Congratulations flood in each time one of your children has a baby. What have we done? Nothing, really. Surely it’s our child and the spouse who deserve the praise. But tradition dictates that we’re also congratulated, as we’ve just assumed a new and important status.
When it happens for the first time, you are overwhelmed by a mix of emotions you won’t have anticipated. There is joy, but also concern. What does it mean – to you, your child now a parent, her husband and the new baby? What will be your role in this tiny being’s life?
Once parents raised their children by example, following family and cultural models. In the last few decades, a flood of information based on early-childhood research, has been produced. Even the role of grandparents has come under similar scrutiny. We can exert enormous influence on the child’s life, and by extension, his family. Given today’s mobile population, and high divorce rates, even in some cases the prevalence of step-parenting, we can be the stabilising influence in our grandchildren’s lives.
Some Good Grandparenting tips
Never over-step boundaries. The child’s parents are responsible for his/her care, well-being, upbringing, discipline and education. Theirs is the primary role and we should never interfere, accepting that they have the most intimate knowledge of the child.
Don’t say “This is how I did it” or “This is how it’s always been done.” Methods change with each generation, and their information is probably more up-to-date. You’ll often need to bite your tongue. Certainly be there if they have questions, but don’t offer answers before they ask.
Do what you can when you know you’ll be helpful. New parents often need and want assistance, but how much depends on them and already-established family relationships. You can offer help with cleaning, cooking, gardening and regular baby-sitting so that the couple can have an occasional night out together.
Put safety first. Your age and level of physical fitness will determine if you can safely hold, lift and carry your grandchild. Infants are easy to hold, diaper and cuddle, but a 9-kilo 7-month-old will have a strong ability to wriggle that continually tests your strength. If you’re driving toddlers in your car, make sure you have the appropriate car-seats; and also child-proof accessible areas in your home.
You have to understand how much time you can pleasurably spend with grandchildren. You want your time together to be a joy both for them and for you. We don’t always have high tolerance levels for very young children as we grow older.
What Can We Give?
Our complete attention and our unconditional love. Make time to listen, to follow the child’s interests, and be a sounding board in a way that often parents can’t be. Your role is to provide constancy, a sense of security and unconditional love. In their early years you can build a relationship that will last a lifetime.
Today families are prone to move often, chasing new jobs, new lives and new dreams and it’s rare to find two or three generations living in close proximity, although luckily it’s sometimes still possible. If sadly your grandchildren are far away, technology can help. E-mails, snail mail and FAXes,as well as phone calls can keep communication flowing. Even from a distance, it’s possible to keep your contact loving, interested, vibrant and relevant. When children become teenagers, often they have difficulties with their parents and it’s a gift if they can share their complaints and confidences with a grandparent.