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!