So you’re going to be a Grandparent! Becoming a grandparent for the first time opens a new dimension of life for most people. The news that your son or daughter is becoming a parent may have been long awaited, or perhaps a surprise announcement. Either way, the pregnancy allows time to prepare for changing roles for all involved. Change can also be challenging especially in emotionally charged situations like the birth of a baby. So what are the ingredients of being a good grandparent? The list could be endless, but here are some key goals to aim for to become a wonderful grandparent:
- Give encouragement and praise at every opportunity – every parent needs to hear they are doing a great job.
- Support the parents in practical ways, and provide emotional support when needed.
- Set agreed boundaries of involvement, and stick to them.
- Be a good listener and offer advice if you are asked for it.
Sounds fairly simple, but how can these ideals be achieved? Be clear about what role you want to have in your grandchild’s life. This will be influenced by the relationship you already have with the parents and whether you live close by or a distance away. Ask the parents how they hope you will fit into their new family. Discuss your hopes, expectations and limitations honestly.
If you have a partner, discuss the potential changes with them too. You may have quite different ideas about what level of involvement is reasonable. If being with the parents means one of you will be left at home for a time, consider how that will affect your own relationship and work out a plan which is agreeable to you both. Resist the temptation to overspend on your new grandchild which could lead to conflicts with your partner, as well as the parents and the other grandparents. This is a very common scenario, and competition between the two sets of grandparents may cause friction in the new family which really should be avoided.
If your situation extends to the new family staying with you for a time, care will need to be taken to preserve all relationships as the group’s dynamics will inevitably change. If you have pets, be realistic about how they may react to having a baby in the house and ensure the pet’s natural curiosity does not also result in jealousy of a noisy little being which is getting all the attention.
If you are having the new family stay with you it will be helpful to have a baby change station set up. This can be a change table or a dedicated location on top of a table or chest of drawers. Mum’s nappy bag is likely to contain everything baby needs but ask the parents what other items they would like you to have on hand – for example their preferred brand of disposable nappies.
The parents are likely to have a capsule or carseat that needs to be correctly installed in each car which is used to transport baby. If you are considering having a capsule or car seat in your own car it must be correctly installed and meet the Australian Safety Standards.
The parents are likely to have bedding organised for baby, however a port-a-cot is a handy addition to your home and can be folded up and easily stored when not needed. Baby should never sleep in an adult bed as this is a known risk factor for SIDS. Baby’s bed should be free of bumpers, padding, toys, pillows and doonas etc. Baby should also be kept in a smoke free environment. If there are smokers among you, they should never sleep in close proximity to the baby as toxic fumes can be passively inhaled by the baby – another known risk factor for SIDS.
Because of the continued prevalence of whooping cough in the community it is now advised that anyone who will be in close and frequent contact with a baby should have a whooping cough booster before baby is born. This will mean asking your GP about having the injection which will probably be in the form of a Triple Antigen (Diptheria, Pertussis and Tetanus).
If baby is visiting when older and mobile, removing potential hazards from around the lower zones of your home is a wise move and will protect baby and your belongings from accidents. A playpen may be a good item to have available for these times.
Most new parents will appreciate practical help when their new baby arrives. Preparing or providing meals is a great way to help the new family who are likely to be living in a blur of elation and sleep deprivation. Shopping to keep essential grocery items stocked up in the home and doing washing and cleaning are likely to be welcomed so the parents can focus on caring for their baby and each other. Try to be as available as the parents want you to be, but also be mindful of your own health limitations and welfare.
Caring for the family emotionally means recognising they are facing challenges and adjustments as they build a new dimension to their relationship. If tensions arise discuss them honestly and sensitively before they become a big issue which upsets the apple cart. The mother especially will be experiencing profound hormonal changes, she may also be sore from the birth and perhaps anxious about her new responsibilities. The mother is likely to have “ups and downs” especially around day 3 (baby blues) coinciding with her milk coming in. If harsh words are spoken it is best to discuss issues, forgive, forget, and move on. Be watchful for signs of prolonged sadness or anxiety which could indicate postnatal depression.
Times have changed since you had babies
Much has changed in recent years. It is usual for the father of the baby to be present during the labour and birth, and also for other support people to be involved which can include grandparents, if that is the wish of the birthing woman. The birth experience belongs to the mother and father and it is an enormous privilege to be included if invited to be present or nearby – but don’t expect it.
There is no nursery for newborns anymore because hospitals do not routinely separate mother and baby after the birth, unless one of them is very unwell and needs special care. Rooming in is usual with baby’s bassinet kept beside the bed within easy reach of the new Mum. This helps with bonding and getting used to baby’s little sounds which indicate baby requires attention.
The majority of women breastfeed their babies from birth to ensure they receive the nutritive and immune boosting colostrum. Baby will be cuddled frequently in skin to skin contact with Mum which enhances the hormones of bonding and breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is encouraged whenever baby cues which usually means baby is fed frequently through the day and the night. This can be a bit of a surprise to people who bottle fed their babies and followed strict feeding routines. It is very important to support the new mother’s efforts to establish comfortable and effective breastfeeding and not to make negative remarks if this proves to be a struggle at the start. Breastfed babies should not be offered bottles and dummies until their feeding is well established because bottle feeds can confound and confuse baby’s tongue action and derail breastfeeding. Exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of baby’s life is recommended by the World Health Organisation. This means not giving a breastfed baby water or formula, or introducing any solids before this age.
Practices have also changed related to skin care – only plain water is used to cleanse the umbilical stump, and talcum powder is no longer used on baby’s skin. Baby boys are not routinely circumcised any more, but newborns are routinely offered Hepatitis B vaccination before leaving hospital. New Baby 101 – A Midwife’s Guide for New Parents eBook www.newbaby101.com.au is a great source of reliable and up to date advice for parents and grandparents alike. For ongoing information the Raising Children Network website www.raisingchildren.net.au is a great resource.
A grandparent can provide a wonderful supportive role to the new parents by being available when needed and respecting their parenting choices and privacy. Everyone’s lives will be changed and enriched by the arrival of the new little family member, and words can barely describe the heart-swelling joy and pride felt when you hold your grandchild for the first time. This precious little person will rekindle the powerful love you felt holding your own baby. This is the fruit of your fruit, a new branch on the family tree. You can now delight in cuddling and getting to know your grandchild and handing him back to the parents – the best of both worlds if you play your cards right! Congratulations!
For more information about a recent study which confirms how VERY important your role as a grandparent is, check out: http://www.oversixty.com.au/lifestyle/family-pets/2015/01/what-makes-grandchildren-happy/