Great grandparents

Want some tips on how best to build a brilliant relationship with your baby’s grandparents? Look no further.

Grandparents are brilliant. Full of love and cuddles for your little ones, with worldly wisdom to boot. And often, an energy that belies their years. Grandparents can provide a lifeline to new parents, whether in the form of emotional support, logistical help, or childcare when it’s needed most.

Welcome their wisdom...

They have years of experience under their belts – you and your partner are testament to their excellent parenting know-how. Use them as a sounding board and get their advice, even if you don’t always take it.

“I always ask both my mum and my mother-in-law for advice when I’m unsure of something. After all, they’ve raised five children between them, so they should know a thing or two.” Jules, mum to Aiden, one year

...but know that times have changed

Things move fast in the world of parenting and what was de rigueur when they were raising you might be frowned upon these days. You might need to explain that some things have changed. How you feed your baby, sleeping routines, and exactly how many sweets are acceptable are just a few examples. Tread carefully here, so as not to hurt any well-meaning grandparents’ feelings.

Your way or their way

If grandparents are babysitting, you will want them to follow your lead. Things like which foods are and aren’t allowed, and how and when to dole out discipline.

But bear in mind that grandparents are not the same as parents. It’s ok for them to do some things a little differently. There’s no harm letting them spoil their grandchildren every now and then, within reason, of course.

“My kids inevitably have some kind of chocolate-based treat whenever the in-laws come over. I tried to stop it at first, but then decided I was being a mean mummy. If grandparents can’t spoil them, who can?” Katie, mum to Charlotte, three, and Millie, 18 months

Beware of bias

You may (or may not) naturally favour your own parent(s) views and time over that of your in-laws. But try to be as fair as possible. After all, they’re all equal in your baby’s eyes.

“It’s hard sometimes to think my partner’s parents will be as close to Dora as my mum. They don’t see her as often as they live further away. But they stay involved by regularly sending her a hand-knitted hat, scarf, or book they find in a charity shop. And I’ve started to view these little touches as equally important as my mum’s day a week she spends with D.” Gem, mum to Dora, 20 months

While this article assumes you’ve got parents and in-laws who want to be actively involved in your child’s life, this isn’t always so. Sadly, some may choose to keep their distance, for whatever reason. If that’s the case, know the rest of your family and your lovely friends can bridge the gap.

“We had a really big discussion ahead of Nel’s birth because we knew one set of grandparents wouldn’t be involved. We instead identified a couple of very close friends who are ‘uncle’ and ‘aunt’ to our little girl. She’ll hopefully have a similar bond and closeness, but with people we know will make the effort.” Dan, Dad to Nel, 9 months

Negotiating childcare

If you’re in a position of seeking regular childcare from grandparents, this can be a wonderful thing for all involved. Your children and their grandparents will love the time they spend together. And you’ll love seeing them build an extra close bond.

We recommend setting some ground rules before you start out. This will avoid any sticky situations further down the line. Both parties should know what’s expected of each other.

If you’re relying on their help when you go back to work, ask for plenty of advance notice if they can’t help out on a particular week. But equally, grandparents need holidays too. Don’t expect them to be available to help every week of the year.

Scrub up on diplomacy skills

No matter how great a relationship you have, there’s always potential for something to go awry. Whether it’s your mum telling you you look tired AGAIN. Or your father-in-law pointedly remarking that someone has done a poo, without offering to do anything about it…

It’s good to remember though that your grandparents are some of the most precious people in your little ones’ lives. And in your lives, too. So don’t sweat the small stuff.  There will be occasions when you might just have to bite your tongue, or smile and nod (through gritted teeth).

If you do have a serious issue, make the time to sit down and talk it through. Try to nip it in the bud to avoid resentment building up over time.

“I can’t complain when they’re doing me a favour but it does get on my nerves that my parents don’t seem to be able to dress my daughter in appropriate attire. They once took her out to the park in pyjamas because they didn’t realise. I know it doesn’t really matter so I tried to gloss over it.” Louise, mum to Jessica, nine months

Put the babies first

Finally, try to think about what’s important for your little ones, as well as what’s important for you. Love them or loathe them (just a little bit, some of the time), grandparents are super special people for your babies. Make time for that precious relationship in all of your lives, and everyone’s a winner.

This page was last reviewed in December 2018.

Further information

Our support line offers practical and emotional support with feeding your baby and general enquiries for parents, members and volunteers: 0300 330 0700. 

Make friends with other parents-to-be and new parents in your local area for support and friendship by seeing what NCT activities are happening nearby. To find out when an NCT nearly new sale is happening near you, search here.

You might find attending one of NCT's Early Days groups helpful as they give you the opportunity to explore different approaches to important parenting issues with a qualified group leader and other new parents in your area.

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