Personal reflections on becoming a grandparent

It’s worthwhile to consider a number of ‘rules’ when one is inducted into the grandparent club.

Baby with headphones 370 (photo credit: reuters)
Baby with headphones 370
(photo credit: reuters)
Six weeks ago, my wife, Ruth, and I entered a new stage of our lives: we became first-time grandparents. Our daughter-in-law gave birth to a healthy, beautiful little baby boy. During the pregnancy, our friends with grandchildren would say, “You are about to join the best club in the world.” After the birth of our grandson, many of these same friends said, “Welcome to the club!” So what does it mean to be a member of “the club”? I remember going to the hospital to meet our new grandson. Parking the car, and eagerly walking with my wife and our other children to the hospital room, I felt like a little kid who was about to get his first piece of candy. We entered the hospital room; I kissed my daughter-in-law and son, and immediately glanced at my new grandson.
My daughter-in-law looked up from her chair and asked me if I wanted to hold my new grandson. Are you kidding? I thought, with a smile plastered across my face.
Those first moments of holding him and looking at this little bundle of joy were truly blissful, a kind of magical, spiritual, emotional moment. As I looked at my son, I was overcome with the realization that he was now a father, and will raise his own little boy.
This past weekend, we experienced our first Shabbat visit with the new parents and our grandchild. It was really awesome to see this little guy for the whole weekend. Whatever bonding my wife and I felt before this visit was even more intense by the end of Shabbat.
As the time of their departure was approaching, I began to experience a sense of loss, but also felt an excitement in anticipating the next visit.
Many of our friends with grandchildren told us that the beauty of grandkid visits is that it is a time-limited experience; you cherish every moment, while at the same time you enjoy the freedom of knowing that now it’s your child’s turn to take care of this little kid, and you can settle back into the comfort of your own space.
The projecting game is amazing with grandkids.
He’s kind of your own little human Rorschach test.
Just listen to the way grandparents brag about their grandchildren. I have been listening for years and often thought, not me, I am not going to be one of those exaggerators of their grandkid’s capabilities. But, lo and behold, this weekend, I found myself telling my son, “This kid is very, very smart.” My son asked me, “How do you know, Abba? He’s only six weeks old.”
I responded, “Trust me, I know, I am a therapist.”
Besides, I thought, what’s wrong with a little healthy narcissistic pride in bragging about your grandchildren? It’s one of the dividends you get when you have grandkids.
There are many important lessons to be learned about being a grandparent. I thank my friends for sharing some of their collective wisdom.
• New generation – new ideas. The world is a different place, and while some things about parenting never change, many things in fact do. A small example is that it is recommended to put a newborn baby down on its back – something which was strongly discouraged when our kids were babies. So don’t be rigid in your new role, listen and learn from your adult children.
• Support the new parents. Show your support by offering to help and listening attentively to their concerns and questions. Be careful how you word your answer, “Well, did you ever think of trying...” and “I don’t know what they think about it nowadays, but when I did ‘X’ it worked for me.”
• Be there for the grandkids. Be fun, loving, “cool” grandparents. Play with them. Take them places. Give them treats. Let them know you love them with all your heart and always will! • When it comes to visits, be sensitive. Remember the young parents have a life of their own and also the other grandparents and/or other family relatives and friends. Sometimes, they just want to be alone. So don’t personalize their reluctance to visit.
• Let the new parents experiment. Allow them to grow in their roles as parents, no gloating or “I told you so” when something you disagreed with doesn’t work.
• Follow their rules. You’re used to being the one in charge, but this time it’s your child’s turn. After all, with authority comes responsibility. Now it’s your turn to do what you’re told – and not worry about whether it’s the best way or not. If your grandchild has a routine for naps and meals, make sure you maintain it, even if it means cutting an outing short.
• Give new parents some slack. It’s easy to forget how overwhelming it is to be a new parent, and how hard it can be to accomplish the basics. This is where you can step in to save the day. And if the new parents aren’t always gracious when explaining the dos 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.
• Go easy on the shopping. With a new grandchild, it’s tempting to go on a shopping spree. But before you do, ask the parents what they need, and what they don’t want. There may be other factors they’re weighing, like an impending move or limited space.
• Divorced grandparents – time to mend some fences.
If you’re divorced from your adult child’s other parent, it’s a great time to try to be amicable with your ex.
Like it or not, you’re going to be sharing grandparenting visits and duties. Remember, it’s for your child and grandchild, and your own mental sanity.
• Second chance to do something differently.
Through the relationship with their grandchildren, grandparents can try to improve on some of the things they felt they lacked in their experience as parents.
Or grandparents may feel that they can do again, or strengthen, what went well the first time round.
Yes, there are many rules and things to consider in being a member of the grandparent club, but then again, what club doesn’t have rules?
The writer is a marital, child and adult psychotherapist, with offices in Jerusalem and Ra’anana, who also provides online videoconferencing psychotherapy.