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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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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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!
Grandparents can learn a lot about what parents need by following helpful social media accounts aimed at parents.
Don’t you hate it when your social media feed is full of ads that make it seems like they are listening to your conversations, or even your thoughts? They claim they aren’t listening, but it’s hard to believe when you are near someone talking about their ski trip and the next time you open Facebook there is an ad for Park City.
I do know that much of it depends on the accounts you follow. I’m constantly getting targeted on Instagram with ads aimed at parents, even though my days of needing breast pumps are long gone. It’s understandable though, because I follow more than a few accounts that are aimed at parents.
I think you should, too.
It’s incredibly helpful to see what parents are being bombarded with. By following accounts that are aimed at parents, we can keep up with what they are seeing. This means that instead of having to ask why they are doing something different from the way we did it, we can just step in with support if needed.
What are the newest gadgets, both useful and absurd? What’s the latest research on screen time or fluoride or the power of nature? What are the emerging theories on feeding/sleeping/playing? Why are car seat recommendations so different now than they were 5, 10, 20 years ago?
No matter which social media platform you spend time on, there are great parent-focused accounts to follow. I like Instagram, because it’s easier to see what I want to see and avoid what I don't. Here are some of the Instagram accounts I find incredibly useful:
For all things safety related, @safebeginnings is a gold mine of information. @safeintheseat is the best for information about car seat safety.
@pedsdoctalk shares valuable content about pediatric health and more.
The content @growing.intuitive.eaters shares about helping children have a healthy relationship with food is entertaining and educational.
@likeasistersupport keeps me in the loop about the needs of new parents with research-based information on feeding and more, and @resttoyournest has taught me a lot about current sleep theories.
I’ve learned so much about new ways of parenting from @toryhalpin, and you will, too!
If your grandchildren are neurodivergent or just high-spirited, follow one or all of these: @maryvangeffen, @copingskillsforkids and @benjamin.mizrahi.
To learn more about the struggles parents are facing with burnout and more, follow @runtellmom and @feminist.mom.therapist.
Following a wide range of informational accounts will enable you to be more supportive of parents. Just remember, you are trying to understand parents better, not educate them with what you learn. Depending on your relationship, you may be able to share an account or post without causing offense. Here are some ways to approach it if you want to share a post.
When sharing an account, you can first see if parents are already following it. If they aren’t, you can say something like: “I stumbled across this account and it seems to have really great information. Thought I’d share!”
Be wary of misinformation, which is abundant on social media. Before sharing something from a source you haven’t checked out completely, do a little research. When I see something I’m unfamiliar with, like a claim that high fructose corn syrup is banned in other countries, I always try to learn more about it by verifying it with independent sources. (Turns out it’s not, it’s just labeled differently—thanks, @foodsciencebabe.)
Finally, make sure that you aren’t sharing things too often. Save it for when there is something really worthwhile, and use the opportunity to open up a conversation.
Are you more of a Facebook or TikTok user? Let me know in the comments and I’ll suggest accounts on those platforms for you to follow!
Making sure immunizations are up-to-date is one of the things expectant grandparents should put on their to-do list.
I found myself needing a new primary care physician when my grandson was about a year old. After a long search I found a doctor who seemed to have all the qualities I was looking for. At our first appointment, she put me at ease immediately as we chatted about why I was looking for a new physician. Then she reviewed my health history, and said with clear surprise, “I don’t see a recent DtaP booster on your record. Didn’t you need one to visit your grandson?”
It had never occurred to me that I should be getting vaccine boosters to protect my newborn grandchildren, and my last doctor hadn’t ever mentioned it. Nor did my son or his wife bring it up, probably assuming I was as boosted as I needed to be. I’ve since learned that getting immunizations is one of the things expectant grandparents should put on their to-do list.
Remember, I’m not a health professional and this is not medical advice. Rather, I’m providing this information for you to discuss with your own health care provider.
Why do grandparents need immunizations?
Newborns can’t be immunized from some of the highly contagious diseases for which we have vaccines. At the same time, those diseases are incredibly dangerous in a child that young. The best way to protect them is by making sure the people around them are vaccinated and boosted, so that there is almost no chance they can pass along a preventable illness.
I saw this first hand when my son contracted measles when he was a year old. He wasn’t due for the immunization for another few months, and watching his limp little body fight off a serious disease was frightening. I firmly believe that anyone who is anti-vaccine has never seen their child seriously ill.
Which immunizations do grandparents need?
Here’s a list of the most important immunizations for grandparents. Even if you’ve been vaccinated against some of them in the past, you may need a booster. Talk to your doctor about the following:
TdaP At the top of the list is the TdaP, which protects you and your grandchild from tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis. Since diphtheria is incredibly rare, and tetanus isn’t contagious, the big concern is pertussis. Pertussis, more commonly known as whooping cough, is both highly contagious and extremely serious. About half of the babies who contract pertussis end up in the hospital, and the mortality rate babies under six weeks old is over 30%. Some hospitals don’t allow visitors to the birthing wing without proof of current vaccination.
