Fact: Having grandchildren is one of the greatest perks about getting older. You get to experience all of the joys of having a little one—all of the playing, crawling, and nuzzling, and the thrill of seeing a beautiful new lifeform gaze in wonder at the strange world around them—without any of the messy drawbacks. You know: No nappy changing, 2am wakeup calls, or having to hold their hands as they navigate their teen years.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of unexpected changes that come along with your new role. If your kids are expecting, don’t miss these 30 rarely mentioned pitfalls—and pleasures—of what awaits you as a grandparent. And for some amazing advice on raising a family, don’t miss the 20 Biggest Regrets Nearly Every Parent Has.
Your Advice Won’t Be as Welcome as You Think
Becoming a good grandparent, and one that’s included in their grandkids’ lives, means that you need to be flexible when it comes the new parents’ wishes. Forcing your opinions and ideas on how to take proper care of a screaming newborn onto your overwhelmed child will only up their stress and build resentment. While your approach, be it military-style discipline or free-range parenting, may have worked for your family, it’s important to recognize that times have changed and that your kids won’t necessarily want their own parenting style to be a shot-for-shot remake of their childhood. And for some amazing parenting tips, check out these 10 Parenting Secrets from an All-Star Dad.
It’s Helpful to Seek Out Other Grandparents for Advice
Most newbie grandpas and grandmas don’t take the time to talk to the other grandparents-to-be before the new child arrives. However, a little sage advice—or just some socialization with people who have been similarly thrust into grandparenthood—can make all the difference. In fact, researchers at Grand Valley State University found that social support for grandparents significantly increased measures of physical health and overall well-being.
Schedule a call—or make a lunch date if they live close to you—so you can talk over expectations and confer on strategies that will best help your offspring do their best in raising your new grandkids. Remember: Just because you’re older and wiser and have raised children to adulthood doesn’t mean that you know everything about being a grandparent.
It’s Better to Mend Fences Now
If there are any lingering beefs or over-hanging resentments circulating among your family, it’s good idea to try and hash them out before the grandchildren are born. Past traumas left unaddressed can pop up in unexpected and hurtful ways that could affect your relationship with your new grandkids, so it’s better to deal with them sooner rather than later. After all, you wouldn’t want one of those issues—perhaps that fight over who got your mom’s engagement ring or those squabbles about which one of your siblings was really favored by your parents—to arise when you’re trying to give your grandchild a healthy start in the world.
It’s Better to Stay in a Hotel
In the flurry of excitement and avalanche of stress that comes with the birth of a newborn, grandparents-to-be may not realize that shacking up at the home of the expectant parents can just load them up with even more pressure. Remember: while you may think that having you just steps away will make things easier, it also means a longer wait for the shower in the morning, extra dishes in the sink, and, both figuratively and literally, too many cooks in the kitchen.
Instead, offer to set up residence at a local hotel so you can still be near enough to offer support and a helping hand without constantly being in their hair. When your newborn grandchild is keeping everyone awake by wailing every hour on the dot, you’ll be happy you did. And for advice on making the most of parenthood, check out these 35 Lies Every Parent Needs to Master.
Don’t Stress the First Visit
If you weren’t invited to the hospital for the birth of your grandchild or weren’t even asked to come over and see the newborn in the first week, don’t stress over it. Your kid has just gone through a tremendously stressful few days—possibly even major surgery—so it’s best to allow them to rest and heal at their own pace before forcing them to entertain guests. Give the new parents some breathing room—they’ll make sure you meet your new family member as soon as they feel in (some) control.
It’s easy for most of us to spout off on how and why and what the new parents should be doing from the first moment you learned that your child was going to be bringing another being into this world. But it’s best to refrain from giving out too many opinions. Just because something worked for you doesn’t mean it will work for your children or their children, and the stress of hearing a non-stop barrage of advice can create a rift between you and your children that might not be so easily mended.
Before you dole out your personal parenting wisdom, ask yourself, “Is this information pertinent? Does this information come across as preachy?” As a general rule of thumb, wait until you’re asked for your wisdom to deliver it.
Respecting Boundaries is Key
We’re sure that when you were raising your kids, you took the time to teach them about respecting other people’s boundaries—now’s the time to take that sage advice to heart and show the new parents that you can practice what you preach.
