Finally, the moment you’ve been waiting for. Your own offspring is pregnant and due any day now, ready to deliver your long-awaited grandchild. You envision dropping everything to go help with the new baby. You’re an old (pardon the expression) pro at this, and surely your many words of wisdom will be welcomed as the new parents navigate the hectic, and overwhelming, first few months of parenthood.
The keywords here are “hectic” and “overwhelming”. No matter how prepared new parents seem to be before the birth of their first-born, no one is truly ready for the actuality of amalgamating their lives with the life of a new human being, who likely didn’t slide out of the womb with a User’s Guide clenched in his or her tiny fist.
After what is likely to be an exhausting, and often painful, birth most new parents look like survivors of a natural disaster. The pure joy and happiness they feel are tempered by the look of shock at their new reality. They are bombarded by instructions for breastfeeding, diapering, and bathing their baby.
Baby is born, and if all is well, after a brief hospital stay, they send home the new family to figure it all out.
Enter grandma and grandpa, anxiously waiting to help. You swoop in armed with baby gifts and good intentions, filled with the utmost love for your new grandchild. Then comes that awkward moment where you realize you might be more of an annoyance than a help. So what’s a new grandparent to do?
After my granddaughter was born, I interviewed some new moms to find out how grandparents can really help out after birth and what to avoid.
Admit it. You want to rock this whole grandparent gig. Here’s how:
5 Things New Parents Find Most Helpful
- Preparing Meals
This task was the winner with every new mom interviewed. If you really want to help out, whip up their favorite dinners. They’ll thank you for it.
- Walking the Dog
This also topped the list for those with pets. Taking the family dog out for a walk around the block will help the pet as much as the new parents.
- Cleaning the House
Taking care of basic household chores like vacuuming, cleaning the kitchen and bathrooms, and grocery shopping is a huge help for new parents. If you’re unable to do it yourself, consider gifting them with a temporary cleaning service.
- Helping Out with the Kids
Changing diapers and taking a shift with a fussy newborn will be much appreciated, especially if the new parents can manage some sleep during that time. If there are other children in the family, offer to take them out of the house for a while to give mom and dad a chance to rest and bond with the new baby.
- Providing Emotional Support
Giving birth kicks the mother’s emotions into overdrive. Monitor her postpartum mental health. Listen to the parents when they are feeling overwhelmed and need to talk. Be the family gate-keeper, letting other family members know how things are going and advising when the new parents might be ready for visitors and what to expect when they arrive. Times have changed since we had kids. Gone are the days of gushing friends, relatives, and strangers on the street smothering newborns with well-intentioned kisses. Make sure other family members know not to visit if they are ill. Ask them not to kiss the baby and to wash their hands before touching or holding the baby.
Your support and understanding of the needs of this new family is probably the most valuable gift you can give them.
5 Things You Should Avoid
- Comparing Parenting Today to Parenting in the Past
Yes, we know you had children of your own and that they “turned out just fine” despite being given a finger dipped in whiskey to settle them as infants and that letting them cry it out was all the rage back in the day. Times have changed since we had children. They have done endless studies on child development and thanks to the internet, our kids have access to all the latest information. They are armed with knowledge and ready to rock this parenting thing. According to the new mom’s I interviewed, your comparisons are more annoying than helpful. Instead, why not ask questions and learn from them? It’s quite fascinating and will help you when you are looking after your grandchildren.
- Deciding that You Know What They Need Better Than They Do
Listen to your children. If they ask for something specific from you, don’t do, or give them, something completely different that you feel better suited. The same goes for the new mom’s recovery. Every birth is different, and so is each person’s recovery. Trust that mom is receiving the best medical care and leave that up to her.
- Taking Things Personally
No matter how prepared new parents are for the birth of their child, this is a very emotional and physically exhausting time. Hormones are running amok, the baby is crying, and sleep is a distant memory. Nothing seems to work, and the new parents are completely overwhelmed. They are not themselves and it isn’t about you, so don’t take offense to anything that may happen during the first few weeks. Understanding and empathy are like emotional gold to them right now. Remember, this too shall pass.
- Overstaying Your Welcome
Keep your visits short. I know you want to spend as much time as possible with your new grandchild and that you want to help, but the new parents need lots of rest, so they will appreciate short visits. That also goes for hospital visits, especially for infants who have to spend time in the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit). Most NICU and maternity wards limit visitors for a reason, so don’t try to bring the whole gang in to see the new baby. Ask your child first and then respect their wishes.
- Overstepping Boundaries
Trust that you raised your own child well. Remember how you felt when someone tried to push their beliefs on you when you were a new parent. Your child is in charge of their new baby and how that child will be raised. They will come to you if they need advice, so let them make their own decisions. You did a great job parenting, right? So will they.
Now that you have an idea of what the new parents in your life need, and what they don’t, it’s time to enjoy your new grandchild. Be prepared to feel that overwhelming, all-consuming love you felt for your own children because that new baby is about to steal your heart.