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Becoming a grandparent for the first time can be incredibly rewarding and fun-filled as you revel in the joys of the first steps, words and birthdays. Of course, being a new grandparent isn't without its challenges, from navigating how much time spent together is 'right' to knowing when to dispense parenting pearls of wisdom.
To help, we've collated the wit and experience of gransnetters on the subject of what awaits new grandparents and how to give much needed support over the sleepless weeks ahead.
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Whether or not you're actually there for the first smile or the first steps, make the most of whatever moments you do witness. Celebrate every milestone (big or small) and don't forget to record progress for posterity. Have a camera or a journal with you at every opportunity...and be sure to call the parents should an extra special event take place without them!
If you're grandparenting long-distance, ensure you're on stand-by for those all-important Skype calls. And if, for whatever reason, you're denied contact with - or are estranged from - your grandchild, take steps to find out what your rights as a grandparent are and try to keep all lines of communication open (if possible) to show that you're always within reach.
"Be the fun person your grandchild looks forward to seeing and being with. Write a journal with all the things you do with your grandchild during a visit, things they say to you and what milestones they have reached."
"I have written letters in a journal to my granddaughter from when she was born; it is a pretty book and I'll give it to her when she is older. I know she'll love reading about what we did together."
"Make life exciting. Make every day count, whether it's making dens in the garden or jumping fully clothed in giant puddles and soaking yourselves or cooking up weird and wonderful baking catastrophes."
"It's a granny's privilege to spoil her grandchildren. Spend time with them, giving them all your attention. Let them help you with cooking, then help you wash up afterwards. Let them help with the cleaning by giving them a duster and a coffee table to dust. Let them help you in the garden, washing the car. Let them get dirty then let them have fun in the bath."
"Try to see your grandchild regularly as they will grow up so fast!"
"It doesn't take money - just your love, patience and time. Always have a smile and sometimes a treat."
"Just enjoy your precious time with your new grandchild."
Be careful to treat your grandchild as your grandchild and not as your own child. Take a step back when necessary and relish the fact that you don't have to deal with them during the wee hours of the morning when they insist on screaming the house down. The best thing about taking care of your grandchild is that you can have all the fun and hand them back at the end of the day.
"As long as I remember it isn't my baby and the parents have to be left to do things their way, things work out well for all of us and I get the pleasure and fun without some of the bad bits that being a mother entails."
"Remember you are Grandma and not Mum!"
"The rush of love when meeting a grandchild for the first time is both wonderful and overwhelming. But don't worry too much."
"Don't call her baby your baby. Don't ask about overnights. Don't pick baby up without asking. Don't be offended if they don't want you in the delivery room/visitors for a few days. It's their time with their baby."
"How much advice should I give the new parents?" a gransnetter once asked. The answer came back: "somewhere between none and none." It's tempting to point out that those fashions in babycare that they're following with gritted teeth and fixed expressions are mostly fads, but don't do it. If they absolutely force you to give them advice, pretend it came from them.
"You have to allow the parents to parent their own child without interfering. Be there with advice if asked for it."
"Only step in and give advice when you are asked. Everyone needs to learn for themselves and it just gives new parents more pressure to do things a certain way if you try and tell them your way of doing things."
"No matter how many kids you've raised or how they've turned out, your adult child and his or her spouse/partner are now in charge of the childrearing. So be cautious about offering opinions or advice unless asked directly. And even then, tread lightly and express yourself gently!"
"Remember things have changed since you had your family. Helpful comments like 'Oh, I used to do...' can seem like a criticism to a first-time mum. Just smile, be supportive and tell them how proud you are."
"It's good advice to remember you are now one step back. Some of the current thinking on babies and toddlers is definitely different to the advice back in the day. My tack is to ask, 'so, tell me, what's the best way to...' these days. Listen to the answer and do what the parents prefer. If, and only if, the parents perceive a problem and ask for advice offer some, otherwise keep your own counsel."
"I've found with my daughter-in-law that being encouraging is the singular best thing you can do. I regularly tell her that I think she's doing great."
"Be supportive and encouraging. A new parent could hear a few good positive comments every now and then...because we all do try our best but sometimes we feel like we're failing. Also tell the father how proud you are of all his efforts as dads often get brushed off or forgotten about."
"She might look like a mess. Her house might be a mess. The baby may be a mess. Don't mention anything. Just try and put a smile on and tell her she looks good."
