I became a grandparent for the first time this summer when Brayden James Terry was born in August. What a delightful new addition to our family. It is heartwarming to see my daughter in her new role as a mother.
It is also interesting to experience my new role as a grandmother. It feels a bit strange to defer to my daughter in matters of “motherhood” since that has been my job for the last 28 years. It’s the beginning of a new learning process as my label changes from Mom to Grandma.
Maybe that’s why this article rang true when I read “The 7 Unbreakable Laws of Grandparenting” by Barbara Graham on Next Avenue, a website devoted to aging issues (www.nextavenue.org). Graham says, “for many parents used to being in charge, deferring to the rules and wishes of our adult children and their partners is humbling.”
So as the family gathers for the holidays, here are Graham’s rules for grandparents:
1. Seal your lips. Even if you’re an expert who has written 13 bestsellers on parenthood, your adult sons and daughters will assume you know nothing about childrearing. Your advice and opinions will not be welcome, unless directly solicited. (Even then, it’s iffy as to whether the new parents really want to hear your answer.) Tread lightly.
2. You might love thy grandchild as thine own — but never forget he or she is not thine own. In the early days, I felt as if I were auditioning for the part of grandparent. Did I hold the baby properly? Didn’t I know that you never put a newborn down on her stomach? It took me a few blunders to secure their trust — which must be renewed every so often, like a driver’s license.
3. Abide by the rules of the new parents. The dos and don’ts of childrearing change with every generation. If I had listened to my mother, I would have held my son only while feeding him (every four hours) — and not one second longer, lest he turn into a “mama’s boy.” These days, with the crush of childrearing information available, most new parents are up to speed — and beyond — but we grandparents most definitely are not.
4. Accept your role. If you’re the mother of a new father, you might not have the same access to your grandchild as a maternal grandmother, at least in the beginning. New mothers are often the primary caretakers of babies, and they tend to lean on their mothers for support. This is not a problem — unless you think it is. Your grandchild will love you too. Anyhow, all grandparents — whether on the maternal or paternal side — are at risk of being shut out if they fail to observe any of these commandments. Try to think of yourself as a relief pitcher in a baseball game: You’re on the bench until your adult children call you up and then you must do as they say if you want to stay in the game.
5. Don’t be surprised if old issues get triggered when your child has a child. For many people, feelings of competition with their grandchild’s other grandparents provoke traumatic flashbacks to junior high school. This is especially true now, given the proliferation of divorce and stepfamilies. Some grandparents are able to lavish the kids with expensive gifts, while others live much closer to the children than their counterparts. Still, a little goodwill goes a long way. The heart is a generous muscle capable of loving many people at once, and most of us are able to get past the initial rush of jealousy to find our special place in the new order.
6. Get a life. Sometimes I’ve become overly embroiled in my concern for my son and his family and my desire to be an integral part of their lives has taken precedence over things I needed to do to maintain my own sense of well-being — and I’ve paid the price. Hence, my mantra: “I have my life. They have theirs.” We are close and connected, yet separate. Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries.
7. Let go of all expectations. When Isabelle Eva was born, she was living around the corner from us, but when she was 2 months old, her parents moved her overseas. Not only was I heartbroken, my expectations about my involvement in her life were turned upside down. Yet once I was able to let go of my agenda — which took some doing — I found that I still felt deeply connected. There are bound to be unpredictable plot twists in every family narrative, but unless you are raising your grandchildren, your adult children are writing their own story. (See No. 4: Relief pitcher, on the bench.)
Good advice for the holidays, or anytime.
Linda K. Beech is Cottonwood District Extension agent for family and consumer sciences.