Here we help you celebrate all the wonderful joys that abound when you become a grandparent. And flag up a few watch-outs too.
Being a grandparent is all about enjoying all the best things about being a parent, without any of the bad bits. Right? Well, sort of. But along with the highs, of which there are many, you might encounter the odd tricky scenario too.
These pointers should help you eke out every moment of joy with these wonderful creatures – your gorgeous, growing, curious grandchildren.
Be prepared to wait for your calling
A new baby in the family is a gift for all family members, not least you, grandma (or gramps). You’ll likely be first to on the scene to meet baby after mum and dad. Oh, that new baby smell is just delicious.
Be aware of your child and their partner’s cues. They might be desperate for your help and advice and want you to move in for a month from day one. Or they might hint at you to wait in the wings a little more at the beginning. That’s okay, your calling will come. And boy will it be worth the wait.
Add some magic sparkle
You may now be the matriarch of the family (or one of them, anyway). This gives you a wonderful opportunity to sprinkle some magic in those first few weeks. Think of a couple of things you can do to help mum and dad create memories or instill traditions during those magical, but exhausting first moments.
Maybe you kept a few of your child’s baby outfits you can now pass on as a gift. Perhaps you can start singing some of those nursery rhymes your child so enjoyed when they were little (and remind them of the words). Perhaps buy a baby footprint kit to capture an imprint of those tiny toes. Or dig out your child’s baby pictures for comparisons as well as even more ooohs and ahhhs.
Listen, rather than influence
Something happens to people when they become new parents. Everyone around them develops this pressing desire to impart their knowledge on them, as new members of the club. As a grandparent, it’s important not to fall into this trap yourself. Not least because parenting might be drastically different from when you last did it. Unsolicited advice is rarely welcomed.
So take a step back, and instead offer a listening ear. When your offspring and their partners do ask your advice – which they almost certainly will at some point – that’s your moment to speak up.
Know that times have changed
You might have had your own children 20 years ago, 30 years ago, or more (we won’t tell). The world of parenting is a fast one, so things are bound to have changed. Sometimes beyond recognition. We’re looking at you, car seats.
You want what’s best for your grandchildren, and that’s not always what was best when you last did it yourself. You may find that what was normal back in the day will now elicit horrified gasps from the crowd at your local baby group.
While your children and in-laws will undoubtedly respect you as an old hand, they might need to fill you in on what’s changed. And it’s important to accept and respect their wishes. Even if you don’t agree with them.
Know your limits
You may find your grandchildren so unbelievably adorable that you just want to see them (and cuddle them) all the time. Equally, you want to help your children and in-laws as much as you can. But everyone – yourself included – will soon discover that looking after small people is one properly exhausting job. There’s only so much you can do.
Do you really have the energy to do two full days of childcare and a sleepless night in between? If you want to say no, make sure you do.
Set some ground rules…
Many grandparents help out their families by providing regular childcare. This can help to relieve part of the huge financial burden paid-for childcare can represent. And can be a massively rewarding experience for all of you. You will have regular one (or two) on one time with your grandchildren, during which you’ll build a unique bond and see them grow.
Be aware, though, that there will be times when you won’t be able to help. Grandparents need holidays too. And what happens if you get ill? Not to mention when one grandchild becomes two, becomes three.
It can be hard to find alternative childcare, especially at late notice, so make sure you discuss these scenarios with the parents before any arrangements are made. Let them know any holiday dates as far in advance as possible.
Spoil your grandkids. But not too much
Grandchildren are yours to be spoilt. It’s only right that you lavish them with kisses and cuddles, your time and energy, and toys and sweets… isn’t it? Stop right there. It’s not always ok. Do the parents want their house to be overtaken by toys? Does their little girl need yet another cute dress that will only get worn once? Does their sweet tooth need any more encouragement?
While your gifts may be well intentioned, they won’t always be welcomed. And remember that babies are canny things. What you do sets a precedent. So tread carefully in this regard, and if in doubt, ask the parents first – before buying.
If you’re looking after your grandchildren for a day, a little organisation will go a long way. Make sure you are well versed in their normal routine, so any set naps or snack times can be adhered to. Find out about local baby groups or places you can take them to. Avoid any ‘what shall we do now?’ moments by having some ideas, such as craft activities, up your sleeve.
Be firm with discipline
Follow the parents’ lead when it comes to discipline and rewards. Establish from them what is and isn’t allowed, and how discipline is dished out. Remembering that what is normal today may be very different from when you brought your own children up. But this doesn’t mean it’s a criticism of the way you did things. And remembering too that it’s their decision how their child is disciplined, not yours.
Don’t forget about your own children
Know that your relationship with your own children will indelibly change. The bond between you will be greater as, together, you share the joys of watching their children grow. But don’t forget that they’re still your children, and perhaps they miss spending time with you – on your own. Interestingly, grandparents can play an important role in supporting parents to be the best they can be (The British Psychological Society, 2005). If you live close and do a regular day with your grandchildren, it’s easy to overlook the need to spend time with them.
Likewise, if you’re long distance grandparents, weekends you spend together are entirely focused on the grandchildren. What about treating them to a babysitter for the evening so you can all have a dinner together? Or taking mum out for a coffee? They will relish the adult conversation and you will have some quality time together.
This goes without saying, but we thought it was worth a mention. You know all too well that the tiny years fly by so quickly. Enjoy playing with them, reading to them, singing to them. Enjoy them. They’re yours to cherish.
This page was last reviewed in December 2018.
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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.
The British Psychological Society. (2005) Grandparents and grandchildren. The Psychologist, 18:684-687. Available at; https://thepsychologist.bps.org.uk/volume-18/edition-11/grandparents-and-grandchildren [Accessed 21st January 2019].