“I’m new to this whole grandma thing,” she said to me. It was Fourth of July week and I was with my husband and kids. We were boating in the San Juan Islands up the coast from Seattle and happened to tie up next to an older couple. The woman spotted my young kiddos running amok and proudly shared that her young grandchildren would shortly be arriving to spend the week with them. She had an 18-month old grandson and a soon-to-be-born grand-daughter on the way. And as she confided her inexperience as a grandmother, it dawned on me that she is navigating this new chapter in her life just as a new mother must learn to pilot baby’s first year, except, a better word for grandparenting might be circumnavigation.
Grandparents have already been through a Round 1 of parenting, and though they love watching their grandchildren during their Round 2 of child caregiving—this time they are not the captain. Their generation followed their instincts, not Web MD. There weren’t as many car seats to choose from and there certainly wasn’t Amazon. No one was feeding kids organic purees from pouches and the Nose Frida hadn’t been invented yet. While new grandparents today may be seasoned caregivers, they’ll most likely cock their head to the side the first time they learn that no one uses baby powder any more. They’re still greenhorns when it comes to modern parenting. And what’s more, their working hard to master the delicate balance of being helpful and being overbearing.
To avoid mutiny, here are some reminders when communicating with the grandparent of your children:
- Write it down. Grandparents, generally speaking, are a little older, and older people, generally speaking, find written instructions most helpful. So, if you have a certain sequence of operations for bedtime that you’d like them to follow, write it down for them. If you have a specific meal plan in mind for lunch, write it down and tape it to the fridge. I actually have a blackboard installed in the kitchen and it’s been incredibly helpful for communicating specifics such as “Start bedtime at 7:30!”
- They are not hired help. If you rely on your parents for childcare, as we say in our house, you get what you get, and you don’t throw a fit.
- You catch more flies with honey. Most grandparents will be receptive to suggestions, but it’s all in the delivery. You won’t be well-received if you act bossy, entitled or self-righteous.
- Express your wishes but remember there’s no guarantee they’ll be followed. You can strongly suggest grandparents caregive the way you would, but if they choose not to, you can’t make them walk the plank. When my daughter was a baby, I felt strongly that we would wait till she was a year old to introduce her to sweets, such as ice cream. Even though he knew this, I remember sitting there aghast as I watched my dad spoon my daughter her first scoop of ice cream. My dad, a true ice cream aficionado, wasn’t doing it for her, he was doing it for himself. As soon as the ice cream met her tongue, her blue eyes lit up and my dad grinned from ear to ear. I had to just let it go. He was entitled to a great grandparenting experience too and he certainly wasn’t doing anything remotely harmful.
- Assume positive intent. The overwhelming majority of grandparents, the vast majority of the time, have the best of intentions. They are wanting to help their child and ease the burden of parenting. They don’t want to upset anyone, so if they do something wrong, give them the benefit of the doubt.
With this perspective in mind, hopefully you’ll have smooth sailing and find yourself a more patient parent (with the grandparents that is)!
Featured Photo by Sara Lukas