"Don't laugh when they tell you the name they have chosen for their child."
It's good to be involved in your grandchild's life and to let the parents know that you're ready and willing to help out when needed. Whether it's cooking or cleaning in the first month or providing childcare a couple of days a week once the parents go back to work, another pair of hands could be invaluable. But always remember those boundaries, ask before stepping in, and don't be offended if the parents say no.
"What new parents desperately need is sleep, so if you have the time, swoop in. But remember that this is not a time for sitting down and cuddling the baby. While Mum catches a few zzzzs, you can wash the dishes, put the washing on, do the ironing and prepare dinner. Much easier with your own daughter than daughter-in-law, so maybe drop off dinner for your daughter-in-law ready to be heated and offer to take away any washing. It is really important for those first tiring days and weeks to let Mum and Dad parent and you do the practical, boring stuff. Fun comes much later in bucket loads along with lashings of love, hugs and kisses."
"My mother-in-law helped us and it was the best thing anyone could offer me at that time. I was able to concentrate on the baby's feeding, the sleeping patterns, and most of all looking after myself to get back on my feet. She stayed for two weeks. I stayed with my daughter for three weeks."
"My son and daughter would not have wanted me there all the time, but I know some adult children do. If the father is home at first taking paternity leave then they may want time on their own to get used to being a family of three."
"Remember what you wanted from your parents/in-laws when your kids were little, and offer that to you own child."
"Always ask and don't be offended or upset if the answer is no. It's so easy to become stifling or controlling with the best of intentions."
"If they have enough space offer to go and visit to help, not hinder, but don't be upset if they say no - they are fine."
First-time grandparenting can be just as exciting as first-time parenting, but ensure that you stick to the rules laid out by the parents, even if you think you know better. Give them the chance to learn and develop as parents...and to make mistakes if necessary.
"Don't take over too much and enjoy the fact you can give them back when they cry!"
"Let the parents make their own mistakes."
"Don't become overbearing. Remember that whatever way they choose to discipline their child is their business and also show your support by reinforcing their boundaries and rules regarding their kids. Love your grandchildren but not in a 'too bits' kind of way."
Tempting as it is to splash out on cute little babygros at the annoucement of a new arrival, it's probably worth checking whether the parents already have them (parents often receive hundreds of babygros in newborn size) and whether they really want their newborn infant dressed in the colours of your favourite football team. You may want to offer to buy some of the big items like a pushchair or a crib but speak to the parents before you decide on anything specific.
"Liaise with the parents on colour schemes so if you want to buy items they will match colour-wise. Also make sure you buy the basic (not so pretty and cute) items that are essential but can be overlooked."
"Don't buy stuff YOU like! Ask the parents-to-be what they actually like. Sometimes the generation gap shows different items are liked and both parties end up being upset."
"Hold back on too many presents."
"Give money rather than buying things yourself. My youngest daughter-in-law never got to buy anything for her first baby as her mum got over-excited. Still she turns up with clothes, even though my daughter-in-law has asked her not to. She feels she was robbed of the experience of buying things for her babies."
Beware of granimosity. It isn't worth it. Honest. Whilst it may be difficult to negotiate your relationship with the in-laws, i.e the 'other' grandparents (be it maternal or paternal), it's wise to build a strong sense of grandparent camaraderie. That includes step-grandparents too. Trust us when we say that it'll help you to assess your own role as a grandparent and ensure that there's no unwanted competition.
"Keep calm when the other grandma is there. Note to self: just breathe!"
"Never let yourself drift into a competitive relationship with the 'other' grandparents."
"I had to learn how to fit in without getting in the way as a step-grandma, which I did by acknowledging how great it is for my step-daughter-in-law to have her mum close by, as is just what she needed to hear with a new baby in the house."
"I have four darling grandchildren through two of my three daughters. Your co-grandparents, especially the co-grandma, might feel like you are the primary grandparent so go out of your way to make sure they feel just as involved and important as you do."
Yes, it's important to be an active grandparent, but make sure you don't run yourself into the ground in the process. Set limits for yourself, don't allow your life to be dictated by childcare or parental expectations and remember that you can also say no when necessary.
"Don't feel you always have to take them out. My grandchildren have always appreciated the time to relax at my house. They don't want to go out for lunch and are happy with a picnic on the lounge floor. They like having the time to read, play, paint and create."
For more grandparenting tips and advice, chat to other grandparents on our forums.