How to Involve Grandparents While Setting Limits
How can we best involve grandparents while also setting limits?
Experience Being Included as Grandparents
Your question about involving grandparents is very timely since on February 20, 2019, Bill and I had the honor, and enjoyment, of being at the birth of our newest grandchild, John William Basile, and helping our daughter and son-in-law manage the usual stressful week after birth. In some ways, grandparenting is more fun than parenting because it’s all enjoyment and little responsibility. You just hold, love, play with and “spoil” your grandbabies, then hand them back to their parents when they insist on fussing or misbehaving. We have always taught that besides enjoying their grandchildren, grandparents have two other major roles:
- To make life easier for the parents, and;
- To use their wisdom to make life better for their grandbabies.
1. Tell grandparents what you need.
For example, with our daughter Erin’s recent baby we asked her if she wanted us to be present at the birth of her son. Thankfully, she said yes. Next, as grandparents, we asked how long she wanted us to stay to help with the baby. She gave us a guesstimate of around a week, but we left the door open for a shorter or longer stay.
Do whatever you can to tactfully open the door to working out a balance between asking and telling the grandparents what you need, yet giving them the flexibility to suggest some caregiving involvement that you might not think of. Grandparents often tread that delicate balance between wanting to help and being perceived as interfering. Simply telling them what you need and how much you need from them helps.
2. Be prepared for a different mindset on parenting styles.
Your parents may have raised you in the mode of a more rigid style of parenting, such as scheduling, formula-feeding, letting baby cry it out, sleeping in separate rooms, and all that goes with “fear of spoiling”. Don’t fault them for this, since that probably was the prevailing influence they had around them. And, as they may be quick to point out, “You turned out okay”. Today’s parents tend to rely less on books, professional advice, and the norms of the neighborhood and feel more confident in following their instincts to develop their own style of parenting to match the need level of their baby. For example, it’s very common for grandparents not to understand the principles of attachment parenting. So, don’t be surprised if you hear the proverbial, “What, you’re still nursing?”
Suppose you and your parents get into a discussion, or even a conflict, about your chosen style of parenting, such as sleeping close to your baby, holding your baby a lot, quickly and sensitively responding to baby’s cries, wearing your baby in a carrier instead of wheeling him/her in a stroller, and so on. What we teach in our medical practice is to say to your parents: “Our baby’s doctor advised us to respond quickly and sensitively to our baby’s cries” or “Our doctor advised us that our baby will grow better if we hold him a lot and that it won’t spoil him.” The World Health Organization advises: “For optimal development, babies should breastfeed from two to three years.” Usually, supporting your parenting style with professional advice or scientific validation is enough to get grandparents off your back.
3. Get grandparents involved.
Each day think, “What can I do to give my parents the joy of their grandchildren?” I use the term “joy” because one of the top relationships that grandparents love and need is the joy of seeing, holding, and being involved in the lives of their grandchildren. We so look forward to our weekly Skype and Zoom calls with Erin and John, and new baby Johnny. Send grandparents smartphone pictures as often as you can. Seeing the development of their precious grandchild will bring them joy, help them feel important, and help them feel that you care a lot about keeping them involved.
4. Enjoy the wisdom of age.
While it’s your baby, and mom and dad know best, sometimes the wisdom of age can add a bit of sage advice to what you are already doing. Again, it’s that open door to your parents, giving them the message that you want to trust and appreciate their help and advice.
When grandchildren get older it’s another stage when grandparenting shines. Family trips sponsored – and sometimes paid for – by the grandparents, are now even more immensely popular since families may not live close by each other. If, on the other hand, grandparents do live nearby, be sure to invite them to special occasions, such as baseball games, birthdays, plays, school events, and so on.
It’s not only good for you, but it’s good for your children at a very early age to simply enjoy being around their grandparents. In fact, growing kids enjoy the novelty of interacting with grandparents, which may be different than that of their parents – not better, not worse, just different. And, those little growing brains grow better with novelty.
The more memories of grandparents you can plant in the growing brain of your child, the richer is the life of the whole family.
Written By: Martha Sears, R.N.
Martha is the mother of Dr. Bill’s eight children, a registered nurse, a former childbirth educator, a La Leche League leader, and a lactation consultant. Martha is the co-author of 25 parenting books and is a popular lecturer and media guest drawing on her 18 years of breastfeeding experience with her eight children (including Stephen with Down Syndrome and Lauren, her adopted daughter). Martha speaks frequently at national parenting conferences and is noted for her advice on how to handle the most common problems facing today’s mothers with their changing lifestyles. Martha is able to connect with both full-time, stay-at-home mothers and working mothers because she herself has experienced both styles of parenting. Martha takes great pride in referring to herself as a “professional mother” and one of her favorite quips when someone voices their concern about her having eight children in an already populated world is: “The world needs my children.”