MMR It's also important to make sure your MMR is up-to-date. Measles, mumps and rubella are all preventable illnesses that can have make a baby very sick. Of these, the biggest concern is measles. Though the death rate for measles is low, the potential long-term effects can be devastating: it can cause brain damage, deafness, or a truly frightening disease called subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE). (Which I’m really glad I hadn’t read about before researching this article, or I would have spent a lot of years worrying after my son had measles.)
Pneumonia & flu You’ll also want to get a pneumonia vaccine for pneumococcal diseases, as bacterial pneumonia in infants is serious and can cause life-threatening infections of the blood, brain and spinal cord. Since bacterial pneumonia is also dangerous for older adults, you’ll be protecting yourself as well. The same hold true for influenza—you are protecting both yourself and your infant grandchild against an illness that can be serious.
Shingles While babies can’t get shingles, they could contract chickenpox from someone infected with shingles. The newer Shingrix vaccine cannot transmit the virus the way the older, live vaccine did, so there is no danger of giving your grandchild chickenpox after being vaccinated.
Covid-19 While Covid-19 has so far shown to be relatively mild in babies, getting this vaccine is important to protect yourself and the rest of your community.
When should grandparents get vaccines?
As soon as you know there’s a baby on the way, you’ll want to check with your doctor about what shots you need. It takes time for your body to build immunity, and some vaccines require more than one dose to provide full protection. Your doctor can go over your health history and make sure you have all the immunizations you need to protect both yourself and your new grandchild.
Protecting our grandchildren is one of our most basic instincts, and getting immunized is an important way to do it. For more information, please speak with your own health care team.
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It’s tempting for grandparents to buy too many gifts for their grandchildren, especially when they don’t see them often. The main reason I don’t might surprise you.
I was having lunch last year with a friend whose second grandbaby had just been born. When we finished lunch, she mentioned that she had to pop into the boutique next door to get gifts before she went to visit her grandchildren the following week.
“What’s the occasion?” I asked her.
“No special occasion—I just always bring them something when I come visit!”
I didn’t want to rain on her parade, so I just smiled and accompanied her to the boutique, which was almost certainly designed specifically to appeal to grandmothers. It was full of adorable toys and clothes and books and gadgets, all artfully displayed and temptingly priced.
I won’t tell you what she bought, but I was a little shocked by the pile of things she accumulated as we browsed. When I saw the size of the bag she carried when we left the store, I briefly wondered if I should share my own philosophy about bringing gifts when I visit.
I decided against it, but I’ll share it with you now:
I don’t bring my grandchildren gifts when I come visit.
One reason is that they have enough stuff, and their parents don’t want any more.
Another reason, let’s face it, is that I’m cheap and hate throwing away money on things that will quickly be cast aside.
But neither of these are my main motivation.
My main reason for arriving without presents is so that my grandchildren remain excited to see me. I don’t want to be greeted with, “What did you bring me?” I want the focus to be on each other, and not what may be tucked away in my purse or hiding in my suitcase.
What I do sometimes bring: a book we’ve been reading together, so they can see it in real life and we can pour over the pictures side-by-side. Recently, it may be a chapter book we are in the middle of, that I’ll finish while we are visiting. Or maybe I’ll bring a game we can play together, one that I’ll likely take back home so we can enjoy it at our house when they come visit us.
When he remembers, Pops brings treasure: a fake jewel and a pirate doubloon for each of them, which he’ll leave under their pillow to be discovered when we leave. This way, it’s a reminder of our visit, and a way to soften our departure.
What do we always bring? We bring hugs and time to give our full attention to these small people and their parents (who sometimes do get presents when we come, like tea and chocolate and books!). While I may change my strategy as my grandkids get older, for now, I don’t bring them gifts.
When I come to visit, I consider the visit itself a gift—to all of us. And when I arrive, I usually hear these words, “DeeDee! I missed you so much!”
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Choosing a grandmother or grandfather nickname is just the first step in establishing a healthy habit of respect and communication between parents and grandparents.
It took me by surprise when one of my readers admitted that she hated the grandma nickname her daughter-in-law had chosen for her. She shared that she was afraid to rock the boat, so she just accepted it despite her discomfort.
I was so sad for her: sad that she should feel so powerless in something so personal. And I was a little confused, too. Was it common for the parent’s to choose the grandparent’s nickname? I thought that part of the fun of becoming a grandparent was figuring out what you wanted to be called!
So I did a little poll and discovered that over 10% of the grandparents who responded have a name that the parents chose. Luckily, most of them are fine with it.
One follower, Andrea, said she had some input, suggesting a name she liked but letting the parents make the final choice.
Christie said her grandchild’s parents gave her a few options, and once the baby started talking, they agreed on the right name. “I just did not want Meemaw, that was my only rule!”