If your children don’t want you feeding your grandchildren certain foods or consuming certain forms of media, you need to respect their wishes. The same goes for issues like clothing and physical affection: if your kids don’t want their children dressed up in tutus or don’t want them forced to hug relatives, it’s important to take their wishes to heart.
You Should Let the Parents Learn
There are some things parents can only learn on their own. So, whenever possible, remove yourself from offering too much coaching and let them figure things out on their own (just as you did when they were toddlers playing in the backyard). While doing so may put you on edge initially—it’s human nature to be a little overprotective of your grandchildren, after all—after witnessing a few missteps or scraped knees, you’ll find that, not only has everyone survived, your whole family’s happier when you’re not feuding over parenting styles.
Pull Back on Purchases
The desire to spoil the newborn with toys and clothes and baby gear is an urge that is extremely tough for most grandparents to deny. But before you go crazy at the local baby superstore, first ask the parents what they actually need.
While you may think that going on a shopping spree will help your grandchild’s parents save some money, it may mean that their house becomes overloaded with things they have no space or use for. If you just can’t fight the urge to go overboard, save it for holidays and birthdays.
You Can’t Force Bonding
Don’t be surprised if there isn’t an instant bond the first few times you meet your newborn grandchild. Remember: the closeness and trust that develops between a grandparent and their grandkid isn’t as immediate as that between a child and their parent. It’s more of a slow burn that develops over months of contact, so relax and let it naturally grow. The best way to make yourself an asset to his or her parents and get in some good bonding time is to offer your time, but not push yourself on the new family.
You Will Change
The advent of new grandchildren will make you an all around softer and more caring person. You’ll be full of emotions that you probably thought were lost forever. Don’t be weirded out when sappy moments in movies make you burst into tears with a fury you never saw coming!
It’s Best to Temper Your Expectations
Whatever thoughts and dreams and hopes that started running around in your head the moment your kid told you that they were expecting should be released. They won’t come true for the most part, and they can set you up for disappointment and regret, so it’s better to take each day you spend with your grandchildren as a fresh take on their path to development.
Fortunately, just because your grandchild doesn’t hit some arbitrary milestone on your timeline doesn’t mean they won’t get there—being a good grandparent, much like being a good parent, means accepting the child for who they are, not for who you want them to be.
Be Sure to Stick to the Rules
When you are first asked to babysit for the newly birthed bundle of crying and cooing, take the rules the new parents lay out for you as gospel. Sure, you want to spoil the kid with treats and special treatment, but try to limit your transgressions and stick the script they laid out for you. Even if it seems strange to you not to attempt sleep training or to feed a baby on command, remember that your continued involvement in their life might just be conditional upon you following the letter of the law.
Holding Your Tongue Helps
Opinions are valuable, but limiting how much you lecture or hector the new parents is going to be paramount for building a long-term and stable relationship with your grandkids. If just can’t keep all of your opinions to yourself, dole them out in small batches and temper them with neutral language to keep from offending a harried parent. Of course, your parents probably thought you were making some serious mistakes along the way, but in the interest of maintaining a happy relationship, kept them to themselves.
You’ll Need to Help with Errands
You won’t be able to spend all of your time just sitting with the new grandchildren, bouncing them on your knee and making them giggle. Your child will need help with their everyday life, as well, and the best way to get off on solid footing with them is to offer to knock out important errands. While it won’t always be glamorous, running errands like going grocery shopping, hitting the bank, and taking vehicles in for maintenance will all be greatly appreciated in the long run.
You Just May Live Longer
Once you meet and spend lots of quality time with your adorable little grandkid, the sparks will fly between the two of you and you’ll feel an unconditional love that you probably thought was never going to happen in your life. It’ll be a beautiful thing that will only grow brighter while you build a stable and supportive relationship.
Even better news? In addition to all those adorable baby snuggles, you’ll get an extra benefit: according to the Berlin Aging Study, grandparents who babysit live longer than those who don’t.
For most modern parents, what goes into their children’s bodies is more important than in generations before, so don’t pack your grandkid’s mouth full of processed sweets. Discuss with the parents what they deem acceptable and not, and try to stay within those parameters as much as possible. Even if it seems silly to you to only buy organic food or to avoid gluten if your grandchild doesn’t have a sensitivity to it, it’s their parents’ choice to make, not yours.
