Tips for supporting new parents with love and encouragement
When I wrote last week about the importance of showing your love for your grandchildren’s parents, I had a reader ask for specific ideas, especially for those of us at a distance. This week, I want to share some of those ideas!
1. Offer to help out—the right way.
Don’t just say, “Let me know if I can help.” Very few people will ever take you up on such an offer, and your own children are often less likely to do so. Rather, suggest specific ways you could help. Of course, this can be tricky, because there is always the risk that your offer will be translated as a criticism. If you were to say, “I’d love to pay for a housecleaning service”, there is every chance that what your daughter-in-law will hear is “You are a terrible housekeeper.”
Instead, try saying something like this: “I’d love to do something to help lighten your load. Would you be interested in some help with laundry, or housekeeping, or maybe a meal service?” Or “I remember how hard it is to have any time to yourself and I’d love to do something to help you. Can I pay for a sitter/watch the baby so you can go get a massage?”
There are more ways to help new parents in this post, but make sure your offer to help is presented in a judgement-free way. “I stumbled on an article about family sleep consultants. Did you know they existed? Look into it and see if it’s something that might interest you—I’d be happy to help cover the cost. I wish I’d know about them when I had little ones!” This is more likely to succeed than, “It must be hard (judgement alert!) to have Harvey still waking up so much at night. Let me hire a sleep consultant to get him sorted out.”
Showing love for your grandchildren shouldn’t replace showing love for your children.
Deep. Endless. Blissful. Magical.
These are some of the words grandparents used to describe their love for their grandchildren. If you are a grandparent, you know even these words don’t capture how you feel about the little people you’ve been blessed with. They have changed your life for the better. They are teaching you a whole new kind of love, and you are finding a myriad of ways to show them how much they mean to you.
Author Richard Eyre give us a handbook for every grandfather.
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Looking for books for a new grandmother to help her embrace her new role? There are several great choices. Looking for books for a new grandfather? Not so easy! So far, I’ve only found one: Being a Proactive Grandfather by Richard Eyre.
Luckily, it’s all any grandfather really needs. Eyre, as a grandfather to roughly 30 grandchildren, has enough experience to know what works. He shares his creative and practical ideas in a way that makes you wish you could get started right away. While some of his methods will be difficult for long-distance grandfathers or those who are still actively working, the concepts behind them will inspire every grandfather who is committed to a real relationship with their grandchildren.
Eyre sums it up here:
"Passive grandfathering—just paying a little attention once in a while or trying to lend a bit of financial support as needed—is not much fun. The thing that often holds us back from greater involvement with our grandkids is that, in some ways, they lie a bit outside our comfort zones. We don’t know exactly what they need or how to go about Proactive Grandfathering."
Being a Proactive Grandfather is an excellent guide for those grandfathers who don’t know how to get outside their comfort zone, or for those who want more ideas to help shape their role as Grandpa. This one is worth buying for every grandfather!
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Why we need to change the way we talk about loving our grandchildren
“Spoil them and send them home!”
How many times have you heard grandparents use that phrase? It’s on coffee mugs and T-shirts and memes all over the internet. Perhaps you’ve even said it! After all, one of the benefits of having grandchildren is that you aren’t in charge of all the hard parts of raising them. There is a gleeful freedom in knowing that you can concentrate on having fun with them without having to deal with the consequences.
During a recent conversation about “Grandparent Love” on the podcast, The Grand Life, I talked with Emily Morgan and Kerry Byrne about the idea of spoiling our grandchildren. We all agreed the phrase needs to go!
First, let’s just look at the word spoil. Can you think of anything else we would declare we want to spoil? We don’t set out to spoil our children, or our vacation, or our new carpet. No one wants to be around someone who spoils the ending, the mood or the surprise. We don’t like it when someone spoils a joke, or our view, or an important occasion. Spoiling something is not an admirable goal! The definition of the word is very clear:
Obviously, we don’t really mean we want to diminish or harm our grandchildren. We mean we want to indulge them, pamper them, treat them like the special little people they are. This leads to my second objection to the idea of spoiling our grands and then sending them home: I don’t want to make my kids’ job as parents any harder than it already is. While we all want our grandkids to know how much we love them, there are ways to show them that without overindulging them or being more lenient than their parents.