In both of these cases, though the grandmothers didn’t make the final choice, they were included in the decision process. That wasn’t how it happened with Connie, who was told that the baby would call her…Connie. She was crushed not to be allowed to be called Nana, as she’d always imagined. She was also more than a little taken aback by the idea of being called her first name by her grandchild.
Most parents, however, feel it’s up to the grandparents to choose—with the possibility of parental veto if it makes them uncomfortable. Parents have told stories about grandmothers who want to be called Momma, or who choose a name they feel is ridiculous and then get upset when they refuse to use it. One parent said the name her father-in-law wanted to be called was the name of her own grandfather, with whom she had a complicated and unpleasant relationship. Her father-in-law was more than happy to choose a name without any negative baggage.
Like everything else, the only time it is a problem is when parents or grandparents don’t feel they can talk to one another about the subject. Connie was afraid that if she kicked up a fuss, her daughter-in-law would cut her off before the baby even arrived. One new mom said her own mother insists on a name she finds so silly that she’s never been able to bring herself to say it out loud. Instead of having a conversation together, both of these families have defaulted to “Don’t talk about it (and maybe it will go away).”
Choosing a grandmother or grandfather nickname is just the first step in establishing a healthy habit of respect and communication between parents and grandparents. Smart grandparents will say, “I’d like to be called ______, but I’d like to know what you think.” And smart parents will ask the grandparents what they’d like to be called.
If you are still trying to find the perfect nickname, have you downloaded our list of 242 Grandmother Names? It’s got lots of ideas, plus tips on finding the right one for you!
For what it’s worth, I completely agree with the mom who vetoed “Momma”, but I’m less sure about vetoing a name just because you think it’s ridiculous. What do you think? Let me know in the comments!
Play your part in setting and keeping grandparent boundaries
When her first grandbaby was born, Jackie was thrilled to be close enough to help out. Her daughter, Lizzie, was thrilled, too. Having mom around to help with laundry, soothe the baby and keep the family fed was a godsend.
Until it wasn’t.
One day, when Jackie stopped by, Lizzie had just gotten the baby to sleep and was looking forward to some time alone. Instead, she found herself listening to her mom’s cheerful chatter until the baby woke up. Because she was so grateful for the help she’d been getting, she found it hard to tell her mother that she needed some space now.
Jackie’s visits continued as the baby grew, often coming at inconvenient times. The more time that went by, the harder it was for Lizzie to speak up. One day, she snapped at Jackie, who had no idea what the problem was. Unkind words passed between them, causing the first rift they’d experienced since Lizzie was a teen. After days of struggling with hurt feelings, they finally sat down together to talk about boundaries.
Grandparents: know the boundaries and keep them
Boundaries around visits and helping will look different in every family. Where some new parents will want their entire extended family at the birth, others want no visitors for a month. Some parents want to do everything with minimal help, while others welcome all the hands and laps they can get.
While many parents are clear about the boundaries they need to keep, others have trouble speaking up to grandparents. Worse, some grandparents don’t respect boundaries even if parents spell them out.
Boundaries are the cornerstone of a healthy parent-grandparent relationship. No matter what the new parents have communicated, here are some tips for new grandparents that will make sure you are a welcome visitor.
Don’t show up unannounced. Even if you’ve been in the habit of dropping in on your son and daughter-in-law in the past, now is the time to stop. Always call or text to see when or if a visit is welcome, and be willing to accommodate their schedule. While it may be frustrating that you can’t stop by after work, supporting new parents often means putting their needs and desires ahead of your own.
Come to an agreement in advance, and check in regularly to see if it’s working. Before the baby is even born, talk to parents about how involved they’d like you to be. So often, tensions rise because a grandparent’s expectations differ from a parent’s. Misunderstandings can be avoided by discussing some of the common areas of disagreement. New Grandparent Essentials includes an entire section to help facilitate your discussion, with conversation starters and advice on establishing a supportive partnership with parents.
Respect new parents’ need for time alone. New parents need time alone, and time alone together. If the baby is sleeping when you arrive for a planned visit, ask if you should come back another time. This can be tricky if you are visiting to help with a new baby, but make sure you give new parents time without your presence. Make a grocery run, take a long walk after dinner, or go hang out at the library. Even if your visit is short, you are more likely to be invited back if you respect their space.
Remember you are not a co-parent. With a few exceptions, grandparents are experienced parents, and they are eager to share their expertise. Sometimes the son- or daughter-in-law feels sidelined by a grandmother who takes on the role of co-parent. Especially if it’s your daughter who has had a baby, make sure you aren’t crowding out her partner in your eagerness to help. Step back and let them figure it out together.
Respect privacy. While this is your grandbaby, there will still be parts of its life that will be off limits to you. Let parents take the lead in what they want to share, and how much they want to integrate you into their home. Nursing mothers may not want an audience, and some parents don’t want you taking photos of the baby being bathed. Be sensitive to their wishes.
Being a grandparent is a supporting role, and that means you will often be watching the star of the show from the wings. The best way to avoid real-life drama is to know when it’s your turn on stage, and when the director wants you to fade into the background.
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