Getting to know your grandbaby from afar is hard, but distance isn’t a barrier to a baby bonding with grandparents.
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Welcoming your first grandchild is so exciting, but not all of us can be there to meet them. When grandparents are at a distance, it sometimes seems as if we won’t have the chance to bond with our grandchild during the early months. We worry that missing that crucial developmental stage will have an impact on our entire relationship.
Have no fear! First, unless you met your spouse at birth or have never made a friend, you know it’s entirely possible to have a meaningful relationship with someone you meet later in life. If you don’t meet your grandchild until they are out of the cradle, you can still form a deep, lasting bond.
Second, there are ways for you to make sure your grandbaby knows you from birth, even if you aren’t there. Babies learn through sight and sound, and you can make sure they hear and see you with these four ideas.
Message in a Bear
This plush bear from Amazon has a voice recorder inside. You’ll record a 20 second message, then send the bear to your grandchild’s parents. They can activate it so your voice becomes part of your grandbaby’s world. Not sure what to say? Sing a simple song like Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star, or recite a nursery rhyme. Or tell them how much you love them, or how much you look forward to meeting them. You can order the Record-a-Voice Bear here.
A Book of You
Pinhole Press’ board books are ideal for helping babies learn the faces of distance grandparents. Create a book with 12-20 photos of you as you go about your day. Include pictures of you making silly faces or various expressions. Include distance aunts and uncles or cousins, if you’d like. My grandchildren adore the one we made for them with all their loved ones, and it’s held up incredibly well. Order your own book here.
We are incredibly lucky to be grandparents in the age of video chat. Facetime, Skype, Zoom, Google Meet—whatever platform you use, having the opportunity to interact with your grandchild from afar is perhaps the most exciting technical advance I can think of (though depositing a check with my phone might be a close second!).
Just remember that a baby’s attention span is miniscule, and don’t expect them to engage with the screen for a few months. In the early days, just talking to them for a minute or two is enough to start getting them familiar with your voice. As they get older, they will eventually notice you and begin to interact! A great time for FaceTime is while they are having tummy time—just ask their parents to set the screen where you can see the baby and sing your favorite songs! Check out this blog post for video chat ideas when they get a little older.
Record-a-Story Books from Hallmark
The product development team at Hallmark clearly knows their market: They have a collection of recordable story books that are designed with grandparents in mind. The stories include some wonderful titles like Under the Same Moon, Even Elephants Have Grandmas, and All the Ways I Love You. You buy the book, record the story, then send it to your grandbaby. As parents share the book with them, they’ll become familiar with your voice. (Hopefully you will do better than me and be able to read emotional stories without choking up!) Find your favorite at Hallmark.com or your local Hallmark store.
(Just a note: Amazon carries some recordable books, but they have terrible reviews. The Hallmark ones are worth the extra money, so I linked to them even though I’m not an affiliate.)
Do you have any other tips for bonding with baby from a distance? Please share them in the comments!
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Our Lovevery review will help you decide if a Lovevery subscription is worth it for your grandchildren.
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If you take a look at our gift guide, you’ll notice that there aren’t a huge number of toys on the list. That’s because I am a firm believer in the idea that the more toys a child has, the less they engage in creative play. My son will confirm that I rarely buy my grandkids toys—with one exception: Lovevery.
I got my youngest granddaughter a Lovevery kit subscription when she was three months old. I started with a one-year subscription, and then extended it for another year. Since she was too young to be aware of gifts, this has counted as Christmas and birthday presents for two full years. Her parents appreciated that the subscription boxes arrived off-holiday, so that the gift overwhelm was lessened—and there was something new and exciting for all three kids to investigate every few months.
Here's what my daughter-in-law had to say:
When we first started receiving the Lovevery box, I had three children, aged 3 months, 2 years, and 4 years. The older kids were justifiably jealous that the little baby got new toys every few months and they did not. I solved the problem by making opening the boxes a family affair (the baby couldn't complain about it at that point). We would put the box on the playroom floor and have all of the kids open it like it was Christmas morning.
Even though the toys were for young babies, all of the kids had fun "teaching" the baby to use them and figuring out other ways to play with them. Even though the toys are designed to be developmentally appropriate for specific ages, their bright colors, warm wooden structures, and creative set-ups make them appealing to all children. I have found many of the toys hidden away in my oldest child's room over the years!
Are Lovevery Kits Worth It?
Each Lovevery kit includes an assortment of toys and books that are designed help build new neural connections for a specific age by experts in child development. The high quality toys are made with sustainable, organic and natural materials. Most are open-ended playthings that lead naturally to hours of creative play, like the bunnies my grandchildren still love:
Though there have been so many wonderful toys and puzzles in our Lovevery boxes, one of our favorite toys came in one of the earlier boxes: three tiny, round bunnies and a simple, wool bunny house. The bunnies are just adorable.
