The knowledge that the child you brought into this world is not only all grown up, but a parent, and that you are now a new grandma, is a scary prospect. You are excited and elated, but nervous and fearful all at the same time.
The role is probably now a piece of cake for my sister Lucy since she has become a grandma 11 times. But she, too, went through all the trepidation initially that any first time grandmother must feel. Lucy lives in Nairobi, Kenya, where six of her grandkids and their parents currently also live.
For a while, though, her eldest grandchildren were living in Rochester, NY, so a summer visit to the States was my sister’s first opportunity to see them. Since the kids are now college age, the visit took place many years ago, but Lucy remembers every detail vividly. She once told me:
After a long drive from NYC to Rochester, we arrived at my eldest son’s house, and there seated on the doorstep were his 2 little girls and their little cousin, the son of another of my sons. None was older than two and they were — to my eyes at least — utterly adorable.
Whether you are a grandmother or grandmother-to-be for the first time, or have had plenty of practice already, the foundation for a good, strong relationship with your grandchildren actually starts long before you first get to hold them.
It starts as soon as the mother-to-be makes her joyful announcement she is expecting and it continues throughout her pregnancy. Thereafter, the relationship can be whatever you and the other parties involved want it to be. Here are 6 tips for building a better relationship with your new grandchild, while also being sensitive to the needs and feelings of the other family members.
Be emotionally supportive of the parents to be and do what you can to help make the expectant parents’ waiting period less stressful for them.
Even if you are worried about the mother’s health or the parents’ ability to provide financially for the new arrival, be happy for them. If your daughter’s or son’s spouse or partner is not your first choice for a mate and co-parent, at least give that person the benefit of the doubt. Avoid making the pregnancy more stressful by being overly critical or judgmental.
Also, if you or someone you know had a difficult pregnancy, keep the horror stories to yourself. Don’t scare your daughter or daughter-in-law unnecessarily. Do encourage her to take good care of herself and to discuss any medical concerns with her doctor.
My sister Lucy has another suggestion, help choose the baby’s name in the months before birth. The parents will appreciate your input, and your active participation will facilitate your own closeness to the child. After all, you will be using the name frequently in conversation, so you had better like it!
Respect the parents’ decision regarding birth arrangements and announcements. Let them do it their way.
It is the parents’ decision to make where they want their baby to be born and who they want to have present in the delivery room. If you wish to be there, and they agree, that’s great. If not, you need to respect and support their decision, even if you don’t agree with it. The same applies to the people they wish to notify, and when, about both the pregnancy and the birth.
You being supportive and non-judgmental up until the time the baby comes will make the parents much more likely to want and welcome your active involvement after he or she is born.
Visit your new grandchild often, but don’t overdo your focus on the new arrival to the exclusion of the older children in the home.
Volunteer to help out, but don’t become overbearing and overstay your welcome. Also, don’t go overboard showering the baby with expensive gifts. While it is only natural for your primary focus to be on the newest member of the family, if there are older siblings in the home, it is important to spend quality time with them, too.
During the first year of my youngest nephew’s life, whenever I visited the family, I held him and played with him, but I included the two older children, too. I also played games with just the older kids and brought along not just a toy for the baby but picture books for his sister and brother to read with me.
Love your new grandchild dearly, but respect the fact that he or she is not your own child.
As this parents.com article recommends, you should try to accept your role as a backup person in the care of the little ones you adore. You are “part of an extended family support team” and “relief player,” not the primary caretaker. Assuming the parents are not abusing or neglecting their children, it is their job, not yours, to set the rules and routines.
Keep an open mind about what constitutes good child rearing practices.
Keep your unsolicited advice to a minimum. Your way of doing something may be good, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that another way is wrong. Give your adult children credit for knowing more about parenting than you think.
Be flexible and willing to work with everyone involved to find a good rhythm of togetherness that works for all of you.
You may not be able to visit as often as you would like. Many different variables like distance and individual schedules will influence what is practical and feasible. So try to go with the flow, compromise if necessary, and enjoy quality time with both your children and grandchildren.
Give these suggestions a try. Sooner than you think, one of your young grandchild’s favorite words will be “Grandma!”
Are you a new grandma? What did you do to get your relationship with your new grandchild off to a strong start? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.
If you are a new grandma, you won’t want to miss this interview with Barbara Nathan on the topic of building a strong relationship with your grandchild.