August 3, 2016 – Two weeks ago your editor became a grandparent for the first time. Having just about the most beautiful, precious child in the universe made us think – how can we help her become the best and happiest person she can be, and what can we do to support the new parents? In this article we’ve tried to include the major grandparenting topics, and for each of them some of the best tips we’ve heard or read about. However, our experience is very limited – under two weeks! We are hoping that our Members will chime in with their best ideas in the Comments section below – making this a shared community where we are all help each other enjoy the experience.
All of our friends and relatives rave about the grandchildren experience, whether they are retired or not. Life-changing and joy are two of the words that come up most often. We hear very few, if any, negatives expressed – mainly that the grandkids are too far away or they don’t get to see them often enough.
Tips for a variety of grandparenting topics
These seem to be the major grandparenting issues. We welcome more suggestions, especially ideas on how to handle each.
Have a plan
Like so many other things in life, you will probably be more successful if you have a plan for what you want to give and get from being a grandparent. Write down some ideas and then discuss them with your significant other and the new parents to see how closely your thoughts align. Frequent talking with all parties involved is a good way to minimize friction and avoid surprises. The topics discussed below will give you some ideas on what to include in your plan.
The newborn phase
New parents are generally overwhelmed and need all the help they can get. That seems to be true whether it is the first child or the 4th – there is so much to do in a period of major stress. New babies don’t always arrive when scheduled, and sometimes there are complications with either the baby or the mother. So being flexible is important.
– When to visit. In our opinion you need to offer to come and help, but defer to the parents wishes on the terms. If they want time alone to bond, that is theirs to decide.
– What to do when you visit. Whether your new grandchild lives far away or on the next block, your job is to be a helpmate. If you travel far to visit, realize you are not on vacation. Look to help out with the things you know have to be done to run the household – take out the trash, clean, shop, run errands, cook, do the dishes. Ask the new parents what would be helpful, and respect what you hear. If their home is small, stay in a hotel or VRBO.com unless specifically asked to stay with them.
You raised children and probably have good ideas on how to do it. But the best advice we have heard is not to give it, unless asked. Depending on the young couple’s relationship, one spouse might be put in a difficult spot if your advice is viewed as criticism or meddling. One of our friends maintains a very good relationship with a touchy daughter-in-law by never giving advice (even though she would like to!). She doesn’t want to step on toes or put her son in a position of having to choose sides.
Managing the distance – near or far
Whether you are geographically close to your grandchildren or far away, each situation has its challenges.
At some distance.
– If you have the time and the resources, and assuming you are welcome, short frequent visits can be great. But staying for a month or so might also give you plenty of relaxing time together, although you should definitely stay in a hotel or rent a place so that everyone has a lot of space.
– If budget or time is limited, Skype and/or Facetime on a regular schedule is a great way to stay in touch.
This can get tricky and personal- some grandparents can’t live too close, while others want to keep a distance. The frequency and timing of visits might be a negotiation between you and the new parents, or scheduling just might happen naturally.
A lot of misunderstandings and hard feelings can come up when it comes to you taking care of the kids. Sometimes the new parents are more demanding than you would like, while in other situations the grandparents would like to help more. The result is often a compromise – a balance of your limits and expectations vs. the needs of the young parents.
– Set limits. If you don’t want to be on instant call, babysit at certain times, or have certain limits, establish that.
– Be busy. One grandma we know wants to help out, but not as a full-time nanny. She is lucky enough to be able to set her schedule at work, so she is sure there are some times she will definitely not be available. Volunteer jobs can have the same effect.
– Regular time. Our niece told us about a nice way to do this. Every Wednesday her in-laws take the kids. Usually there is an excursion, but not always. The regular schedule insures frequent contact and is appreciated all the way around.
Managing relations with multiple grandchildren
Our impression is that if there are opportunities for one on one interactions, there is a better chance of establishing a special relationship with each child. We have seen and heard different ways to spend quality time with each grandchild.
– One friend takes her granddaughter to dance class on Saturdays, and the grandson to judo. When it comes to sleepovers, sometimes it is one child at a time.
– If you see that a kid has a particular interest, that might be your entree into getting to experience him or her one on one.
– Another friend takes each grandchild on a big trip when they turn 13, and the kid gets involved in the decision on where they go.
– Of course sometimes you want the whole gang around. A friend managed this by establishing the tradition of Friday night pizza at his house; which everybody looked forward to. If you have a swimming pool, that is always a great attraction.
Discipline and limits
This can be tricky, and we are anxious to see how others manage this area. Obviously there is behavior that you won’t tolerate, but how to you handle it when it comes up? What do you do when there is a disconnect between the new parents’ ideas and yours? Above all you want to be positive – do everything you can to encourage your grandchildren to maximize their potential and happiness.
If you have to step in
Unfortunately there are times when for some reason or another the new parents are not able to take care of their children. Substance abuse, psychological problems, unemployment, medical issues, or even death sometimes means you have to take over a much bigger role than you ever dreamed of. In these cases you might not have any choice – you will just have to do what you can.
– Supporting kids and grandkids. We hear many stories of parents providing significant support for their children, and especially grandchildren. Sometimes that means giving money that is really needed for your retirement savings. You might have to continue working longer than you intended. The result often jeopardizes your financially secure retirement. In these cases you have to balance your needs with the younger generation – realizing they have a chance to recover and you don’t. The Further Reading section has a link to more sources on this topic.
– A 529 College Saving Plan is one of the best things you can do for your grandchild. These are tax advantaged plans similar to your 401(k) – started early and contributed to regularly they can help insure your grandchildren get through college without a mountain of debt.
For further reading
Grandmothers Caring for Grandkids
Comments? Please share what has worked for you in being a grandparent in the Comments section below. If there have been problem areas, let us know. We are hoping for a wide ranging and helpful discussion!