Grandparenting: the Do's and Dont's
Grandma Janice Marriott shares her words of wisdom on being the best grandparent you can be, in this extract from her book Grandparents Talk.
No matter what our circumstances, whether we are distant and regularly Skyping or close by, grandparents can be significant people in the lives of our grandchildren. How do we contribute to our grandchildren’s lives?
- We know that childhood is fleeting. We appreciate each little moment we spend with them.
- We feel more confident at child-rearing now, the second time around.
- We are unshockable and tolerant because of the amount of change our generation has experienced.
- We value the chance to share the experience of child rearing with our children and their partners.
- We have long memories. We have knowledge of that great stretch of time between remembering our own grandparents’ stories - maybe of the Depression, or wars - and our valiant, if confused, keeping up with the Xboxes, Minecraft and Snapchat of our grandchildren. We have knowledge of at least five generations, spanning more than a century - grandparent, parent, ourselves, our children, grandchildren.
- We are family historians, passing on stories, games, songs, recipes, and family history.
- We can be rocks for the grandchildren to cling to if marriages fail,
- We just love our grandkids, unconditionally, and they know it.
We get a kick out of seeing our own children as parents. We want to rush in, look after the new mum, clean and cuddle the new baby, cook a hundred meals - but we don’t. We are older and wiser now.
With the new parents:
- We try to be helpful, but never too helpful.
- If we hear ourselves saying, “You should,” or “We always used to…” or “Why don’t you…?” we stop, breathe and start again
- We don’t criticise the baby’s name, or the spelling of it
- Way back in the past we were more permissive parents. Now a child-rearing routine is back in vogue because it fits in with working parents and their inflexible schedules. We accept this
As the babies get older we make a few rules for ourselves.
- We don’t say, “They are never any trouble when they are with me.”
- We don’t correct their manners in front of their parents
- We don’t give advice unless it is asked for
- We don’t feed them food or show them YouTube clips the parents disapprove of
We don’t forget:
- We are guests in our children’s houses
- The beliefs and values of grandchildren are their parents’ responsibility, not ours
- To look after ourselves. We are older and frailer. We know it isn’t wise to jump on a skateboard to show the grandkids how it is done
- Grandchildren's birthdays
What DO we do?
- We love to listen to our grandchildren, to play with them, to give them one-to-one attention
- We teach them any skills we may have - gardening, cooking, ball-skills, model building, carpentry, music, knitting – anything at all
- We cheer from the sidelines and in the school hall
- We arrange family gatherings, and bring cousins together
- We sing along with the kids to Simon and Garfunkel, The Beatles, Pete Seegar, The Beach Boys, even Peter, Paul and Mary, in the car
- We prance and dance to their loud music in the afternoon
- We are not usually as busy as their parents. The best gift we can give our grandchildren is time
Grandparenting keeps us young. We exercise our bodies by crawling around on the floor and running after toddlers down the pavement. Later we exercise our brains by trying to understand the homework exercises and trying to memorise the names of every dinosaur that ever walked the Earth.
We tell ourselves that keeping up with the modern world is good for us. We are determined to learn to use:
- A baby monitor
- Baby sleeping bags
- A newfangled super-complicated pushchair. We practise in the evening folding and unfolding it. It is a good exercise to keep our brains young and challenged
- iPad and Smartphone apps
- Instructions that come with gifts that require construction
- The word ‘organic’
- A car booster seat. Hint: practise strapping it into the car before you pick up the child
- Child-proof bottles
The ideal grandparent Barbie doll would come complete with:
- A driving licence
- Sticking plasters with pictures on them
- Fast internet connection
- Smart phone
- Walls full of family photos
- Perfect pitch and a great singing voice
- Big outside table
- A waggy pet dog
- A shed crammed with tools
- A walled wild garden with a flat, mown lawn with no prickles in it
- Neighbours who will throw the balls back
- Endless supplies of pasta and yoghurt, board games and dice, cards and Lego
- Deep pockets
But there is no model for a real life ideal grandparent. Families all vary. We get along as best we can. And we grandparents know that at the end of a long day our grandchildren are not our own children. Their parents are the most important people in their lives. So we prepare ourselves for that moment when the grandchildren say goodbye and go off with their parents without a backward glance at either the mess or the love so obviously on display. We make sure we have our own, grown up, way of relaxing after they have all gone home.
Grandparents Talk by Janice Marriott RRP $39.99 Available at all good bookstores.