started about two years ago. “We have them start with a warm-up in which they relate what their favorite time with a grandparent was, and that brings back what they want to be to their grandchildren,” Eitzen says.

She says that much has changed in birthing, sleeping, and feeding practices, and it is integral for grandparents to understand why their children may be doing things differently.

“Much of class is oriented to minimizing conflict between the generations,” Eitzen says. “We want them to know what’s new so they won’t have conflicts with the new parents.”

Many members of the older generation don’t understand the importance of breastfeeding. It is necessary to have infants sleep on their backs or when it’s OK to start children on solid foods.

“We have a tour of the maternity unit and look at a modern birthing room and discuss changes in birthing practice,” she says. “We teach how caregivers should react to a choking infant, and we talk about building a baby’s brain, infant development and things they can do to foster brain growth.”

A Positive Influence

One subject is repeatedly discussed: positive grandparenting. Part of positive grandparenting entails being supportive, a good listener and being open to learning. Eitzen even urges the participants to create a grandparent memories book full of family history. The book is a gift that continues to give throughout the generations and captures just where the story all began.

“The classes have been small but the people who come love the classes, and they are just so excited,” she says. “I also teach the brothers and sisters class, and the new grandparents are almost as excited as the little kids. It’s just amazing – they have a ball.”

Tips for New Grandparents

Elaine Fantle Shimberg has written a great deal on the art of grandparenting and is the author of Blending Families: A Guide for Parents, Stepparents and Everyone Building a Successful New Family (Berkley Publishing Group, 1999). Her quick list of tips for new grandparents includes the following:

·         Don’t advise until asked and if then, be diplomatic.

·         Never tell your in-laws that the baby looks like someone on your side of the family. They may be convinced the baby is the image of someone in their family.

·         Offer to babysit if you want to; if not, offer to grocery shop, make dinner or pay for a sitter so the parents can go out for the evening.

·         Hold the baby, change diapers, etc., the way the parents suggest, even though you know you did it (successfully) a different way.

·         Never argue the merits of bottle-feeding if the new mom is breastfeeding or vice versa.

·         Could you relax and enjoy it? Grandchildren are everything you’ve heard them be, and when they cry, you hand them back to their parents.

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