Grandmothering 101

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A few weeks ago, I posted some advice to a grandmother-to-be seeking information on how to be a good grandmother.  While many of you reading this are pregnant or mothers of young children – your mother (or mother-in-law) may appreciate this information, especially if there is tension in your relationship.

This is not intended to be the end-all be-all of grand mothering, but may help facilitate discussions or at least move you all to a better place of understanding.  That, to me, would be success!

Before the baby is born:

The mom-to-be may be irritable at times, especially as she gets to the end of her pregnancy.  This may be due to discomfort while sleeping, weight gain or anxiety over the birth or health of the baby.  Keep in mind that it is NOT about you, so let it be.    Ask how your daughter is doing and really listen.  Get her to talk and, if you can, laugh.

Hold the horror stories of your experiences with the mom-to-be until after her child is born.  Technology changes and some of what happened to you may not even be relevant anymore.   After delivery is the best time to bond with the birth experiences that you both had.  It will also give her a chance to share the details of her experience with you.  I’m willing to bet she will appreciate your interest and sensitivity.

Don’t critique the items she is putting on her baby shower registry.   Just because you didn’t have a baby monitor doesn’t mean that she doesn’t need one.  Also, those diaper buckets from days of yore don’t compare with the diaper genies that prevent odors.  And while we dripped the formula or milk on our forearms and to tell what was too hot or not, there are new machines that bring the pumped milk in bottles or the formula to the perfect temperature.  Can’t argue with that – SO DON’T!!

Noticing weight gain can be helpful in the final trimester, especially if it is too rapid or if you notice swelling in her hands, face and/or feet.  Her doctor will want to know if this is happening, as it may be indicative of a problem that needs monitoring.  However, make it about health and not about appearance.   You  don’t want to go on about how little weight you gained in your pregnancy or lost within weeks of giving birth.  She knows that she is heavier and doesn’t want to hear any during or post pregnancy skinny Minnie stories.

As names are being considered, feel free to offer your opinion if asked.  But, once the name has been decided, let it be.  It is the parents’ joy to decide what to call their child and it is not your baby-to-be.  Let any hurt roll off your back if the child is named after a relative that isn’t on your side of the family or if you think the child should be named after you.  The name doesn’t create the bond with the child; the love and time spent does. 

At the hospital:

No matter what the baby looks like, say it is the most beautiful child ever.  You can guarantee that the parents will think that, even if the baby is a boy and looks like Aunt Sadie when she was eighty.  The big thing at this time is health.  If the baby is healthy just thank the heavens and enjoy the blessing.  There is beauty in that.

Don’t be a baby hog.  Let the other grandparents have a chance too.  Fortunately, my first grandchild turned out to be grandchildren.  With twins, there is almost always enough baby to go around so everyone can get their turn to hold and ooh and aah.  After the baby (s) gets home from the hospital, there will be plenty of time to hold and bond.

Surprise the new parents with a gift.  It doesn’t have to expensive to be a memento of the happy occasion.  This is especially easy if you know the gender and name ahead of time.  Also, if there are brothers and sisters, include them.  A hospital goody bag may be appreciated too.  In it could be wrapped healthy treats, favorite snacks and some comfort items for mom, such as some Always pads for support, some refreshing hard candy to suck on, or breast feeding cream for the nipple area that is safe for baby and will help prevent nipple soreness. 

After the baby is born:

Be very sensitive about how you chose to deliver advice once the baby is born.  After all, you most likely will be able to help, especially if you see the parents struggling with some aspects.  This can be as simple as offering a better way to hold the infant.  Instead of saying:  “Do it this way, you are doing it wrong,” or “My way is better,” say something like, “I find that when I hold the baby like this, she or he seems more comfortable or stops crying,” or “I have the best luck getting a burpie when I pat the back like this” – then demonstrate.

Praise, and offer positive reinforcement to, the new mother or father whenever appropriate.  This is a very new experience and, no doubt, they want to get it right and succeed as good parents.   You noticing and remarking will be appreciated.

Do everything you can to allow the new parents to rest.  Hold the baby after feedings or feeding the baby yourself, so the new parents can get some sleep.  A rested parent is a more self-confident and relaxed parent.  Cooking, cleaning and taking care of the house while they bond with the new little one will make you a candidate for grandmother of the year.

Grandmothering is not something that you learn in nursing school, but through the successes and failures of doing it over and over again.   I continue to learn as my grandchildren get older and my family changes so the list continues to evolve over time.   The only thing that never ever changes is that my daughter is ALWAYS right. 

I would love to hear other tips from grandmothers or from moms who wished their moms or mother-in-laws had done, or not done, something. Share them in the comment section!

Elaine Plummer is a health expert for Always and Tampax.

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