How to be a Great Grandparent
As you may know, I talk a lot about how to create a balanced family. A home where the man is empowered to take care of the children so the woman is not so overwhelmed, and is not having to nag him to get involved. As a result, their relationship can thrive and the whole family can be a happier place.
One key component to having that situation go well is good grandparents. Unfortunately, too many of us do not have access to grandparents and the wonders they can bring. But for a lot of people who have grandparents around, they are not a source of joy and support. They are actually a source of stress. No ones wants to be the grandparent that is difficult and thus avoided.
So here are a few things that you can do to be an awesome grandparent and thus be called back over and over again because they love having you around. What is the difference between a grandparent that is really rockin’ it and a grandparent who is a real pain in the rear? A lot comes down to your ideas as a grandparent about what parenting should be like. You probably have a lot of experience in raising kids and a lot of ideas. Of course you want to help your son or daughter be a great new parent, but a lot has changed in terms of how we raise kids.
There have been a lot of recent innovations in the field of psychology and child rearing. We have a much better idea about what a kid needs. This was probably also true when you where a new parent and many older ideas where being replaced. The speed of scientific advancement in the understanding of human development has really taken off over the last thirty years. Your ideas may be outdated. Unfortunately, even if your ideas are really helpful, coming in with your thoughts and unsolicited advice is almost definitely not going to be well received.
Step 1: Learn How to Really Help
The first thing that you can do to be a great grandparent is to simply ask how you can be helpful. Your child may have a hard time asking you to sweep the floor and clean the toilet, but that is likely what is needed. Maybe even offer to hold the kid while they go out for a walk or take a shower. But don’t assume you know what is needed. For example, the parents might be focussing on early stage bonding with the baby and don’t want you holding the baby too much. Do some research so your efforts don’t backfire.
It is a time for you to be selfless whenever possible because it is a very stressful situation. If there is a calm grandparent there that is available to help and generously give from the heart, it makes a huge difference in everyone’s situation.
Step 2: Keep Your Own Needs in Check
The second thing that you can do during this time is to not even expect to get some quality time with your son or daughter. This is a time when they need you to step forward and be there. They may not have the space or the energy to hang out and talk with you. They might be exhausted or their brain might be fried. If you expect to be able to sit down on the couch and catch up, that may be an imposition.
Notice where you are expecting to get your own needs met, particularly in those first stages after the baby is born. This can be quite challenging and it is normal to feel taken for granted, used, unappreciated and even resentful. Note the feelings, find support from others if you need it and see if you can just be a support to the situation for now. You will definitely be appreciated down the line if you are able to give in this moment when it is often very difficult for new parents to think beyond their own anxieties and stresses.
Step 3: Don’t Assume You Know More
Obviously, you have a lot of experience being a parent. But as I mentioned above, the reality is that so much more is now understood about what a child really needs and thus the ideas about parenting have changed drastically.
Psychologists have found that the manner in which parents were told to raise their kids in the past were often quite mistaken. We now understand a lot more about what kids need. Although it is not all perfect, there are now many scientifically founded parenting practices.
So try not to come in with your ideas when you see a stressful situation. It is hard to witness your son or daughter struggling with their child. There is a natural instinct to want to tell them how they are doing it wrong or somehow change their behavior. See if you can manage your own distress in that moment. Do not criticize or provide unsolicited feedback about what is being done wrong.
Later, when it is not in the middle of an intense moment is the time to try and help. Open-mindedly ask how they are thinking about parenting. Maybe comment on how hard that moment looked. Ask how it was for them. Engaging in a non-judgmental dialogue with someone who has managed their own feelings is almost always really helpful for someone in a stressful situation.
It can really help to educate yourself about what they are doing. Perhaps you could ask is there a book that would help you understand how they are hoping to raise their children. If you can use the same vocabulary and have similar ideas in mind, then you will be able to both understand the situation as well as be helpful which will lead to a more harmonious exchange. Thus avoiding the conflictual interaction that so often happens when grandparents come in with their ideas about what should be happening.
Being a new parent is really intense. If you, as a grandparent can stand back with your own needs and be more selfless, you will be that grandparent that is invited back more and more, rather than the one that is avoided and held out because your presence actually is stressful or just unenjoyable.
It can be very hard to hold yourself and to just give. But if you can do this you will be brought into this family, and the whole family can thrive as a result of your wisdom, your calm and your presence.
Thanks for joining me. I would love to hear your ideas about what it means to be a great grandparent. Please join the conversation below. Let’s keep it friendly because this is hard stuff and we are all doing our best.
I’ll see you next time for another episode of Full Frontal Fatherhood.