You’ll Be a Calming Force in Their Lives
The soft and all-encompassing love that a grandparent can’t help but radiate at a grandchild is a wonderful and calming influence on them. They will often turn to you when trying to buck the more disciplined-minded edicts that come from their parents, so offer them the respite they need when they ask for it.
You’ll be able to use your new super calming powers to also give the parents a break when tensions rise and temper tantrums erupt. While emotions between new parents and fussy children can run high, you’re just removed enough from the situation to make it easy to provide some welcome distraction and diffuse things. Take advantage of your new powers and guide your grandkids away from the stress by distracting them with your love and attention.
You Need to Talk About Feelings
As a semi-neutral, part-time outsider to the daily family dynamics, you’ll end up being a good sounding board for the new members of the brood. So when playing alone with your grandkids as they grow up, take the time to talk seriously about feelings and what they mean to help build their emotional intelligence. And remember: just because your grandkids seem brilliant and mature to you doesn’t mean they’re just little adults, so make sure to meet them on their emotional level when they’re having a tough time.
Physical Activity is Important
As a grandparent you’ll want to encourage good behaviors and help build your grandchild up into a strong and successful human, so be sure to include outdoor activities into your playtime. Don’t just plop them in front of their favorite animated movie—instead, take them out and get them moving. Walk with them around the block, throw a ball back and forth in the park, or go for a hike in the woods—it’ll also help keep you active and stronger for longer.
Leisure Time May Be Curtailed
If you’re recently retired or looking forward to some sweet leisure time traveling and exploring the world after you retire, the arrival of grandkids can cut into any free time you may have been dreaming about. If you plan on being an involved grandparent, you may have to rearrange your life to some degree if you want to find time to spend time with your grandkids, especially when they’re very young.
You’ll Feel Young Again
The time you spend playing and interacting with your grandkids will spur flashbacks to your time raising your own kids, making you feel years younger than your chronological age. The time warp will be rejuvenating and a welcome trip down memory lane, helping you better bond with your grandkids.
Dr. Seuss Makes a Comeback
When pulling out books to entertain your young charges with, there’s really no substitute for Dr. Seuss’s brilliantly brief and wildly inventive stories. So be sure pull out the classics and dust off the covers (or spring for some shiny new versions) to fascinate your grandkids, and yourself, all over again. You may even find yourself in the kitchen making them some green eggs!
Saying No Will Be Tough
It’s not the most surprising part about having grandkids, but it’s true that the urge to deny them anything will be almost impossible to overcome, so be prepared. It’s OK to say no to them every once in awhile—they won’t be mad at you… for long. Of course, this doesn’t exclusively apply to the grandkids: it’s important to say no to your own kids if you feel like they are monopolizing your generosity, too.
You’ll Be a Therapist
You will probably have to help out your grandkids with some life problems as they mature, but in the beginning stage, be prepared to have to cajole and convince your kids to take time for themselves. Let them know that they can trust in you for any kind of help when it comes to raising healthy and balanced babies, and that when issues inevitably come up, you’re happy to act as a sounding board.
You’ll Feel Like Gloating
Watching your grandchildren succeed can be as thrilling as watching your own children do well in their lives. And while others may tire of hearing the same story about your granddaughter’s preschool ballet concert over and over again, you’ll never get sick of telling it—or be able to contain the smile on your face when you do.
You Can Pass On Your Passions
From woodworking and web design to quilting and cooking, having a rapt student who thinks you hung the moon is a rare chance for you fully share a beloved hobby. They won’t make fun of you or downplay your skills, they’ll just listen and learn and appreciate the attention and time you’re sharing with them.
Your Heart Will Be Stolen
No matter the fights or disagreements or tough times you have with your kids over your grandkids, or the moments when you get frustrated with their behavior, the grandkids will still steal your heart away at the most unexpected moments. Savor your time connecting with the newest generation.
It’s a Parenting Do-Over
Becoming a grandparent is a good time to reflect on your time raising your own kids. It’s a time in your life where you can try to right past wrongs in failed parenting attempts and try to impart some of that newly discovered wisdom, too.
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