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When Is the Right Time to Visit a New Grandchild?

Yes, it takes a village — but maybe first, a 'no-visitors' period

By Kathleen Doheny

When Erin and Peter Dawson brought their firstborn, June, home from the hospital in mid-November, there wasn't a welcoming party of adoring grandparents loaded down with casseroles and balloons waiting on their doorstep.

A grandmother holds her newborn grandchild
Credit: @5byseven via Twenty20

And that's just the way they wanted it, says Erin, 34, a Los Angeles producer. "For the first week, it was just us," she says. "We needed time to adapt.''

That concept makes sense to Emily Schwartz Ritzo and her husband Joe Ritzo of San Carlos, Calif. They brought their firstborn, Benjamin, home in late November. They had alerted family of their wishes for no visitors at home right away. "We wanted to come home, just the three of us," says Emily, 36, a public relations professional.

Yes, it does take a village to raise a child, as experts and parents agree. But the temporary no-visitor policy is a growing trend, say pediatricians and others who care for new parents and their babies.

"New parents don't want to hear: 'I didn't have an app [to log feedings, sleep, etc.] and I raised three kids.'"

And it can come as a surprise — and even a slap in the face —to new grandparents, especially first-timers. But it shouldn't, say experts who see the rationale behind it.

Fortunately for most, the no-visitor period is brief. The Dawsons invited visitors after a week, and her parents flew in, followed by her husband's mother.  After having time to settle in, Erin Dawson laughs, "We realized we had no idea what we were doing." So the concept of "it takes a village" was sounding good. The Ritzos had an even briefer no-visitor period before inviting family over and accepting offers of errands and other help.

Why the Grandparent Bans?

When new parents ask for space, even from grandparents, fatigue and health concerns about the new baby are often the reasons, says Alice Sterling Honig, professor emerita of child development at Syracuse University.

"Newborns are vulnerable," she says. And new parents are tired, especially if the labor was long, the pregnancy complicated and the mother had a C-section. In short: Some new parents ''are going to be tired as hell and might resent someone who wants to come visit," Honig says.

Health concerns are also valid. "In the first month of life, if a baby has a fever, that means an emergency room trip and a possible overnight stay," says Jennifer Shu, an Atlanta pediatrician and co-author of Heading Home with Your Newborn: From Birth to Reality.  Once visitors are allowed, she says, it's reasonable to ask them to update their immunization against whooping cough (Tdap vaccine) and to get a flu shot.

It's normal to be overprotective of a newborn, especially for first-time parents, says Lawrence Balter, a psychoanalyst and professor emeritus of applied psychology at New York University. And that protective stance may be magnified if it took parents a long time to conceive or they had extreme difficulty doing so, says Balter, who co-edited Child Psychology: A Handbook of Contemporary Issues.

The length of a no-visitor policy may also hinge on the temperament of the new parents. Some people want more control over things, others are more go-with-the-flow, Balter and other experts say.

The grandparents' own temperament and the pre-existing relationship they have with their adult children could also play a role in whether they're asked to visit sooner or later. If it was a rocky relationship pre-baby, don't expect a baby to change that. Even when new parents realize they have a lot to learn, the last thing they want is an experienced parent passing judgment or sounding critical, Balter says.

While Erin Dawson says she appreciated all the support they got when they needed it, and were ready for it, the short period of breathing room was good, too. "The house could be a mess, we could be a mess," she says.


Once the Ban Lifts

Resist the urge to meddle, Balter says, or to give unsolicited advice. New parents don't want to hear: "I didn't have an app [to log feedings, sleep, etc.] and I raised three kids."

While it's easy to slip into an authoritarian mode, wait for the questions, says Balter. "If they come to you and ask you a question, like 'Would you let the baby cry it out?' tell them how you did it."

Another tip echoed by the experts: if you're an out-of-town grandparent, book a hotel or an AirBnB. The last thing new parents need are houseguests.

Making Some Ground Rules

Once the Ritzos gave the all-clear for visitors, they set up some ground rules. Visits were arranged ahead of time. Her parents stayed for six weeks and they were over to help nearly every day, she says. The new parents felt comfortable telling the grandparents if they needed a break from the frequent visits—and everyone was OK with that.

When the friends' requests for visits started, the Dawsons decided on no more than one visit a day. That meant a couple of friends had to coordinate with each other.

Emily looks back on the newborn period with gratitude for her parents' and in-laws' help. "They did a ton of errands, and they grocery shopped," she says

Even parents without a no-visitor policy set some ground rules for visiting. Shelly Kubinski, 37, of Montgomery, Ill., and her husband, Jason, are parents to a son, now 4, and a daughter, now 9. With both babies, family and friends came to see them soon after the births, including visits at the hospital. "When I got home, people would ask before they came over, but didn't give a long notice,'' Shelly says. "I asked them to ask."

It didn't occur to her to ban visitors, say Kubinski, who works as a hospice nurse. "Now that I look back, I probably should have had a no-visitor policy so I could get into a routine," she notes. But she, too, was grateful for all the help.

Whatever the length of the no-visitor policy, sooner or later, new parents agree, a grandparent's help is needed, sought out — and valued.

Kathleen Doheny is a Los Angeles-based freelance journalist who writes about health and lifestyle topics. Read More
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