Being the kind of grandparent that fits what you, your children and your grandchildren want, involves compromise concession and conciliation on all sides.
Becoming a grandparent can offer the best of both worlds – all the love and fun, without the ultimate responsibility of raising the kids. Yet it can also trigger a minefield of emotions. First of all, you can’t choose precisely when you’ll become one. This is an almighty life change, which confers on you a new status and role in your family.
Here are some of the more common issues that sometimes arise when you become a grandparent for the first time. Everyone's situation is different, but if things get a little tricky, maybe this will help.
Do we offer advice?
‘We’re involved with our grandchildren but would like to do more. Our daughter and son-in-law have a six-month-old baby. We love spending time with them but whenever we offer advice, it’s rebuffed. What can we do?’
It’s understandable that you’re keen to pitch in, but new mums and dads are bombarded with advice – from friends, from fellow novice parents, health visitors, even strangers in the park. It can be overwhelming. Plus, unfairly or otherwise, your daughter and son-in-law may feel that times have moved on and that your suggestions are out of date. The best thing to do is to make sure they know you're on hand, so if they do start to feel overwhelmed, they know they have somewhere to turn.
Should we move closer?
‘Recently, we suggested moving nearer to our son and his partner so we could see more of our grandchildren. So far, their reaction had been decidedly lukewarm.’
If there’s been physical distance between you for some time, this is probably due to a fear of change. They could be worrying that, having arrived in a new town and being far away from your friends, you’ll fill your time by constantly dropping in uninvited. An honest chat really can allay their fears. Make it clear that you would continue to lead your own lives, respect their boundaries (for instance, that you’d always phone before popping round) and simply wish to enjoy your grandchildren while they are still, well, children. Hopefully, your son and his partner will realise what an asset you could be to his young family.
Divorce is causing a problem
‘Our son and his wife divorced last year. He has limited access to his children and we have virtually none. What can we do?’
This is unquestionably a tough situation. Sadly, grandparents don’t have an automatic right to apply for contact and taking a legal route can be stressful and costly. The first port of call should be your son who, hopefully, will want – and try – to ensure that you remain an important part of the children’s lives. Could you see them during part of his access times or offer to babysit? Whether their mother is amenable to you visiting occasionally depends on your relationship with her. In an ideal scenario, she will understand that the relationship between children and their grandparents is special and that they have lots to gain from spending time with you. If it’s too difficult at present, keep in touch by sending letters and photos or by chatting to them online.
Too many is too much for us
'We enjoy seeing our grandchildren, but not necessarily all at once. Having one of our grandchildren to stay at a time is fine, but sometimes we’re asked to have all three at once, which is just too much of a handful.’
Naturally, you dont want anyone to assume that favouritism is at play. A quiet word might be all that’s needed to explain that three little ones are rather a lot for you to manage. Try suggesting that, with just one child to stay at a time, you’re able to give them undivided attention as well as a breather from their brothers or sisters, and what could possibly please a child more than that?
Taken for granted
‘We’re a bit overwhelmed by our amount of involvement. Our daughter-in-law has taken to dropping off our granddaughter whenever she’s meeting friends for lunch. She doesn’t even phone to check if it’s convenient.’
No one likes being taken for granted. Try to tackle this diplomatically before it erodes your relationship with your daughter-in-law and possibly even your son and granddaughter. Explain that casual drop-offs aren’t in your granddaughter's best interests. What if you’re busy and can’t give her your full attention, or if you happen to be out when they descend on your doorstep? Your daughter-in-law would be faced with one very disappointed little girl. It’s reasonable to expect that these visits are prearranged for times that suit all of you.
Worried about the holiday
‘Our son has asked us to go on holiday with his family. We imagine they’ll expect lots of babysitting but we need a break too!’
Your son and his partner are likely to be desperate for a breather – so yes, you’ll probably find youself babysitting for the odd evening. But, before you step on that plane, make it clear that you’re looking forward to having time out as well. If you’re staying in a hotel, there may be babysitting services, so all of you can enjoy an evening or two out together.
Nervous around newborns
‘Our son and his girlfriend have just had a baby boy. While we are more than happy to help with chores, we’re not so sure about holding and handling a tiny newborn.’
When several decades have elapsed since you raised your own babies, it’s natural to feel nervous around a small wriggling bundle. But remember that babies are pretty robust – the more you pick him up for cuddles and songs, the more relaxed he’ll be in your arms and you’ll all start to feel less anxious. Happiness is infectious! Don’t feel pressured to cradle him for hours – little and often works best. You’ll soon find it’s more rewarding than doing the cleaning.