When a new baby arrives, all family members are affected. Of course, becoming a mother, a father or an older sibling is extremely important. Having a new grandchild, too, is a joyful event for most grandparents.
Seeing your own child become a parent is one of the greatest things that can happen to you. It will most likely bring you very close to reliving your own experience of becoming a parent and it’s one of life’s experiences when, literally, more love runs through our veins.
Many grandparents, however, even though it was not so long ago, know there’s a huge difference between how things were when they became parents and how they are now.
Although grandparents want to help the new parents, their parenting styles might be different. At the same time, the new parents might feel overwhelmed and not too open to outside help.
What can you expect as first-time grandparents?
Every new family is different. Becoming grandparents for the first time also means your son or daughter and, respectively, daughter or son in law have also become parents for the first time.
Research has shown that the parent-child relationship is taken to a whole new level when parents become grandparents.
When a first baby arrives, it’s a very joyful time but often it’s also a time of doubts, of healing and of discovering a new family member.
Let’s look at some of the best ways for grandparents to help with newborn babies, or even help expectant parents with their growing family.
Grandparents To Help #1. Give the new parents space
You are new grandparents. There’s also a new mother and father, though and now they’re the ones who will make the adult decisions. Make sure you tread carefully. Let them know you’re available and willing to help but keep your distance and respect their space. Unsolicited advice offered to a couple that never seem to stop changing nappies and are most likely sleep deprived can push the new parents away from you.
There are many different forms of raising a child. You did the best you could raising yours and now it’s their turn to raise their own children.
Parenting expert and grandmother, Pinky McKay, suggests:
‘Working with mums and also being a grandparent, I think it’s important for new parents to try to GENTLY suggest what would be most helpful to them, if they are offered help. Often I hear that grandmothers whip round cleaning when all the mother wants is a ‘break’ from holding, rocking and feeling totally responsible for the newborn baby – but to the grandmother, cleaning is something ‘tangible’ that she can do’.
‘My parents told me I was doing a good job, didn’t smother me, and let my husband and I have space to figure things out. They only gave advice when asked, and helped with meals and housework. They helped more when my husband went back to work’ — Amaunet.
‘My parents and also my in laws gave us space! They made sure we knew they were there if we needed them – no matter what time of day, no matter how silly the question was – but they made sure we knew it was on our terms not theirs!’ — Sahbear.
Grandparents To Help #2. Keep your distance in the early days
What if your children turn down offers of help?
Pinky McKay says: ‘It’s also important for new parents to make space for grandparents to help or be involved. It’s very painful for grandparents to be ‘held at arms length’ or to be repeatedly told, no you can’t come over to see the children/baby because we are having visitors/going out with friends etc. This can often mean that grandparents ‘give up’ because they feel unwelcome’.
In this case, Pinky McKay suggests:
‘Although those first few weeks may be hard, there is nothing you can do. Try not to take it too personally. Live your own life with purpose and joy and congratulate yourself on bringing up such independent ‘kids’. If you need to vent – vent to another grandparent who is also feeling left out, rather than bitching at your adult children, as that will only create more distance. If things do feel really tough, try calmly talking to your own child, without criticising their spouse about how you would love to see the grandbabies more often. Offer an invitation to come over for a meal; that way, you at least get to see the kids, even if you don’t get to actually have much input’.
When can grandparents meet the newborn?
This is a very personal time for the new parents. Grandparents can often be very helpful but can also be the exact opposite. The best time to meet the new baby is when the new parents, especially the new mother, says it’s the right time.
Please understand that becoming a mother is not the same thing as becoming a father and we must respect the postpartum time the mother needs. Even if the baby’s birth was beautiful and empowering, your daughter or daughter in law needs a bit of time and space to figure out her new role as a mother. She needs to adapt to the new baby, start to understand her breast milk flow and supply and recover from the birth. She might go through the baby blues or she could feel overwhelmed when the baby cries. Both the mother and father need as much one on one time with their new baby and with each other – and that’s totally fine.
