A grandma wrote to say she had such high expectations for bonding with her new grandson. Instead, she feels disappointed and left out. Her son and daughter-in-law live only a few miles away and yet, she confided, “they might as well live on the other side of the country for as little as I see him.”
This grandma had set herself up for disappointment with her high expectations. Before the baby was born, she told the couple she’d like to babysit every Thursday at her house and take him for swim lessons when he got older. They never responded to her offer.
She should have had a clue when the baby was born. She and her husband waited at the hospital eager to meet their new grandson but were told to come back the next day so the couple could bond alone with their newborn.
In the six months since he was born, she’s only seen him once a week at a restaurant and the couple have not accepted her invitations to come to her home for a visit.
The grandma is heartbroken and confused by the couple’s distancing behavior. Recently, she learned that the couple’s nanny was taking her grandson to a baby gym class. The grandma asked if she could go along with the nanny to the class. Her daughter-in-law said no.
The grandma said it was so painful she needed my advice. I could understand her disappointment, living so close and yet feeling so shut out.
The key is to be patient and not push the couple for requests. It takes tremendous inner strength to step back and let the parents adjust to their new roles. I think older first-time parents are often more set in their ways, more overly protective, and have more resources available to them, for example, financial, online information and a network of friends.
I suggest that when they do get together, to look for any openings to talk about what it’s like for them as new parents. Instead of advising her son to hold the baby more and giving unsolicited advice (the big NO-NO), ask him how he feels about being a dad. What’s the best part? What’s the hardest part? What do you wish you had more of? Then, just listen.
Empathize and compliment whenever you see the new parents doing something well and be specific. Make them feel good about their parenting and show them you have confidence in them. Sometimes it can take a year for them to feel comfortable sharing the baby.
Tips for New Grandparents
These suggestions from Baby Center can help you avoid common new-grandparent pitfalls and handle your role with grace.
- Stay positive, be flexible and go with the flow. Ask the new parents what they would like from you rather than telling them what you want.
- Be sensitive to their needs when visiting, especially the all-important first visit to see the baby. You may not be invited to attend the birth or come to the hospital or birth center right afterward. Don’t be offended — it’s the new parents’ decision to make.
- Listen and defer. No matter how many kids you raised or how they turned out, your adult child and his or her partner are now in charge of the childrearing. Be cautious about offering opinions or advice unless asked directly. And even then, tread lightly and express yourself gently.
- Keep your lips zipped when you hear things you disagree with. If you try to intervene with a contrary opinion, you’re setting yourself up as an adversary and will strain your relationship with the new parents and your grandchildren.
- Let the parents experiment and even falter. Allow them to grow into their roles. Not every decision they make will stick.
- Before you go on a shopping spree for the new baby, consult with the parents. Ask what they need, what they don’t want and whether there’s a baby registry. Today’s millennials believe “less is more” and don’t want to fill their homes with bulky baby gear. Others would rather have financial help.
- Let bonding happen naturally. It takes time and patience and may not always resemble the picture you had in mind.
- Follow the new parents’ rules. Now it’s your turn to do what you’re told and not worry about whether it’s the best way or not. If the new parents aren’t always gracious when explaining their do’s and don’ts or get snippy with you over something minor, try to keep your cool. Sleep deprivation and the stresses of new parenthood are probably to blame.
If you can practice forgiveness and patience for the new parents who are overwhelmed and self-absorbed, you’re less likely to become hurt or resentful and the new parents will appreciate you even more.