Being a grandparent is fun! It’s fun to hold new babies again. It’s also fun to hand them back when they get fussy. It’s fun to add grandchildren to the family without having to go through labor myself. And it’s fun to watch your children learn how to be parents.
I have a lot of fun with that last one. I doubt there are very many parents who aren’t guilty of saying they wished that their child would have a baby just like them—or at least thinking it.
The easy kids would get easy babies, and the ones that gave you gray hairs would end up in the same boat.
And it’s kind of true. Watching them deal with the same issues that you faced when they were young is amusing. But there is one thing to consider: Your words. Think about whether they sound awkward, judgmental, encouraging, loving, thoughtful, critical, angry, or cheerful.
Are you telling your child how they should raise their child? That isn’t your right any more. Do you feel like how you did everything was the exactly best way to raise kids? Do you feel like no one knows better than you how to raise this little baby?
Are you letting the parents know they are doing a great job? Are you sympathetic when they are exhausted? Do you encourage them when they have a rough day? Even more importantly, are you there to wash the dishes or keep the other grandchildren happy while mommy takes a nap?
It’s so hard to do things perfectly when exhaustion sets in and the sweet baby still won’t sleep. The last thing these new, slightly overwhelmed parents need is for the grandparents to remind them that you had it tougher.
They especially don’t need to hear about how well you did. That should be obvious by the time your child becomes a parent. You don’t need to tell them every amazing thing you did. But you do need to talk about the good things your child-turned-parent did.
Your job is to keep the spotlight on them and their new family, not on you. Help them feel confident. Let them know how happy you are to be visiting. Be grateful for what they do for you. And do all you can to help them so their load is just a little lighter.
Do you remember what it was like to be a new parent? Do you remember when relatives descended on your little family and demanded attention, criticized your best efforts, and disrupted hour household? Yeah, don’t do that.
Again, it’s not about you. It’s about them. Avoid saying, “When you did that, I just...” Or, “I would never let my child do that!” Or, “I never had a problem with...” Or, the worst yet, “If you would just ___ you wouldn’t have any problems with___” Do you even know that? You aren’t raising this child. You have no idea what this child needs. But your child-parent does.
Besides, it’s not up to us super-brilliant, amazing, perfect, awesome parents to tell anyone else what to do. It’s our job to encourage, support, and be sympathetic to our children as they learn their new role.
I have a relative who doesn’t heap praise on anyone. She always likes to top it with a story of her own. It’s discouraging! Wouldn’t it be better if she just said how proud she is of her grandchildren or their parents? Any time a grandparent can praise grandchildren, it’s an opportunity not to be missed. The rewards are there, and they will come soon enough as you watch your son cuddle his little daughter. It comes as you watch your daughter smile contentedly with her tiny baby boy snuggled up.
But sometimes the rewards come in other ways. One day our oldest daughter was attempting to potty train her three-year-old. This child is a fabulous girl with lots of abilities. One of them is a strong determination to do what she wants rather than what someone else is trying to get her to do. As my daughter ranted about the situation to me, describing the stubbornness of her sweet blonde, she paused and said, “Mom, was I that bad?”
It’s a good thing it was a phone call. I was grinning from ear to ear, remembering my struggles trying to potty-train her. I just said, “Pretty much!” There was a short pause, and then she said, “Oh, Mom, I am so sorry!”
Yes, the rewards are great. And I want to be there to experience them. I don’t want to be the irritating grandma. I want to be the one they want to visit. I want to have too many cookies at my house. I want to let them know that whether they are doing what I think they should or not, they are loved and welcome at my house. Because that is not my judgment to make any more.
It’s only my job to love and love some more. It’s my job to bake cookies and give hugs and make the grandchildren smile. It’s my job to be happy when they visit, not to whine and complain when they can’t. As soon as you start that game, you are going to lose.
It’s my job to be there as a sounding board when they have a tough day. One day, this same child of mine called me and desperately asked me to talk to a child who was having a meltdown at the doctor’s office. I gradually got the granddaughter calmed down. When she was calm, my daughter took the phone back and said, “Ok, now please talk to this other one!” And I did.
I will never be a perfect grandma, but I will try my hardest to help my children and grandchildren know they are perfect to me.
Donna Howard is a mother of ten children—yes, ten—a grandmother of eight, and has served as a foster parent. She has a bachelor’s degree in clarinet performance and composition. She teaches elementary music methods to education majors and owns her own band instrument repair business.