A new mother might want her mother close and nobody else and that’s also OK. If you happen to be her mother in law, please be mindful of this and give her space. Even if the baby’s other grandparents have already seen the baby and you haven’t there’s probably a reason for it. If you are too pushy, you might push them away instead of getting close as you’d like to.
If your son has become a dad, give him time. It’s most likely that he doesn’t know his role very well yet and he’s just trying to learn, with his partner, how to best look after the new baby. He shouldn’t ‘have to’ do anything – especially not convince his partner about things that have been put into his head.
Is it OK to leave a newborn with grandparents?
Common sense goes a long way in most aspects of life – and especially when you become a parent.
A new baby is very immature and depends on others, usually the mother, to survive.
Obviously, new babies need their new mums. Slowly they will come to know their father and other family members, such as older siblings and grandparents.
Because baby’s survival depends on a close attachment to the mother, the baby really suffers when the mother isn’t in the same room, let alone in the house.
Even though it might sound appealing and, at some point, a good idea, it’s not OK to leave a baby with anyone else but the parents. Of course, if that baby needs to be left with someone because of an emergency, you, as the grandparents will, in most cases, be the number one choice to leave the baby with.
Of course babies will be safe with their grandparents, who love them very much, but new babies don’t know that. In the mother’s absence, babies’ stress levels will rise until the mother returns or until the babies have released so many stress hormones that they shut down because any more crying would literally place their lives at risk.
There will be time in the near future when your son or daughter will leave the baby with you, the grandparents. For now, though, while you count the baby’s growth in weeks and months, the baby is best close to mum and dad.
Grandparents To Help #3. Ask how you can be of help
If your grandchild hasn’t yet been born, make sure you ask the parents-to-be what they would they like from you when the baby arrives. Don’t worry if their answers are quite vague; they might not have given this a lot of thought yet – and that’s OK.
The first newborn days tend to be quite chaotic. Let the new parents know you’re available and willing to help. Try not to sound too disappointed if they decline your offer. Try to give them positive feedback on their decisions. You want them to feel completely at ease with you. The more space you give them, the more they will ask for your help the moment they need it.
When you’re with them, take each moment at a time and enjoy being with them. Be flexible and adapt as much as you can. If they allowed you to bathe the baby once, don’t expect to do all the baby’s sponge baths whenever you’re present. Try to let them do things their way and only chip in to help when asked.
Remember, you want them to feel so comfortable with you that they will want you to be fully present in your grandchildren’s lives. Try to go back in time to when you became a new mum yourself and think about what you would have liked your mother or mother in law to do for you. That doesn’t necessarily mean that’s exactly what the new parents will need from you but doing this exercise will help you be more empathetic and open to what they really need. All new parents and grandparents are different, of course, but wishing the very best for their family’s well being is something they have in common.
Grandparents To Help #4. Respect and accept their decisions
To avoid conflict and feelings of rejection, it’s important for grandparents to understand their children are now in the ‘driver’s seat’
Pinky McKay offers this advice to grandparents:
‘Have a talk with your kids (sons/daughters/partners) asking ‘What would be most helpful to you right now. Would you like me to hold/help with the baby or do the dishes?’ If you are feeling ‘rejected’ because of different parenting styles, try to stay calm and watch things unfold. I have often had grandmothers buy my books to pass onto their kids who may be leaving babies to cry for instance. This can be an option rather than expressing a strong opinion, as you run the risk of not getting to see the grandchild if you say too much.
‘It’s your job as a grandparent to dish out love but try to keep advice to yourself unless you are asked.
‘It could help to ‘gently’ ask questions about the ‘new’ advice or make a comment about it: “I’m sorry this is so different from when I had my kids; please can you fill me in on this new way of doing x?” Perhaps offer to do something that is ‘neutral’: “Would you like me to take her for a walk? Or give her a bath?” Remember it is your grandchild; the parents are ultimately responsible and trust that your own nurturing of them will filter down to how they parent. With respect and acceptance of what they do, they are more likely to open conversations and share how they feel – especially if some of the advice they are trying doesn’t work for them. Then you can step in. Tread carefully, though. There could be nothing worse than being kept away from the joy of your grandbabies’.
