How grandparents can help new parents (even from a distance)
This post was originally published in December 2021. It has been updated and expanded for this year!
Do you remember those early holidays as a new family?
I clearly remember the coordination it took to get our family across the country (or the world!) so that we could be with the grandparents for Christmas. Shipping gifts, dealing with time zone changes with a baby, trying to fit in everyone’s requests for time with the baby—I was perpetually exhausted. But it was still worth it!
Even if there is no travel involved, there is so much to do! Decorating the house, buying and wrapping gifts, prepping for guests, planning meals and baking cookies and making memories! All on top of the day-to-day chaos of the baby and toddler years. For some reason, the elves never show up to help with the dishes, or the gift wrapping, or anything at all!
Luckily, grandparents can help new parents in a variety of ways during the holidays, whether they live close by or far away. But be warned, grandparents can also make life harder for new parents. Read on to find out how to be helpful without adding to the stress of being a new parent.
Helping new parents when you live nearby
If you live close by, there are lots of things you can do to help new parents. Here are some things you might offer to do:
The key is to help out without making things harder for them. Having them over for dinner gives them a break from cooking, but it also creates another obligation on their time and energy. They might like having someone else do the grocery shopping, or they might like having someone watch the baby while they go to the store all by themselves. It’s easy to figure out what to do: just ask, listen, and then respect their answer.
Helping new parents when they visit
Make travel easier. The less parents need to bring with them, the more likely they are to repeat the journey next year. Having basic equipment at your house can make their life easier, so find out what they’ll need. Things like
Having car seats properly installed for airport pickup will earn you major bonus points! Just make sure you’ve got the right size seat, and that it’s installed in compliance with both the seat manufacturer and your car’s owner manual.
Keep things simple. This is not the time to attempt lots of outings or make promises to visit friends and neighbors. While you are welcome to schedule your own activities, check with parents before making plans on their behalf. Keep the focus on spending time together.
Lighten their load. New parents should get a pass on doing a fair share of the holiday work. Offering to watch the baby while they do the dishes is not a fair trade. They will have plenty of years to balance the scales, so try not to make too many demands on their time this year.
Keep your gift giving in check. Parents’ number one complaint about grandparents at the holidays is to stop buying so many gifts. Read this post before buying anything, and then have a conversation with the parents. Offer to ship gifts home to them so they don’t have to try to pack them all in their luggage.
Helping new parents when you visit
If you live at a distance and will be visiting for the holidays, your ability to help will be more limited, especially if your visit is short. Your focus should be on making your visit as easy as possible for them. Here are some tips:
Come without demands. The shorter the visit, the more important this is. A holiday visit isn’t the time to insist you take the baby for photos with Santa, or that Christmas brunch won’t be complete without your mother’s traditional cranberry crêpes.
Be willing helpers. Let them know ahead of time you hope to be useful while you are there. Ask them to think of a list of things they could delegate, and write them down in advance.
Offer to stay at a hotel. House guests, no matter how helpful, are draining. Time alone can be a blessing for all of you. We have often found an AirBnB in the same neighborhood as our grandchildren, which is an economical and convenient solution.
Offer to cook a meal or pay for takeout, and then clean up afterwards.
See the rest of our suggestions for holiday visits in our post, What Parents Want Grandparents to Know About Celebrating Holidays.
Helping new parents when you are far away
If you live at a distance and won’t be visiting, there are still ways to help new parents. Here are a few ideas:
Give an edible gift. Consider giving them a gift that will help with holiday meals. Send a fully baked-ham, an Edible Arrangement, or a local restaurant gift card.
Offer to pay for help. Meal delivery, laundry services, housekeeping—it can all be arranged from a distance. See our suggestions for household help that can lighten the load for new parents here.
Gift the gift of a gofer. Ask if they’d like you to pay for someone to help with holiday errands like standing in line at the post office. You can even hire out gift wrapping!
Be flexible about virtual time together. Share your hopes for video chats, but let them know you are flexible and will take whatever you can get. Often, it's nearly impossible to carve out time for a phone call on the holiday itself.
You can see more ideas on how to help new parents from a distance in our discussion of creative ways to help new parents when grandparents can’t be there.
Whether you are near or far, new parents will appreciate your help at the holidays, as long as it is help they really need. If you’ve set up good communication habits, you won’t have any trouble finding out what you can do to make their holiday brighter.
For more ways to help new parents and make the holidays merry for all, get A Grandparent's Guide to Happy Holidays, on sale now!