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Advice for the First-Time Grandparent

How will you fit in once a new grandchild arrives?


(Originally published on Grandycamp

Just as we had many milestone experiences when we were younger, our children move on in their own lives; college, adult relationships, marriage and now, expecting a child of their own. It is an eternal question: How do we define ourselves in our new role as grandparent?

What will the parents want? What about the other set (or sets) of grandparents? What are the right things to say? What and when should we volunteer? What and when should we wait to be asked? What if we are far away? And still working?

Of course, there are no right answers, only the best answer on any given day. And you know how to do your best. I am three years out from the first grandchild, there has been a second, and, like anything else, it is all about the journey. I know it is different if it is your son or daughter expecting, but you will find some universal truths in your role.

Don’t be too quick with your list of things you will or won’t do, as your heart may change. And those new parents may reach a point of tearful desperation, and you will have pre-emptively shut the door. Remember your own desperation days and keep your heart open to more than just the baby.

Your First Task

Here is your first assignment, beyond shopping for cute baby clothes (that you will enjoy beyond measure — you are not going to believe all the cute stuff!):

Go out and get a paper on the day that baby is born and tuck it in a drawer — someday he/she will love reading about all that was happening that day, even the ads. Don’t bring it to the hospital or give it to the parents yet, as it will be lost in the confusion.

Your Second Task

Then, without a second thought, sit down with a pen and paper or your laptop and write. Write about the day, what the weather is like, where all the important players are, what they are thinking and hoping. Write about the first time you heard the baby’s name, what you thought in learning the gender … just write.

Write about what you remember from the child’s dad or mom being born and what you know about the parents’ last few days waiting. If you are at the hospital, write about all the parts of the day, including visiting family members and what they said. If you are home, write about all the parts of the day and the all-important phone call with the news.

Don’t say you aren’t a writer, just write. No rules. Tell a story, too, if you like, about you, or their mom or dad, what you remember about your grandparents — no rules. And tuck it away with the newspaper.

The First Week

I am mother to the new mother, and was with them for the first few days after coming home until they got their footing. I didn’t spend as much time at the hospital, saving up for sleepless nights. There are lots of visitors in the hospital, and new parents need rest and instruction.

My favorite memory is that first night home at 1 a.m., when the parents were exhausted and at a complete loss for what else to do to comfort a baby. I had rested earlier and sent them off to bed, with baby Jack tucked in with me on the couch. We didn’t see the parents again until 6 a.m., dazed and amazed.

I don’t always have the right answers, but I find answers in respect to my daughter by thinking about what I would have wanted in a given situation, and that has worked well enough. I know I cooked that week, even delicious “recovery” lunches, but I didn’t prepare a bunch of meals ahead of time. I did put lemon and mint in our glasses of water to make it feel more like a spa. (Well, a spa with burp cloths, baby wipes and a week of sporadic showering.)

You may be mother to the new father and find yourself caretaking in those first days as well. Families have lots of versions of everything. Breathe it all in; listen more than take charge. No one is asking you to be super mom, just be there with the little things you would have wanted.

It seemed like just five minutes before, I wasn’t ready to be a grandma. My youngest was just finishing high school and I had been a single mom since he was seven. It wasn’t vanity, just fatigue. But I don’t have to be responsible for every aspect of this little one’s life, just along for the ride. And who doesn’t like a good road trip?

Another Task: Finding Books for Baby

And now, the baby needs a book — actually, you both do. First, so he can focus his developing eyes on an image, and second, to hear the repetition of your voice. Did you know that babies’ first coos are reflective of the languages they hear? Reading to a baby gives us a way to speak to him or her with caring attention and a tenderness the baby understands. And it is a fine thing for a baby to relate reading with a warm snuggle, full attention and a comforting voice. You can also use the books to keep newborns awake a little bit longer if you are working on sleep patterns.

Here is a suggested reading list:

Bright Baby: Animals by Roger Priddy. Bright colors and large expressive photos engage baby to look and see. There are several in the series once baby is hooked.

Baby Faces by DK Publishing. Sweet, diverse baby faces showing that they are happy, sad, sleepy, and more. Babies are mesmerized when they see other children just like them, with bright colorful photos and simple word labels following babies’ busy day.

Everywhere Babies by Susan Meyers, illustrated by Marla Frazee. With an irresistible rhyming text and endearing illustrations, here is an exuberant celebration of playing, sleeping, crawling, and very noisy babies doing all the wonderful things babies do best.

Global Babies by Global Fund for Children. Meet babies from around the world in their diverse settings highlighting differences in clothing, daily life, and traditions, as well as demonstrating that babies around the world are nurtured by the love, caring, and joy that surround them.

Little Poems for Tiny Ears by Lin Oliver, illustrated by Tomie dePaola. This collection of original poems celebrates everyday things that enthrall little ones – playing peekaboo, banging pots and pans, splashing at bath time, and cuddling at bedtime. Full of contagious rhythm and rhyme, this inviting picture book introduces young children to the sound of poetry.

Find more book suggestions from retired children’s literature professors Lee Galda and Rebecca Rapport at Grandycamp.

By Karen Ritz
Karen Ritz is the creator of Grandycamp, a website  for active, busy grandparents. She has a B.S. in Children’s Literature and Illustration, University of Minnesota, is the illustrator of 46 children’s books, and “Gumma” to Jack and Grace.

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