The bunnies don't do anything. They don't light up, they don't make noise; they're just there to receive love. The wool bunny house doubles as a nice purse. We've had so many days throughout the years of just playing simple toddler games with these bunnies. Hiding them. Hopping them around. Carrying them in their bunny house from place to place. It's the kind of toy that exemplifies Lovevery's approach: simple, multi-purpose, and beautiful.
I don't think I'll ever get rid of them - I could see decorating a lonely shelf with them sometime in the future, as a pleasant aesthetic object, and also for the memories.
I’ll let our family librarian, my daughter-in-law, tell you about the books:
Though the toys are great, my daughter's favorite part of each box has been the books. As a children's librarian, I have to applaud her taste. There are few books on the market right now like Lovevery's collection of board books.
Instead of being abstract, cute, long-winded or moralizing, the Lovevery books are concrete, simple, and directly applicable to the life of a toddler. They have clear, realistic photos of toddlers going to the doctor, baking muffins, exploring the woods, having birthday parties, and going to the park. My daughter gasps every time she sees the boy fall at the park, or the girl get a shot. She knows just how that feels.
My all-time favorite Lovevery experience happened by accident, when we received a box with a book called Bedtime for Zoe. In it, Zoe had the exact same pajamas as my daughter: A long-sleeved, zip-up number with a white background and a variety of bugs and flowers decorating it. Zoe even had the same doll—not such a coincidence, as it in with an earlier Lovevery box.
She wanted to get ready for bed just like Zoe every single night. She took a bath, got her matching PJs on, held her matching blanket, and snuggled her matching doll. She would look at Zoe and exclaim, "that's me!" Of course, this caused a lot of problems with laundry, and I found myself throwing the Zoe PJs into every single load that went into the washer. But it was worth it. Toddlers can be hard to put to bed at this stage, and Zoe got her (and us) through it.
Our ultimate Lovevery review: yes, we have found the Lovevery kits to be worth every penny. If you have a grandchild under the age of five, I bet you will be just as impressed with the quality, design, and lasting appeal of the Lovevery toys. You can find out more on their website.
Have you checked out the rest of the suggestions on our gift guide? We’ve got ideas for every age!
The latest car seat guidelines to keep your grandchild safe in the car
Do you remember baby car seats from the 1970’s? They weren’t so much designed to keep children safe as to keep them from roaming around the car. By the eighties, safety became the main focus, and by 1986 they were mandatory in all fifty US states and Australia. Canada and the UK did not have universal car seat laws until 2006/7!
Car seats, and the advice about the best way to use them, have definitely evolved since our children were young. For example, it is now recommended that babies be placed in a rear-facing car seat for the first two to four years of life. This provides maximum protection for the head, neck and spine during the years that their developing bodies are the most vulnerable to injury.
If you will ever be driving your grandchild, it’s important to know what the latest recommendations are. Here are some tips that will get you started on the path to safety.
If you want to buy a car seat for your own car, there are safe options available at all price points. Make sure you’ve checked with the parents to confirm you get the right kind for your grandchild’s age and size. Also, not all seats fit safely in all vehicles, so try to test a seat out before you buy it.
Never borrow or buy a used car seat unless you know its history. It may be unsafe if it’s old or has been in an accident. Always check Recalls.gov when buying or borrowing car seats, and check the seat itself for the expiration date. (Did you know they have expiration dates? As they age, parts can become brittle or worn, making them less effective. If you can’t find the date on the car seat, you can call the manufacturer.)
A frightening 59% of car seats are not installed correctly. Proper installation can mean the difference between life and death in an accident. Make sure you read and follow both your vehicle’s owner’s manual and the car seat manufacturer’s instructions carefully. Proper installation is crucial to protecting your grandbaby.
Pay special attention to these four common mistakes:
Install the seat when you are unhurried—not when you first need to get your grandbaby somewhere. It’s not unusual for it to take 30-45 minutes to properly install a new car seat for the first time. Make the effort to search for a YouTube video or guide for your specific seat and car. Websites like The Car Seat Lady and Car Seats for the Littles are great resources. When properly installed, the car seat should move no more than one inch from side to side.
If possible, get a car seat inspection from a certified technician. Find one at nhtsa.gov.
When your grandchild is in the seat, make sure the chest clip is properly aligned: about even with your grandchild’s armpits. If it’s too low, they can be ejected in a crash; too high, and a neck injury can occur. The harness straps should be at or above the child’s shoulders in a forward-facing seat and at or below the shoulders in a rear-facing seat. The harness should be tight enough so that you can’t pinch the strap together at all. Don’t buckle the straps over bulky clothing, coats or blankets.
Don’t let your grandchild eat or drink while they are in their car seat, and avoid toys that could cause an injury if they were to go flying in a crash.
And finally, use the seat every single time. No exceptions.
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Our list of boundaries for grandparents might help avoid grandparents pushing boundaries.
Ah, boundaries! They are the cornerstone of healthy relationships, and yet sometimes they can be so hard to define. Defining them is important, though, especially when the first grandbaby comes along. Being an involved and supportive grandparent is so much more rewarding when you know what the expectations are.
