Picture the scene. You’re a new grandparent, blown away by the little bundle of joy your own child has created.
The love and excitement you feel at being part of their lives is overwhelming – you can’t wait to share the wisdom your years of parenting have given you, and you’re sure you’ll be a great help in the coming years.
Fast forward six months. You can see your daughter and her husband are struggling with a baby who just won’t sleep. You suggest letting her cry it out, which worked with your own three kids.
But there’s no appreciation of your helpful contribution; instead you catch them shooting each other tense looks and swapping irritated eye-rolls. Rather than thanks, you receive a clipped, “That isn’t how we’re doing it.”.
It’s a similar situation in families everywhere. Grandparents often walk a fine and challenging line. They’ve raised their own families and seen pretty much everything while doing so, making them veritable wells of parenting wisdom.
When their offspring go on to have their own families, though, they learn very quickly that even well-intentioned parenting advice can go down like a lead balloon.
So how can grandparents help their children through the tougher times of parenting without coming across as overbearing know-it-alls?
1DO remember how overwhelming it is
Suddenly becoming responsible for another little human is terrifying, so help the new parents feel confident they’re ready for the task at hand.
Tell them regularly they’re doing a great job and how proud you are of them – even if it means you sometimes bite your lip over their decisions.
2DON’T override their rules
First-time parents in particular can have very set ideas about how parenting ‘should’ be done, even though they are new to being caregivers.
It might be they have strict ideas on watching television or sugar consumption – ideas you don’t agree with. Unless those ideas are harmful to the baby, though, you have to support their choices.
Ignoring, or disparaging, the rules your child lays down tells your grandchild he or she doesn’t need to listen to them, and that can cause untold long-term damage.
3DO offer unconditional support
If you see your child or their partner struggling with any aspect of parenting, simply asking how you can help is a non-judgemental way of being there.
If they take your advice, great – but don’t take it personally if they don’t. Sometimes, just having someone ask what they need is enough.
4DON’T take over
It’s completely normal to want to help a struggling (or even not very good) parent, but stepping in and doing the work for them at every turn may not be the best way.
Even the very unconfident can become brilliant, but they need to learn how for themselves.
You might make life easier in the short term, but it won’t help anyone in the long run as they’ll still feel they can’t do it themselves.
5DO value and share your skills
One of the nicest things about being a grandparent is the realisation you are someone very special to your grandchildren. You can be the most interesting person in the world to them, especially when they’re young.
The most precious times are not when you babysit or hand out sweets, but when you get the chance to share an activity you love or memories of your own life.
Try to be that person whenever you can – be the one they can try something different with or learn a new skill from. Gardening, cooking, sewing and reading are all talents we often develop with our grandparents.
Enjoy passing on those gifts and memories, knowing they’ll last a lifetime.