Tips for New Grandparents

By Dr. Bettye M. Caldwell

Being a grandparent will probably not take over your whole life - and it shouldn't! It will, however, change your outlook on life while adding a rich new dimension to it. Here are some inside tips to ease the transition to this exciting new aspect of your life.

Make sure help from you is helpful.
Beware of being invasive. The new parents could consider your unsolicited advice meddlesome, helpful as it might be. This is tricky, because when your child calls you with a problem, you might think she is looking for a solution. However, that might not be the case. Unless she specifically asks for suggestions, assume that she wants you to listen, acknowledge her feelings, and be understanding. When it comes to advice, less is more. A word of experience from you can speak volumes to one who is listening.

Be careful even in simple situations: if you make lunch for the kids, find out what their parents want them to eat. If you really want to help, check with Mom and Dad first.

Get reacquainted with the child in you.
Being a grandparent is the best excuse to be a kid again … children make you young at heart. Although your grandchildren might guess that you're 100, they have no concept of what that really means. To the contrary, they will naturally assume you have the same preposterous amount of energy that they do!

Have an open door policy.
Leave out your welcome mat and you'll always be welcome at your grandchildren's house. When the children feel comfortable in your environment, they'll want you to share their own turf. Participation equals belonging. Be part of the family. Help yourself to a glass of juice and allow them to do the same at your house.

In some situations, like a nursing home or even a second marriage, the concept of "Grandma's or Grandpa's house" might not be realistic. Do whatever you feel comfortable with. Remember, the children are after your heart, not your home.

If you live close enough to your children, the open door policy will keep you warm through the winter. Parents want to keep their children happy. If that means going to your house or inviting you over, make the visit attractive to them. It helps to always call before you want to drop in. Ask that they always check with you, as well. Face it, sometimes we're just not up to seeing people, even those we love. Respect each other's privacy, and you'll enjoy more time together.

If you live far away, extend a blanket invitation to the family, with the condition of checking your schedule first. Ask when a good time to visit their house would be and stress that they needn't clear the decks to entertain you. To really get to know the children, join them in their regular activities: take them to the park, watch a martial arts class, or enjoy their reactions to the latest sing-along video. Bring your own entertainment - books, crocheting, movie money, or walking shoes - to fill in the time. Offer to baby-sit so the parents can have dinner out. Beware: they may want to keep you!

Remember your assertiveness training.
The line "I love you but the answer is no" works for grandparents as well as parents. Although you know how to deal with the little ones, the big ones can also make problems by taking you for granted. Be specific about your schedule. Tell them no, you can't baby-sit next weekend, you've already made plans. If you'll be honest when you want time for yourself, you'll never resent the time that you do spend with your grandchildren. When you can say no, yes becomes a joy for everyone.

If you don't feel like listening to your daughter's problems right now, tell her. You'll be more help when you are in the mood and can pay attention. Encourage your children to be honest about sharing their time, too. Respect their need to have some family time alone.

Accept it: you're indispensable!
You are the best baby nurse, the best sitter, and the best party helper because you have a vested interest. In an emergency, would you rather have your children call a stranger? If your grandchild has a problem he is afraid to ask his parents about, wouldn't you like for him to call you? You can be the hero or heroine in times of need.

Be a part of the family even when you live far away. Give the baby a toy phone to play with, then call up and speak with him over the real one. As a birthday present, give a cuddly night-night doll so the child remembers you. Buy two copies of your favorite bedtime book, send one copy to your grandchild, and read in tandem over the phone on Sunday nights, when the rates are low. Record yourself singing lullabies to soothe the baby to sleep. Become part of the day-to-day reality of your grandchildren, and they'll also become a part of yours.
Our parenting advice is given as suggestions only. We recommend you also consult your healthcare provider, and urge you to contact them immediately if your question is urgent or about a medical condition.