Parents repeatedly complain about grandparents pushing boundaries. They sometimes wish they could print up and deliver a list of boundaries for grandparents.
Well, now they can! But before you read the following list, keep this in mind:
First, this list is long and some of the boundaries may seem harsh. Look at these rules as a starting point for your own conversations, not as a mandate for all grandparents. Some of the boundaries listed may not be of any concern to your grandchild’s parents, and there may be issues that aren’t even on here.
Second, every family is different. What may be a non-negotiable, “you’ll-never-see-your-grandkids-again” rule in one family may not matter at all to another set of parents. (This could even be true within a family: while one of your daughters may forbid all sugar for her children, another daughter may serve Oreos with dinner.)
Read on for a list of boundaries for grandparents.
What Grandparents Should Do
What Grandparents Should NOT Do
Some of these rules may seem like common sense to one person and an extreme overreaction to another. That’s why it’s important for grandparents and parents to talk about boundaries. If your grandchild’s parents haven’t started the conversation, it doesn’t mean they don’t care. It may just mean they don’t want to offend you. You’ll make life easier for everyone if you bring up the subject of boundaries yourself.
When it comes down to it, there are really two main rules for grandparents to remember:
Having healthy family boundaries comes down to clear and respectful communication. Keep in mind that some boundaries can be undefined as parents adjust to their new role. Also, boundaries can shift as time goes by. Making yourself open to communicating with parents can help navigate those changes and work through any misunderstanding caused by unclear or changing boundaries.
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Grandparents need to find the delicate balance of helping out without shutting out either parent
When Pam’s daughter, Marlie, had her first baby, Pam was lucky enough to get to be there for the birth. She flew from Ohio to Arizona just in time for the delivery, and then stayed with the new parents for three weeks to help out during those exhausting early days.
By Pam’s account, her visit was everything she could have hoped for. She was by Marlie’s side as she was laboring and got to hold her first grandchild shortly after his birth. She’d always been close to her daughter, and it seemed as if Pam sometimes knew what Marlie needed before she even asked. Since she was a light sleeper, she even helped out in the middle of the night. She felt honored to be able to play such a huge role in her grandson’s first weeks of life.
Marlie was incredibly grateful to have her mom there, too. She was happy to see grandma taking over the baby when she was overwhelmed. She knew she could rely on her mom for anything she needed, and having Mom’s experience and round-the-clock presence was a blessing in those early days.
The two weeks Pam spent with the new family were pure joy for her. Bonding with her grandson as she held him was magical, and watching her daughter gain confidence as a mother filled her with a new kind of love.
You know who wasn’t happy? Marlie’s husband, Hunter.
After waiting for years to become a father, Hunter felt completely shut out of the experience. He had hardly gotten to take in his son’s features before he was asked to hand the newborn to grandma. For the entire time Pam was there, every time the baby needed something, Marlie or Pam jumped in. He felt like Marlie and Pam were the parents, admitting, “It was like I was just the sperm donor, and they’d invited me to watch them raise their baby.”
This is why some parents don’t let anyone visit at first. For them to forge a strong parenting team, they need the chance to figure it out together. Allowing them the space to rely on each other will strengthen their relationship. Leaving them to figure out what to do when the baby is crying will give them confidence as parents. Letting them have the privilege of those early days of bonding will not weaken your own bond with your grandchild, but will strengthen the family as a whole.
If you are lucky enough to be included in the early days of your grandchild’s life, here are some guidelines to make sure you don’t inadvertently become another Pam.
Concentrate on helping by keeping the household running.
Instead of diapering, feeding, soothing and bathing the baby, volunteer to cook, clean, shop, or walk the dog. See more suggestions here.
Never step in to care for the baby without being asked.
You may know exactly what to do, but jumping in prevents new parents from figuring it out. They’ll be far more likely to ask for help if you aren’t offering suggestions when they don’t want them.
Always give both parents the chance to care for the baby before stepping in.
Notice that the baby needs a diaper change while mom is in the shower? Let dad know there’s an opportunity to hone his diapering skills.
Watch to make sure you don’t spend more time caring for the baby than either of the parents.
There may be circumstances where you do need to step up, but if both parents are healthy and present, they should be doing most of the baby care. Let them know you are there to provide a break if they need it, but that you are confident they can handle it.
If your daughter is turning to you instead of her partner, ask him or her to help.
When she hands your fussy grandson to you to burp, pass him along to dad, asking how many ways he knows to burp a newborn. Sharing your experience this way will help him gain the skills and confidence he needs so your daughter will see him as a valuable partner.
Unless you are moving in full time, doing too much baby care while you are there will just make it harder when you leave. Instead, spend time setting parents up for success after you depart. Fill the freezer, stock the pantry, weed the garden—do whatever you can to make life easier for the parents both during your visit and after your departure.
Sometimes the best way to help is by just stepping back.
What do you think? Do you agree? Let me know in the comments!