There is often a lot of passionate discussion in online forums and Mother’s Groups, when it comes to the hot topic of grandparents. Whether it’s the persistent MIL, overly ‘carefree’ grandfather or outdated parenting styles – there is always someone working through the challenge of trying to blend family dynamics together.
The reality is, a lot that has changed over the years when it comes to raising children.
COPE (Centre for Perinatal Excellence) describes this change in role to grandparents:
Whilst the fundamentals of caring for a baby have not changed (eg. feeding, changing, settling), the context of motherhood has. For example young adults now have far more choice in the role that both parents play and often have options about work and its integration with parenthood. They also have far more access to information – from others, experts on hand, and may choose to adopt modes of parenting that you can’t quite relate to.
The demands of modern life and women returning to work a lot sooner, has also seen little one’s going into care a lot earlier as a result. Grandparents are always a great option if logistics and ability permit but it will take a bit of planning and clear communication to ensure that it works for all.
Grandparents can be so much more than than just a free babysitting service, as they connect your child to family history. The passing down of memories and traditions from both their childhood and yours can be invaluable.
There is no doubt that no matter what their style, grandparents are wholeheartedly invested in the wellbeing of your children. They will care for them just as much as they did with you or your partner.
Whether it’s managing grandparent visits, setting up more permanent care or trying to help long distance grandparents feel involved – we give you the lowdown on how you can ensure it’s a positive experience for all.
1. What to do if your parents or in laws are smothering you pre-birth
You’re just weeks away from bringing your precious newborn into the world, and your mother in law insists on being present in the delivery room – we’ve all heard it!
This is a deeply personal experience and if it’s your first child, the added pressure can cause unwanted stress or even anxiety. This is often when emotions (and reactions) run high.
Take an opportunity to make it clear to both sets of parents that as you grow your little family, you’ll enjoy some experiences alone and others you will love to be together. It is often enough to simply say how happy you are that she is excited, but that this is a deeply personal experience and only your partner will be by your side. If others are joining you for a particular reason, be sure to mention this also. Delegating a particular role to those who won’t be in the delivery room with you, but desperately want to be, is a great way to make them feel valued.
For example, try suggesting that your mother in law calls your family and friends as soon as your baby arrives – this is a great responsibility to have.
2. Organising grandparent visits around your baby’s schedule
In the early weeks with your baby, it can be quite frustrating to have unannounced visitors while you are trying to get into a groove with your new addition. Establishing feeding can take time and you will need to rest – a lot.
Although visits often come from the desire to offer help, it’s important to establish a time that works for both you and your baby. Try saying ‘I’m so happy that you want to spend time with baby Johnny but he’s in a much better mood if we stick to our little routine. Please message or call before coming over.’
3. Preparing to leave your child with their grandparents
Leaving your child in the care of another is a big milestone to face as a parent, as the sense of safety and trust is vital. This is one of the main reasons so many families turn to grandparents for help. Although it can be challenging at the best of times, establishing boundaries is an important part of being new parents and organising care for your baby.
In some families, leaving your child with their grandparents can cause slight concerns. Whether it be safety, general health issues, or simply spoiling them while neglecting discipline when you’re not there. This can make it challenging for you to stick to any ‘rules’ you may have established at home.
So what can you do?
Have a practice run
In the beginning, try doing a few ‘practice runs’. Have grandma spend several days assisting you with your toddler, so she becomes accustomed to the routine you have set in place. Knowing where you keep your baby wipes, a reminder of how to put on a nappy, what you need to take when getting out and about, nap times, formula measurements, and even techniques you use to discourage tantrums – are all factors to consider for a successful ‘handover period’. Remember, it’s often helpful for all to let the little things slide. If grandma feeds your toddler an apple instead of a pear, this isn’t the end of the world and won’t affect their health or safety.
Write it down
Make a copy of all emergency numbers and leave them close by. If there’s a daily routine you would like grandma to follow, such as an outing at 10 and lunch at home by 12, then write it down – but keep it concise. Any tips you may have are also a great way to help the process run smoothly ie; Jessie likes a pat on the back before being put down for her nap.
Be realistic about expectations
Not all grandparents are the perfect candidates for taking care of your baby or toddler. There may be multiple reasons for this – health, physical or mental ability, lack of time or living a significant distance away can all contribute. Suggesting a day each week can help both parties to work around their schedules. This will also create consistency for the child, which is so important in those early years.
