My daughter and her husband had their first baby this summer. A sweet, adorable little girl. My first grandchild. They live out of state, but we (and her other grandparents) were able to meet her a few hours after she was born.
It’s just like my friends who are already grandparents told me it would be. I’m enchanted. When I’m not with her, I can’t wait for the next new picture to pop up in our shared photo album. Eyes wide open. Eyes shut tight. Getting her first bath. Staring into her daddy’s eyes. Grasping her mother’s finger. Her first smile. No matter what the camera has caught her doing, I have to stop what I’m doing and stare at the pictures.
I think about my daughter when she was an infant. How she smelled. How smooth her skin was. How afraid I was that I would do something wrong. And yet, instinctively I knew. Now she is the mother. And I can tell that she knows, too.
When my son-in-law’s paternity leave ended, I got to be Nannie up close for a whole week. (I decided I want to be called Nannie because that’s what we called one of my beloved grandmothers.)
I loved every single minute of being there. Watching how my daughter and her husband interacted and seeing what wonderful parents they are filled me with joy. And holding that precious baby, whether she was crying or cooing – well, there are no words.
As I prepared for my visit, I thought a lot about how I would be the most helpful during my stay. I also thought about what it means to be a grandparent. Because it’s my first time, I decided to reach out to other grandparents for advice. They had a lot to share.
Lee: One of the things that I didn’t do well as a single parent was to be truly present with my daughters. I felt so overwhelmed with life, work, finances and single parenting that I was eternally distracted.
As a grandparent, I give my grandchildren my full and complete attention when I am with them. I try to think of special things to do together that are suited for each of their personalities. And take them one at a time to do that. I never thought I could love more than I loved my children until I had grandchildren.
Jennifer: There are so many phases of grandparenting and I’m only in Year 5. I have so much to learn, but this much I know is important: Play, laugh, explore, be amazed, be present, tell stories, teach new things, hug, be adventurous, be willing to be part of their world and love, love, love them like you’ve never loved before.
Cheryl: Don’t interfere with your kids raising their children. Lots of hugs, love and kisses. Always be there when they need you. Being a grandparent is the best.
Joyce: Hug and kiss them.
Brenda: Rule No. 1. Never undermine your kids’ parenting. They are the parents, not you.
Linda: Love them unconditionally. Teach them to be kind and loving and to respect others.
Kathy: Treat them to things as a family. Don’t forget to include the in-law(s). Don’t interfere with parenting choices unless extreme. Mostly, enjoy.
Terrilynn: Let them be themselves. Hug and love them like crazy. Time spent doing special activities is more important than giving gifts. I try to find activities that the parents do not do with them. Give them unique memories. (And sometimes a photo book afterward).
Kaitlyn: If you go to visit, make yourselves useful. My mom is an incredible grandparent in part because not only does she love her little ones, but she helps mom and dad out so much. Cooking, cleaning, you name it, she chips in.
Kim: I like that I can be their friend. Not that I don’t discipline, but my role can be more as a knowledgeable companion. My grandkids — one 17 and headed to college and one 8 and smart as a whip – teach me as much as I share with them. Even more the definition of unconditional love than with my kids.
Woody: The absolute best thing is that you can be what the parents can’t. You can be crazy, artistic, messy, a wild explorer, a joyous dancer — you don’t have to worry about discipline because that’s the parents’ job.
Barb: Enjoy making memories.
Shirley: Grandchildren are wonderful. God’s gift to parents who raised theirs and can now relax and enjoy these wee blessings. Just love them and enjoy them.
Michael: Spoil them happy.
Lisa: Be yourself. Share your love and support.
Pete: Love and understanding but solid advice.
Cathy: Spend as much time as you can with them doing things you both enjoy. They grow up very quickly. Have fun with them.
Anne: The big thing is support, not advice.
Malory: When they are little, love them with no conditions. They will need that. Remember, too, that it doesn’t matter if they make a mess, you can clean it up. When they are older, be the one they can confide in when they can’t tell the parents. You don’t have to discipline them so can offer good advice.
Try to honor their parents’ choices, even when they are different from what you did. Read about their choices, so you can show interest, know what they are doing and still offer some subtle advice. And tell them a lot how great a job they are doing because no new parent feels like they know what they are doing.
I took everybody’s advice to heart and have to say, my “Nannie week” went extremely well. I was able to step in and be helpful — cooking, cleaning, soothing, doing errands, just being there. I was also able to step away and give my daughter and her husband space. It was a good balance for all of us.
What about you? Are you a grandparent? What advice would you give?
Diane Atwood writes the blog Catching Health with Diane Atwood, which received a Gold Lamplighter Award from the New England Society for Healthcare Communications and a Golden Arrow Award from the Maine Public Relations Council. Find it at catchinghealth.com.