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Share Your Experience: Tips on Being a Fabulous Grandparent

Category: Family and Retirement

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 unless specifically asked to stay with them.

Giving advice
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.

Close by
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!

Posted by Admin on August 2nd, 2016


  1. As the paternal grandmother to my 5 granddaughters and a paper crafter, I decided with the birth of my first granddaughter, I would make her a physical scrapbook of her life(as most parents today do everything digitally with photography). I will continue to do this until I’m unable and at that time will turn it over to the girls. These will be memory books they can touch and feel. It gives me purpose in retirement as well as a connection to them. With twins born this past March, it’s become a little more difficult to keep up, but I’m still feeling good about this contribution I can make. It’s just one of the contributions we do for our granddaughters.

    by CJ Baskel — August 3, 2016

  2. Being a grandparent — a subject near and dear to us with 16 specimens ranging from 8-20. I don’t go by any hard and fast rules other than: 1) give lots of love, in whichever format that you can, to both the kids and their parents; 2) show up — in person, by phone, at events, through the mail, via electronics; 3) appreciate — the good, the naughty, the ups and downs; 4) cheer the victories, pat ’em on the back when there are the inevitable lapses; 5) play the games they love from peek-a-boo at 6 months, to London Bridges when they are 18 months to Banana Grams when they are 15 (no contract bridge — “too boring”; 6) encourage overnights with lots of forbidden food (in our house this would be Klondike Bars– my husband is famous for having fed a Klondike Bars breakfast to 6 of the kids). Smile a lot. Laugh until you cry. Stay in physical contact whenever you can. Just love ’em.

    by Patricia Kennedy — August 3, 2016

  3. Your comments on Discipline and limits really hit a nerve because that’s been the hardest area for us. When the grandkids misbehave or talk back and don’t get disciplined by their parents, that drives us up a wall. The kids don’t often respond when spoken to nor do they pick up after themselves even though they are capable. It’s caused a major rift in our relationship with our daughter and her 5 children. It’s easy to say, “Well, just love ’em” but sometimes they aren’t lovable! That’s when we bite our tongues. It might be a generational thing because we would never have gotten away with such behavior as children and we didn’t let our own children act that way.

    by Jay Smith — August 3, 2016

  4. Congratulations Grandfather !

    by Dianne — August 3, 2016

  5. When my grandson was born, we were in a difficult situation. My husband was terminally Ill in hospice and my son was living with us helping me with his father. We both missed the first year of my grandson and his son’s life. I sent gifts once a month and he Skyped frequently. They were able to visit when he was 13 months old after my husband had died. With my second grandchild, it is much different. I was able to visit and be there for the birth, a girl. I stayed in a hotel even though I was invited to stay at the house since I believe that they needed some time alone as a family. I cooked enough food in the week that I stayed for a month. I offer advice but only when asked. And I always say that I respect your choice as the mother to decide what is best. What I usually do is offer many choices with the advice and find Pinterest is a good resource. For example, teething was the last problem and I found 34 natural remedies for teething that I shared with her since I have more time for research. The only problem that they have with me is that I tend to go overboard with shopping. So I have promised my son after I bought a crib for the baby that his partner told me she wanted but didn’t tell him that I would discuss big stuff with him.

    by Joan — August 3, 2016

  6. Congrats! All of the comments listed and received are on point. I can only recommend to “pace yourself”, given the boundless energy kids have while growing up, as we slow down a little. And here’s a cute note I came across — Grandparents’ House Rules: Grandchildren are always welcome but Parents by Appointment Only. Endless laughs, hugs and kisses. Dessert comes first and sleepovers welcome. Remember that “what happens here, stays here”.

    by Dick Temple — August 4, 2016

  7. Grandchildren keep you out of the rocking chair! Seeing the world again through their eyes is a wonder. Helping them to decide their likes and dislikes is interesting. Reading to them is very important. But the best thing for me is the goodies. Oh yeah, I am banned from the toy stores…. sigh!

    by DeyErmand — August 6, 2016

  8. Congratulations! We are expecting our 5th grandson very soon! As a former educator, I know everyone tries to make “rules” to help you be your best – teacher, mother, friend, mentor, and grandparent. But, you know what? Joy, love, and tender moments with little ones, makes all those rules go right out the window. My advise? Be there, listen to what your child(ren) are saying and what they aren’t saying. Give them a night out (like no one ever did for you!) and keep your midnight oil burning, sleep when you can, and make laughter, hugs and trips to concerts, sport events, first day of school, and any other celebration a priority on your calendar! If anything can enhance your retirement, it is sharing private moments with your grandchildren. Don’t make it a formula to follow, but an adventure to engage in for as long as you can! I agree with all the other comments, just adding that your heart grows to accommodate every new one God is gracious enough to give to your family.

    by Gale — August 9, 2016

  9. Happy I came across this article right before we left to spend Thanksgiving with our new grandson. I’m sure I would have arrived with a suitcase full of advice and ready to unpack it. Instead I took this article to heart. Our son and daughter-in-law were who live a few states away were kind enough to invite us to their home for the holiday (and of course allowed us to cook ! ). We had a lovely time and I helped myself to using their good china and anything else I wanted to make a lovely dinner which I’m sure they haven’t had time enjoy in the last month. But when it came to the baby, although I wanted to hold him 24/7 I held back not wanting to take over. Of course I got my fill though! While they were busy with him, I rearranged and organized the kitchen pantry and the nursery with baskets and did things around the house without asking. Only once when I saw my daughter-in-law struggling with a diaper did I offer advice. Before we left I heard my daughter-in-law tell my son ” you’re mother quietly made things seem to go so much easier”. Last night we got a call, could we please come for Christmas! My bags are packed.

    by Diane — December 1, 2018

  10. Diane! Great job! From your narrative, it seems you were the perfect, helpful behind the scenes, Grandparent. More people need to learn from this. Have a Merry Christmas!

    by Jennifer — December 2, 2018

  11. We have three young grandchildren, and our kids live in three different cities.

    We don’t live near them, but we offer to come and stay/take care of the grandchildren so our adult children and spouses can get away as a couple (or go away with friends). Have been doing this for the past six years, and they love it.

    Of course, we go for other visits as well, when the parents are there, too, but it’s a nice gift for the parents to be able to get away and have some couple-time.

    by Jan — December 2, 2018

  12. Jennifer thank you for making me feel good about how our first visit went, and Jan I love your idea and can’t wait to get to that point. Sounds like a win/win for everyone!

    by Diane — December 2, 2018

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