Grandparenting starts with being a good parent to your adult child who is now “Mommy” or “Daddy” to a little one.
I had to make a conscious effort to not ignore my very important role as a parent as I happily hopped into the new, fun, and exciting grandparent role. Good thing … because I have found that being an involved grandparent is much easier — and more enjoyable — when I’m first a good parent to my son and his wife.
Without a doubt, parenting adult children who are now parents themselves is easier when they’re in town. But even if you’re like me and live a long distance away, you can still parent well.
Here are some tips about being a good parent to your child who’s now a parent – and how to make that happen when you’re miles away:
1. Remember how overwhelming parenting can be, especially for them.
My husband and I frequently had help from my parents and my sisters, all in-town, when we brought our babies home from the hospital. They could give us the help we needed, for as long as we needed it, on any day we needed it. How lucky we were! And that in-person support continued as our children grew.
Our adult child doesn’t have that support system as he’s living thousands of miles away from us.
I try to be mindful that his and our daughter-in-law’s journey is a tougher one than I had, and that makes me feel kinder and gentler toward the plight of these new parents. They have to be more overwhelmed than I ever was.
I never (well, almost never!) talk about how beneficial I could be if we lived in the same town. They already realize that! Instead, I help them with the situation they’re in.
2. Ask how to help.
I ask how I can help — yes, even though I’m out-of-town.
When possible, I come up with specific ways to be of assistance for times when life is hammering them. When the new baby arrives or times of trouble/stress are occurring, specific suggestions can be:
- Can I have some meals delivered to you?
- Could I write your baby gift thank you notes for you?
- Can I have a housecleaning service (or diaper service) started for you for the next three months?
- If you ever feel overwhelmed or just want to talk, please call me. I’m still your Mom even though you’re a Mommy/Daddy yourself!
- Can I Facetime (or Skype) with the kids while you get caught up on that project?
- Would a visit from me help?
3. Use words of praise often – and sincerely.
Every new parent feels insecure. I sure did – did you?
Even if these young parents of today can rattle off their newly-acquired internet-based knowledge, they’re still concerned about whether they’re parenting correctly.
At first, I figured my son and his wife didn’t need praise from me because they know so much more about baby care than I ever did. But I was wrong. I saw their faces light up on the very first visit we made to see our first newborn grandchild when I spontaneously remarked, “You two are doing such a good job! You know Charlotte so well and how to take care of her. I’m impressed!”
To this day, I still make it a point to let my son and his wife know what a good job I think they’re doing as parents, especially when I’m visiting. It’s easy to do so — because they really are terrific parents! You might want to consider offering specific praise such as:
- “Audrey loves books so much! What a great start you’re giving her!”
- “I am so impressed with the teachers at Lawson’s daycare. You picked a great one!”
- “They never had sleep sacks when my kids were little. What a great idea! You two sure know so much about taking care of Lucia.”
- “Having Owen go through a picky eater phase must wear you out. But, for what it’s worth, I think you’re handling it so well.”
- “I love how Ruby is always the first one to want to help out. You two are teaching her such good values!”
- “What a terrific stroller! You sure know what you’re doing!”
Their eyes will sparkle!
Believe it or not, when you’re visiting, the young parents might be worried they only have a short time to make a good impression on you! Let them hear words of praise and admiration from you fairly quickly during your visit. Be specific in what you’re praising.
4. Be sparse with advice.
Uh-oh. I see something I don’t like or something for which I know a better way. I’m only visiting for another two days. Should I work this into the conversation? But that opportunity might not come up. What to do?
I almost always keep my mouth shut. My son and his wife know more about their children – and how they want them to “turn out.” They are not raising their kids like we raised ours … but our folks undoubtedly said the same thing about us. And so it goes.
However, my own personal philosophy is when I see something unsafe, I speak up. An example is when I saw that our grandson Anderson who had recently learned to walk could reach the door knobs of the patio door. I let the parents know he could be out on the deck in a jiffy. I let them know my “butting in” was only because of safety. I couldn’t sleep at night ignoring a safety issue, and I hope because I don’t interfere much in other areas, my advice on safety matters is more warmly received.
If I do have a better way of doing something, I am careful to present it as gee-whiz info and not an edict. You might want to present advice casually, such as, “Goodness, I remember when my babies cried after feeding. Sometimes burping them helped … but who knows if that would work with Alejandro …”
5. Don’t talk about your other grandkids too much.
I have heard this can be a problem when people have grandkids from one adult child living in town while another child and his or her kids are miles away. The last thing the out-of-town parent wants to hear too often is all the fun you’re having with the in-town grands. Nor does this child want to hear about all the ways you’re able to help the sibling who is close to your home.
If this was my situation, I wouldn’t be deceptive in talking about my life. But I would avoid piling on with statements like:
- “Gramma and I take Lucy to the pancake house every Saturday morning!”
- “I always double-batch my chili to run some over to Martina and Matt and the kids.”
- “You know, that little Darnell knows where everything is in my condo!”
This advice applies to Facebook postings. I would be reserved. Always assume that your posting of photos of the in-town grands at your backyard swimming pool will be hurtful — if only a little bit — to your adult children in another state who are wishing you could be there with their kiddos. Don’t avoid posting; just don’t overdo.
What works for you? How are you a good parent to your out-of-town adult child who’s now a parent? Your wisdom — in the Comments section below — can help all of us.
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