Comfortable relationships don’t always happen straight away, just like they don’t as adults. So be patient, have confidence in your parents and be open to feedback even if you don’t follow their advice to the letter. After all, they have done this before!
4. The grandparent visit checklist
You may be happily handing over your little one or only just mustered up the courage to leave them for a sleepover. Regardless of the situation, being organised and having a plan will ensure it runs as smoothly as possible – and to your expectations.
We’ve compiled a list of important things to consider to ensure your parents home is a safe and welcoming environment – and that they are comfortable with this important responsibility. It has likely been a while since they were trusted with the care of young children, so they may need a little reminding.
This is an important one for a baby who is recently on the move, ie combat crawling or pulling to stand. Make sure all poisons are kept out of reach, and anything that could topple over is safely secured or moved up high. Just like you baby proofed your home, the same must be done with that of your parents.
This means baby gates at any stairs, socket covers for power points, safety edge and corner guards, secured blind cords and child proof locks for cabinets with anything breakable or dangerous for your little one. Even the most loving of grandparents won’t appreciate watching their most expensive antiques wobbling off the coffee table. So the more you can prepare for the safety of your baby, and their belongings, the happier everyone will be.
Provide the essentials but don’t over complicate the routine
You want your baby’s experience with your parents to be the least complicated, so that they can enjoy the special time together without any additional stress. If your baby is being bottle fed, arrive with the bare minimum of accessories. Although your baby’s bottles need to be sterilised, don’t arrive with your incredibly over the top, technical sterilising machine. Provide a small steamer and a bottle brush. Some families prepare a mini supply cupboard at their parents, to ensure they always have what they need when grandchildren are visiting.
Prepare a safe & comfortable space
Setting up a nice little area of the living room for your baby and parents to play is a great idea. You could include; a comfortable rug or rocker for a younger baby, and invest in a demountable playpen for an older baby that can be easily packed away after your visit. These sorts of extras will add a sense of security for both baby and grandparent.
Oh the dreaded nappy change! Changing soiled nappies can be messy business without the right preparation and nobody wants to be responsible for any accidents on grandma’s nice sofa. There are plenty of portable change mats on the market of differing quality and will do the job of being a mobile change station no matter where you go. Be sure to get one with a washable cover and that is large enough for the size of your baby.
In your grandparents mind, bath time is likely a fun activity with lots of giggles but the reality is, it can also be a complete disaster. Depending on the age of your child, it is a good idea to either invest in a portable baby bath or a slip proof mat for toddlers. If they don’t have a bath, then you can discuss options for using a bucket and offering toddlers a ‘sponge bath’ on this rare occasion. Discuss bath temperature with your parents to ensure they know what is just right for little one’s precious skin.
The benefits of a travel cot
A travel cot is a great way to safely sleep your baby when away from home and will help them feel secure in their new surroundings. There are plenty of options on the market, so take the time to do the research before deciding which is the best for you. Be sure to let your parents know what is required for helping to get your child to sleep – whether that be blockout blinds, a musical toy or mobile. By recreating their usual sleeping environment, your baby and parents will have more chance of a good night’s sleep.
Preparing pets for a baby visit
Although your parents might be thrilled for their grandchild’s visit, their pets might not be so happy. Consider how they will manage their pets when preparing for a visit. Cats are notorious for nuzzling up in warm areas, such as a baby cot, but they are also known for taking a swipe at whatever annoys them. Secure a space for your baby to sleep, and be sure that any animals looking for a snuggle can’t get into the room. If your baby comes from a home that has no pets, be mindful that they can be privy to allergies. Vacuuming carefully and washing any bedding in an antibacterial solution may help.
By preparing your parents home for your baby’s visit, you will be sure to make their time together as relaxing and enjoyable as possible. Providing the right equipment will not only reduce your excess luggage for future trips, but ensure the house is ready at all times.
5. How to keep long distance grandparents involved
Sadly, although both parties would love to be closer together, this isn’t always possible due to long distance. Fortunately we live in a time where technology allows us to feel connected, just as if we were next door and not on the other side of the world.
