One of the unique aspects of raising a new baby is involving your parents and parents-in-law in the life of their new grandchild. Most grandparents want to get involved – it means a lot to them to see this little child coming into the world. However, many grandparents might not want to overstep their bounds or intrude on your new life as a family unit; they often don’t know the boundaries or rules of engagement. If they are first-time grandparents, they might be experiencing their own insecurities and perhaps some nervousness.
As you enjoy this transition together to a new stage of life, keep in mind that your baby’s grandparents are going to have their own unique perspective on the situation. They recognize that you are from a different generation, and each generation has their own values and priorities. They did things differently when they were raising their own children. Technology may not be as comfortable for them as it is for you – texting, emails or Facebook might not be their preferred means of communicating; they might prefer phone calls.
Another reality of today’s grandparents is that they tend to like tactile, personal contact with their grandchildren and if you live far away, this can be challenging. Even though there are great technologies like Skype to help communicate, there is no substitute for in-person contact.
Parents might need to make an effort to help grandparents understand that they, as parents, have different priorities for their children than their grandparents might have – and you might not always agree about the “right” way to do things for the children. However, despite differences, parents can encourage grandparents to get involved, share their knowledge, and love with their grandchild.
Here are a few important ways you can involve grandparents in the life of your child:
Let the grandparents be involved from the beginning. Start to build a relationship with the baby between your mom and dad or parents-in-law before the baby is born. Let them help with simple things. Ask their advice and let them know they are part of the baby’s team from the beginning. Listen to their advice and correct any misconceptions. For example, some of the health-related breastfeeding advice that was been offered during your own mother’s time as a new parent might have since been supplanted by newer scientific research. It seems that mothers and mothers-in-law are often a well-intentioned source of some breastfeeding myths.
Breastfeeding can sometimes be a source of misunderstandings between new mothers and new grandparents. So make sure they understand your breastfeeding plan and are supportive of what you plan to do to feed your baby. If you intend to breastfeed in public, let them know so that they can support you – or not join you for outings if it makes them uncomfortable. Let them know from the beginning the way you plan to raise your child – the way you want to parent – and keep in mind that even if they don’t agree about everything, they still love you and want what’s best for you and the baby. Try to minimize conflict by focusing on areas of agreement and keeping in mind that you are all on the same team: helping to support the baby.
What makes a great grandparent? Many of today’s new grandparents are struggling a bit with the transition; they might not feel “ready” to be grandparents, or might not know what their role should be. Modern grandparents often don’t feel “old” in the sense that they were accustomed to thinking of what a grandparent should be. They might have some insecurities or worries about their available time, energy and resources to be an active grandparent.
It is important to recognize their insecurities. Let your parents or parents-in-law know that you want them to be an example and that you want them in your children’s lives. Reassure them that the influence they have on your child will keep the family closer and that they just have to be who they are.
Give them specific tasks that would be helpful. Today’s grandparents are happy to help, but don’t want to meddle – so give them precise, definable things to do. Whether it’s “Can you please bring us dinner after we bring the baby home from the hospital” or “Can you take mom and baby to their first doctor appointment” or “Can you help us get a recommendation for a housecleaning service?”
Of course, be sure to thank them for their help! Everyone wants to be appreciated. This generation of grandparents tends to be quite independent and active with their own lives, and they don’t want you to assume that they’re going to drop everything to dote on their grandchildren full-time – although they might like to!
One of the best ways to avoid misunderstandings is to take time to clarify your hopes and expectations upfront for what you want your baby’s grandparents to be. Sit down and discuss with your baby’s grandparents, some of the most important traits that a “great” grandparent could have. This could include:
- Unconditional Love: For grandparents to love a baby for who they are. To not to try to turn a grandchild into something that fills a gap in the grandparents’ lives.
- Patience: Remind grandparents that children can be especially selfish when they are little and if they don’t want a hug or don’t want to talk to grandma on the phone, it’s OK. Children should never be forced to hug anyone they do not want to, even if it’s their beloved grandparent.
- Generosity: Encourage grandparents to give presents if they like, but not too many. Some grandparents pride themselves on “spoiling” their grandchildren, but the truth is that gifts of time and experience are more important than material things.
- Presence: The simple transmission of family values is an important way for children to learn who they are and how to live. This continuity of family connection and history can be one of the greatest and simplest gifts of all.
- Detachment and Trust for Parents: Grandparents need to keep in mind that they are not the baby’s parents. They should not meddle and contradict what mom and dad want for their child.
Remember that being a grandparent is one of the great joys of life! It’s all the fun of parenting, but without the responsibility – all the sunny days in the park without the sleepless nights and childhood sicknesses. Enjoy the baby together. Enjoy your relationship and treasure the opportunity. Be individuals but be proud to be on the same team. Respect each other – know you are all doing the best you can. It is a first time for all of you – so learn as you go and love as you learn.
How are you involving your parents and parents in law with your new baby? Have you used any specific strategies that have made the process easier? Do you stay in touch using Skype or other technologies? Please join the conversation below and don’t forget to “like” and share this article to keep the conversation going or visit the Medela Facebook Community