"We're pregnant." That's often how our grown sons or daughters let us know they and their spouses are starting a new family. Whatever the wording and from whichever child it comes, the message is a joy to our ears. We have visions of cuddly grandbabies nuzzling up to our chins or taking their first step in our living rooms. Our hearts fill with the idea that there will be a new generation with whom to share our wisdom--to say nothing of a big chunk of our genes. We'll play with them. Be silly with them. Spoil them when their parents aren't around. Oh the fun we'll have.
We can get way ahead of ourselves and right from the start. We may make plans to be there for the birth--whether or not we're invited. Or decide to meet our little heirs the day after they take their first breath. Surprise! An unexpected visit from the grandparents who live thousands of miles away.
Whoa. It's concern about actions like these that have created a groundswell of courses on grandparenting. From New York to Seattle and on to Chicago and Houston there are classes on how to not mess up the grandparenting thing. Who would think advice is needed but grandparenting can be pretty complicated.
We may know best about burping and diaper changing and feeding schedules, but we are not in charge. Moreover, we aren't the only grandparents involved. Our child is not the only new parent in the family. In short, we can easily offend and strain relationships with our son- or daughter-in-law, or their parents. We need to tiptoe on those eggshells. It's important to get it right from the get-go.
“Ask your children what they need." That's the core of the advice Sally Tannen gives at a grandparenting class she teaches in New York City." ‘How can I help you?’ is probably the best gift you can give them,” she suggests. “It will go very far toward allowing relationships to flourish if they feel supported in their role as parents.”
Another key suggestion: “They’re feeling so vulnerable as new parents that they hear everything through the lens of criticism, no matter what we say. And they push us away. They want to be the bosses of their own lives and their own kids.”
Not that we didn't know that from our own experiences when we became new parents and our parents may have offered more advice than we wanted. But sometimes our grandparenting enthusiasm runs high and we forget what it was like for us.
We want to be helpful, but grandparenting is another and very similar page in parenting grown children: We have to remember not to try to take over.