To Expectant Grandparents: Take a Step Back

5 minute read

By Christopher Brown

It’s great that you’re a grandparent, and we’re excited to help you along your new journey, but when it comes to making the ground rules, we aren’t about to hold back. With an online search, you can learn to navigate this exciting new chapter.

Today on Healthversed, we take aim at the incredibly common “overbearing grandma” archetype in an attempt to steer you clear of a similar fate. It’s time to look at a few family faux-pas and teach you how to navigate this strange new world.

Do: Know your boundaries

The role of a grandparent is much different than the role of a parent or guardian. Fight your urge to take control and learn to enjoy life on the sidelines. It’s just as fun and much, much cleaner. It may be a difficult adjustment, but you owe it to your kid to respect their wishes, decisions, and role in the family.

Don’t: Offer unsolicited advice

You’ve already been through the parenting life-cycle. You’ve changed the diapers, you’ve kissed the boo-boos, you’ve done it all, and we’re proud of you. And no, we’re not here to question your intentions either. But there is a fine line that separates “motherly advice” and “obnoxious nitpicking.” Around these parts, we like to refer to that fine line as unsolicited advice.

If they didn’t ask for help, don’t offer it. If they didn’t ask for advice, don’t offer it. If they didn’t ask for your “better way,” don’t offer it. This basic rule of thumb often separates a supportive grandma from an overbearing one. Your tongue may get sore from all of the biting, but repairing a tongue is much easier than repairing a relationship.

Do: Give unconditional support

Unconditional support can mean a lot to a lot of people. In this particular case, unconditional support means casting your ego aside and supporting your children unconditionally. If they make a “wrong” decision, support them. And most importantly, if their idea of great parenting clashes with your idea of great parenting, support them!

Remember, it’s their turn to change diapers, sleep less, and drive to hockey practice. You’ve already done all of that. Your job is to contribute, when asked, to the growth of your family’s next generation. Be unwavering in your support and generous with your time. It’ll go a long way.

Don’t: Overthrow their rules

You never could tell your kid who to date, where to live, or who to hang out with. So, what makes you think that telling them how to raise their child is a good idea?

Undermining the authority of the parents, disobeying established rules, and being disrespectful of their seemingly new-age approach to parenting is unproductive and dangerous to the health of your relationship.

And who cares if they’re wrong. Experimenting with parenting strategies and making mistakes is what led to your success. Respect them enough and give them enough freedom to make their own mistakes. It’s all part of the parenting process.

Do: Give them space

Being a grandparent is all about boundaries. Some parents enjoy a busy house full of love and helping hands. Sometimes, the best thing that you could possibly do is leave them alone. Trust us, it’s far from personal.

All too often, a newborn baby is used as an excuse for a spur of the moment pop-in visit or an unsolicited hourly phone call. Taking care of a newborn baby is stressful enough without the added strain of a needy grandma. Remember, the role of a grandparent is one of support. You should be flexible with your time, available to help when asked, and respectful of everyone’s personal space. Repeat after us: boundaries.

Don’t: Compete for best grandparent

In a perfect world, grandparents on both sides of the family would live forever in peace and harmony. Unfortunately, this world is far from perfect. There will be conflict. There will be jealousy. There will be elaborate gifts and perhaps even a vacation or two. In some cases, it can get incredibly nasty. It’s important to remember that at the center of all of this is a beautiful little baby.

So, in the war of the grandparents, be neutral. Take the high road. Avoid conflict and offer as much support, financial or otherwise, as you are comfortable with.

Do: Engage in your own life

If you’re sitting around waiting for the phone to ring, you’re going to have a bad time. Your kids are in the midst of establishing their own family and building their own little life. As such, they aren’t always thinking about you and your feelings. The best way to combat the loneliness of being away from your kids and their kids is by investing in your own life. Learn something new, join a social club, pick up a long-lost hobby.

Getting too caught up in the lives of your sons, daughters, and grandkids can often cause you to neglect your own well-being. Don’t forget to take care of yourself.

Don’t: Facebook every moment

Social media has simplified communication, easing the burden of long distance relationships substantially. If you don’t get to see your grandkids as often as you like, you’re always a quick message, picture, or video chat away. But as with most things, social media has a rulebook of its very own.

Before you go sharing videos, pictures, and snaps of the wee one, have a conversation with the parents. Ask for permission before breaking any news, or before sharing pictures or videos. For many new parents, it’s a question of privacy and safety. The parents deserve to have a reasonable amount of control over their child’s social media exposure.

Do: Be available

Part of being a good grandparent is being flexible. Part of being a fantastic grandparent is being really, really flexible. You may need to entertain the odd midnight phone call, or change plans at the drop of a hat to watch the baby for an afternoon. That’s all part of the experience of being a grandparent.

Of course, nobody should ever expect you to be more available than you’re comfortable with. And always remember that there’s a difference between being available and getting taken advantage of. You’re allowed to have boundaries of your own, too.

Don’t: Spoil them

We know, we know. They’re just mittens. Or books. Or toys. But please for the love of bratty kids, restrain yourself and your wallet. An afternoon with an overindulgent grandparent can easily undermine the rules of the house. Fight the instinct to shower your grandkids with riches and instead, leave the presents to special occasions.

And don’t be surprised if the parents are peeved that you returned their little one hopped up on sugar, either. Again, it’s all about obeying the parents’ rules and respecting their boundaries.

Do: Offer to help out

All it takes is a little bit of creativity and a little bit of elbow grease to support your son or daughter in a productive way. Looking to help out? Do some laundry, order take-out, or roll up your sleeves and start scrubbing the bathroom.

We’re sure you’re aware of the fact that new parents don’t have a lot of time for … um … things other than parenting. And helping hands are always welcome. Just don’t be too pushy. Remember, your kids have earned the right to their privacy.

Don’t: Take it personal

Welcoming a newborn baby to the family can be overwhelming. The endless deluge of well wishers. The constant pop-ins, visits, and babysitting requests. The whole never sleeping again thing. Emotions can run high and priorities can slip through the cracks. So, don’t take it personal if your son or daughter let’s their temper show, if they forget to call, or if they cancel plans at the last minute. Balancing a new life with a newborn can be hectic so give the parents a break!

Congratulations, thanks for stopping by and best of luck to you and your growing family.

Christopher Brown