What your grandchildren want most from you is your time and attention, and you can make them feel cherished without spoiling them at all. Instead of buying them more toys, play with them. Instead of sneaking them extra cookies, let them help you make dinner. Talk to them, send them mail, ask them about their likes and dislikes, give them your undivided attention, be there for them. You’ll find it far more rewarding than spoiling them.
What do you think? Is there a case to be made for spoiling grandchildren?
Creating a bond now will help you connect to teenage grandchildren later.
Do you remember that feeling when you first held your grandchild? That physical rush of connection with this baby that you were just handed?
My oldest grandson is 4. Yet I first felt that rush of emotion 14 years ago, when I held my niece JP.
She wasn’t my first niece or nephew—not by a long shot—but she was my youngest sister’s first child. That sister was born when I was 15, and she was very much my first baby. So when her child was placed in my arms, it felt like a miracle. I felt an instant connection that I hadn’t felt with any of my other siblings’ children. And though I’m incredibly fond of all of my nieces and nephews, there is still something special about JP.
Now JP is 14, and we don’t see each other often. But she’s recently gotten an Instagram account, and I can see what she is doing and thinking regularly. And I can see, that as a teenager, she still needs adults in her life to help her process the world. Her parents are doing a great job of guiding her, but it’s going to get harder and harder for them as she gets older. And that’s when grandparents (or aunts!) can be the adults she needs.
A Secret Weapon for Connection with Your Grandkids
Did you read about my grandparenting vision statement? One of my core beliefs is that my purpose is to teach my grandchildren to explore the world. This can be hard as a long-distance grandparent, especially during a pandemic. I’d love to regularly take them on trips around their town—or mine (or anyone’s really!). I’d like to point out the constellations, show them the difference between a lake and an ocean, and tell them about all the places we’ve lived. I wish we could sit down with maps and make plans for where to explore next. Unfortunately, that’s not something that can happen as regularly as I’d like.
So recently, I sent a box full of ways for them to plan and explore the world from their house. How will this foster connection? Knowing where you are in the world, and where the people you love are, helps make sense of the universe. It creates a framework for conversations, and a springboard for future plans. Plus, it shows them that I value exploration, while giving them something new to learn and do!
Here’s what I included:
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I also sent maps: this set of United States, world and solar system maps, and a local street map of their city so they could find where they lived. They were a big hit, as was this compass!
And finally, I sent materials to make their own maps: some graph paper and colored pencils. My grandson worked hard on his map of his house and yard, but you'll have to follow me on Instagram to see the exciting backyard he designed!
A strong relationship with your grandchildren deserves thoughtful planning.
As I shared in the January newsletter, having a grandparent vision statement allows us to commit to the relationship with our grandchildren in an intentional, meaningful way. It reminds us of what we really hold important, and acts as a starting point for creating the relationship we want. It allows us to move past the idea of “spoiling” our grandchildren to a place of true connection.
Over the last couple of weeks, I shared some tips on how to write your vision statement and talked about the importance of sharing it with your grandchildren’s parents. Now I want to talk about how to actually achieve the goals you set in your vision. As Antoine de Saint Exupery said, “A goal without a plan is just a wish.” It’s time to make that plan.
The next step is sharing your vision statement with parents.
Have you written your grandparent vision statement? Last week, we talked about why that’s an important first step in committing to your role as a grandparent. The next step is both simple and, for some, difficult: sharing your vision with your grandchild’s parents. The easy part is this: once you’ve got your vision written down, send them an email with the details. In that email, or in a follow up conversation, explain why you wrote it and what it means to you. That might be the hard part for you—because it may feel as if you are sharing something personal. But it is incredibly important to share it, for more than one reason.
Sharing shows you value your role as part of a team.
Too often, parents feel cast aside once they provide you with a grandchild. It’s hard for many of us to lift our focus from the enchanting being that has entered our lives! By sharing your vision statement with them, you let parents know that you value your relationship to them in their role as parents. It shows that you recognize that they are the key to realizing your goals as a grandparent, and sets the groundwork for a relationship based on mutual respect.