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Grandparenting dos and don'ts

Do...

  • Tell the parents as often as you get the chance what wonderful parents they are, and how beautiful, clever, talented and nice the children are. Tell your co-grandparents the same; in general, pile on the praise with a trowel. To the parents, their baby boy is always as beautiful as Adonis, their girl lovelier than Helen of Troy. You probably think so anyway, so don’t keep your opinion to yourself, share it.
  • Stick to the parents’ line on Sex, God and Death. Sooner or later you will have to answer such questions as "Who is baby Jesus?" and "What happened to Rex (or the cat, or the rabbit) when he died?" When your grandchild asks you where babies come from, should you launch into a biology lesson or mumble something about the stork or the gooseberry bush? You can’t go wrong if you accept the parents’ version of matters of life, death and religion, whether or not you approve of it. But you can only do this if you know what their version is. Good Grannies anticipate these awkward moments and check with the parents.

Don’t...

  • Ever put yourself in the position where you hear those dreadful whispered words: ‘When’s she going?’ If in doubt, make your visits short. Quit while you’re ahead – and leave them wanting more. Apart from anything else, after a few days helping out with a new baby, you will be on your knees and longing for your own bed.
  • Say anything that might imply that your son-in-law/ daughter-in-law is really lucky to be married to your daughter/son.
  • Say anything to your daughter or daughter-in-law suggesting that you know more than she does about bringing up children, or that you were a better mother than she is. Constructive advice offered in a loving, supportive way is always welcome. Criticism, implied or overt, is not.

And definitely don’t say any of the following:

  • I had you sleeping through the night/weaned/walking/ talking before you were…
  • Goodness, feeding him again?
  • All babies look the same to me (usually a grandpa remark rather than a granny remark).
  • We never did that with you.
  • She’s never any trouble when she’s with me. Why don’t you...?
  • Crying exercises their lungs.
  • I wonder why he isn’t smiling/crawling/walking/talking yet...
  • Pity he has his father’s chin/eyes/nose/temper.
  • Never mind, perhaps the next one will be a boy.
  • You’re not going to send them to state schools, are you?
  • You’re not going to send them to private schools, are you?
  • When are you going to get his hair cut? (Don’t even say this when he is 30 years old. Especially not when he is 30).
  • Don’t say to the baby: It’s such a pity I get to see so little of you [sigh].
  • Don’t say to your grandchildren: "Let’s ask mummy if you can stay up late/watch TV/have sweeties/a puppy for your birthday." If you have something to say to the parents, say it direct, not through a fake conversation with your grandchild. It puts the parents in an impossible position.
  • Whatever you do, don’t criticise the chosen name. Parents are very sensitive about the names they choose for their children, so if you think the chosen name is ghastly, keep mum. Likewise, do not say, "Aren’t you going to call her by a family name?"
  • These days, after paid maternity leave, more than 50% of mothers of children under five go to work: one third work full time and two thirds work part time. This is very different from how things were for us, when working mothers were the exception, not the rule. You may not approve of your daughter or daughter-in-law going back to work so soon, but this, like many subjects you may feel like airing, comes under the heading "none of your business".

 

Adapted from The Good Granny Guide: Or How to Be a Modern Grandmother

 

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