Grandparents To Help #5. Be well informed
Since you had your own children, a great deal has changed, due to research, studies and evidence, based on the way we parent. Rigid, strict routines like letting baby ‘cry it out’ have been proved to be detrimental (and even to contribute to sudden infant death syndrome). Strict feeding routines can even be harmful to the baby’s growth and to the mother’s breast milk production.
Things that were so familiar to you a few years ago might now sound like a completely different language.
Having access to the internet has really changed society. Information is at the tip of our fingers, and it is often the first place women now go to find information about pregnancy and parenting. Your children have probably researched what they’d like to do, and why.
If you get involved and read too, you’ll have something to discuss with your children and you will be able to relate to them in a different way.
You could also attend classes with the new parents. Learning more about breastfeeding or parenting could help you to become an even more powerful support in times when they need to reach out and seek advice.
Grandparents To Help #6. Offer positive support
Mothers who were nurses or midwives in the past seem to be especially vulnerable to butting heads with their daughters, when a new baby is born. Remember: when you have an idea about how parenting should be, and your children don’t agree with it, they aren’t telling you that you aren’t appreciated or experienced; they’d just like to do things in a different way.
Here’s an example of how a mother can create resentment in a daughter (or daughter-in-law) when she’s trying to establish what she’d like to do as a new parent:
“My mother-in-law lectured me about breastfeeding for too long (my daughter fed frequently and for 45 mins or so each time), told us we should let her cry more before we pick her up, and wearing her in the sling so much was creating a bad habit. She also told me that my daughter’s hiccups were because I overfed her. She added her washing to my never-ending pile and told me it was there for when I did my washing. She only helped with the washing a couple of times in 10 days. She wanted to put honey on my daughter’s dummy and argued with me when I told her how that is no longer the done thing. Actually, she argued about everything I said, as ‘she had been a nurse looking after babies 50 years ago AND she’d raised 3 children without any issues’ — Taurean
A woman who’s just given birth needs unconditional support – and the most loving thing you can do is let go of your judgements and ideas on how things should be, and be loving and accepting of how she chooses to mother her children.
A positive example:
‘I agree with the support and encouragement too – my mum has never once said anything negative about the way I parent. She has offered suggestions about what to do with certain things but she is a retired primary school teacher and has a lot of experience with different behaviours and she still keeps herself up to date with current practices so whenever any new studies are done she will read them’ — Nai
Read at our article 10 Things Experienced Mamas Do When They Visit A New Baby for more great ideas.
Grandparents To Help #7. Pass on your wisdom
Your experience is valuable. Here are some valuable things you can say to new mothers:
‘Days are long; years are short’
Every mother of adult children agrees with this quotation.
The first few weeks and months after the baby’s birth are exhausting and seem never ending. However, in a very short time, her baby will grow and she will miss those moments when she was her child’s whole world.
Advise her to make the most of those days when her children are tiny babies. Very soon, their independence will grow and they will not need her so often.
Having a baby is very tiring, it’s true; however, it’s more tiring due to societal expectations.
Advise her to be patient with her baby but also with herself, with her partner and with any older children. Ask her to be patient with her parents and in laws, too. Patient parents set a very safe space around new babies, who will then feel more at ease in the new world they’ve just entered.
‘Enjoy your children’
Providing for children is important but every child would trade having a bunch of things for plenty of time with mum and dad. Suggest she and her partner spend as much time as possible with their little ones and be mindful of what is keeping them from spending more time with them. Placing a child in front of a screen so a mother can do her online grocery shopping might be replaced with taking the child out, buying what’s necessary for the day and then doing the shopping when the little one has gone to sleep.
For most parents, having a baby is the most pleasurable time of their lives. Tell her to make sure she enjoys it.
Acknowledging the big difference between becoming a mother or father and becoming a grandparent is a great gift you can give to your children.
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