Welcoming a new baby into the family is such an exciting time, particularly when it’s a grandchild. You get all of the fun and cuddles, but then you get to hand them back at the end of the day. If it’s a first grandchild, or even if you’re an old hat at this grandparent lark at this stage but it’s your daughter or son’s first baby, here’s some tips to help you help them have the smoothest and most positive transition into parenthood possible.
1. Listen and empathise
There’s a good chance that your own birthing days are behind you at least twenty or even forty years now. There have been many changes and, in many cases, improvements in antenatal care, birth preparation and feeding methods etc based on new research and evidence. You might hear some ideas and plans (like GentleBirth!) that sound absolutely cracked to you! If you find yourself raising an eyebrow, cast your mind back to your own pregnancies and sit with how you were feeling – your concerns and anxieties, and how you coped with them – and then put yourself in your daughter or son’s partner’s place. Their new ideas and practices are their way of best preparing and coping with their own worries. Empathise with where they are on their journey to parenthood and listen to what they are planning or trying. You might like it!
2. Take a deep breath and pause…
…before you share your thoughts. This is not to suggest that your opinion is not welcome. Of course it is and you have years of experience and wisdom to share. However many new parents find that sometimes strong opinions, particularly from close family members and friends, are particularly stressful when they’re trying to find their way with their new baby. If your grandchild is being fed in a manner differently to your children – be it breastfeeding or formula feeding – or if the baby is being parented differently to how you would have done it, be mindful of how you communicate how you feel about that. It might be helpful to ask yourself if the thought you want to share will support or discourage the new parents. If it won’t support them, take a breath and offer it up! The new parents really do have their baby’s best interests at heart, and your support and confidence in their parenting skills will give them more confidence.
3. Support, from a distance
Everyone is just dying for a cuddle and a hold of the new baby. Who wouldn’t sure? They smell delicious and they’re so gorgeous. But in the first few weeks, and months even, it’s important to give the new family their space together to get to know each other and settle into their new life. This is especially true for the new mum. This is her special time to bond with her baby and to establish breastfeeding if that’s what she’s chosen to do. It can be hard to take a step back but you will have plenty of special time with the baby when they are older. I know you might be dying to get them over for a night in your house so you can have them all to yourself, but remember that the new mum in particular will want to be close to her baby and it might be something that she’s not comfortable to do for quite some time. Check in with Dad as to what the new family needs and when. If you find yourself being offered tea or something to eat by the new parents, it’s probably time you handed the baby back! You have a very special role at this precious time and it’s to…
A huge role for grandparents when a new baby arrives is to keep on parenting. You mind your baby, while they mind theirs. Make sure their house is choc full of food that is healthy, nourishing and delicious. It should be easy to prepare and when I say easy to prepare, I mean already prepared! If you’re bringing dinner, have it ready to just heat up so that the exhausted new parents don’t have to peel potatoes or try to figure out where the rice is through the haze of tiredness. Include lots of nutritious snacks that they can just grab from the fridge or press, and ideally eat with one hand!
5. Do the dirty jobs
While you’re dropping over the yummy food, stick on a load of washing while you’re there. There will always be plenty with a new baby in the house and you’ll be doing the new parents a huge favour. Run a brush over the floor, wash a few dishes, wipe down the counters, change the bedsheets, take away some ironing with you or if you’re feeling super-helpful run a cloth around the bathroom. Yes they are the dirty jobs but you might find that it pays off in spades. I don’t know any new parents who’d prefer to spend more time cleaning their house and less time with their new baby, so gratitude will be coming your way!
The clock has just gone out the window in the baby’s house! Night is day and day is night. It might have been a rough one last night, or maybe the new parents have had visitors already today, but do check in with them in advance before calling over. They might be sneaking in a nap or just enjoying some quiet time together so making sure you’re picking a good time will help them. Another great idea, particularly if you’re free during the day, is to link in with the new mum when she’s at home alone to see if she might fancy a shower or a nap. You could hold the baby or take them for a walk around the block while mum gets that coveted “me” time, while also reassured that the baby isn’t too far away. Scheduling how long you stay is also important. Keep visits short in the first few weeks, unless you’ve been asked to stay a little longer.
7. Hold the baby
Wait, we just did this one! But there’s a bit to tack on to the end: hold the baby…when you’re asked. As we covered above, sometimes mum wants to hold the baby herself and that’s okay. She’ll be more than happy for you to hold the baby when she’s ready and on those days where she hasn’t washed for three days or has baby puke in her hair, she’ll be only delighted to pass you the baby for those granny cuddles.
8. Praise and encourage
It might seem like an obvious one but you’ll be surprised how little new parents hear this and the really powerful, affirming benefits it has – tell them they’re doing a great job! Every day is a brand new one for them and sometimes being a new parent can be very daunting. Praise and encourage them and let them know that they’re fantastic parents.
…new ways of parenting. You might find that your children are parenting in a different way to you. Maybe they’re breastfeeding when you didn’t. Maybe they’re co-sleeping with their baby. Maybe you think they’re spoiling them. Whatever it is, it’s not the way you did it but know that it is not a criticism of your parenting choices. In fact, they’re probably not even aware that they’re doing things different to you, unless you’ve told them (see number 2! ). They are just putting one foot in front of the other, as they find their own way. They are following their instincts and what feels right to them. Go with it!
…this precious time. You already know this bit because you’ve been there before yourself: they grow up so fast! Enjoy your special status of grandmother. You get to give all of the love with none of the discipline! Congratulations on your new grandparenthood!
© Sylda Dwyer, AlphaBirth 2014. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the owner is strictly prohibited.