Phone calls, facetime and computers will allow grandparents to still have conversational exchanges when they aren’t visiting their grandchildren in person. A video call might be a different way of interacting, but can be quite exciting for a little one. They will often get quite excited showing things over the computer as they get older! Setting a designated call time each week is a great idea, as it gives you both something to look forward to.
Social media, personal blogs and some development apps, are a great way to share photographs with loves ones and keep an online record of your children’s lives to.
Here are a few creative ways for grandparents to stay a big part of their grandchildren’s lives:
Long distance treasure hunt
For older children, you can organise a long distance treasure hunt. This is where the grandparents send small treats and get the parents to hide them one by one. The grandchild will then receive clues over the phone, or via email.
Even though our world revolves around technology, children still love to receive letters in the mail. A nice creative way to do this, is to start an add-on story! The grandparent writes the first paragraph, sends it to their grandchild, and they will then write the next paragraph and send the most recent, plus the previous paragraphs back. If they are still too young to write, help them by reading the story and asking how they would like to reply. These will be a great keepsake for the future!
Scheduling in a weekly ‘video dinner’ by picking a date and ensuring everyone can make it. You can even take turns choosing a recipe for everyone to cook and eat. Whilst you are enjoying your meal, set up a video call such as Skype so that you can all eat together. This activity will work better for older children.
Planes, trains and automobiles make visits to almost anywhere, possible! If you are lucky enough to be planning a visit, it is always a good idea to prepare for your time together in advance. This is particularly important if visits are few and far between, as it’s likely that there will be a lot of pressure on the time you have together.
A grandparent will no doubt be excited to see their grandchild, but they may not get the same reception in return. This is only natural as children sometimes take a while to adjust. In order to prepare for your time together, think about what will give the child a good experience, rather than trying to meet the grandparent’s needs. The important part is being together, not what you are doing.
A note to grandparents from COPE on adapting to their new role:
Like any milestone in life, the feelings we experience may be mixed. Some grandparents are surprised to feel a mixture of joy and grief, excitement and sadness. To suddenly shift a generation from parent to grandparent can be confronting. As grandparents, you may have a lot to offer in terms of knowledge and experience, after all – you’ve raised children yourself.
Sometimes the birth of grandchildren will bring the family closer, particularly if there are offers of practical and emotional support which are acknowledged, accepted and appreciated. However, very often this may not be the case, as new parents may strive to discover parenting for themselves.
Modern parents are often keen to trial and tailor their own approaches. With easy access to information nowadays, parents are often likely to seek advice from online or recognised parenting experts, as opposed to turning to their own parents or in-laws.
Sometimes it may be best to simply listen, without offering solutions or advice unless it is asked for. If you offer advice and you feel it is not listened to or valued, try not to take this as a personal rejection. Rather, try and see it as the new parents finding their own way. Often the more you assert unwanted advice, the more likely it will be rejected, and it may create distance between you.
Parenthood can also bring changes to relationships and relationship dynamics. Assumptions about the roles that everyone will play as they step into their new responsibilities as parents and grandparents may, and do, vary greatly. This is not only between families, but within families. Even parents may have differing views on the degree of involvement of grandparents in the lives of their children. If not recognised within the context of expectations, this can bring additional stress and tensions, fuel disagreements and lead to disappointments. It can be highly emotional and distressing. Here are a few tips that may be helpful:
Try to remain open-minded
Be prepared to take a step back at times and let the transition unfold in its own time
You may also need to adjust your expectations to protect yourself from disappointment and grief
It can be important to maintain interests and hobbies of your own, to reduce the focus and impact of the absence of the family involvement you may have hoped for
Continue to offer help and support
There are many ways that you can offer support to new parents. For example offering to look after the baby, whilst being mindful to not take over and be ‘the expert’ can be invaluable. Similarly, offer to look after other children to give everyone a break and also give these children some important attention at a time when much attention may be directed towards the new baby.
Providing practical support such as cooking and cleaning, without expecting anything in return can also be invaluable for new parents. Encouraging and creating opportunities for the mother and father to nurture themselves can also be a good strategy, as it acknowledges that this can be a difficult time for them and that you are there to support them.
Whatever types of support you may decide to offer, remember that even if these are not accepted, it’s important to keep offering, as sometimes new parents may find it difficult to accept help.
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