It’s the news you’ve been waiting for – you’re going to be a grandparent! A wave of excitement washes over you as all the emotions you felt before having your first child come flooding back.
But before you start raiding the attic or pulling apart the garage to find nigh-on 30-year-old comfort blankets and Christening gowns, take a breath. This is life-changing news for your son or daughter. They are likely still processing the information themselves and might not be ready to talk about the benefits of breastfeeding or whether they want a mosses basket or swinging crib.
A baby is a wonderful addition to the family and this bundle of joy will no doubt be smothered with love from its first cry, but pregnancy and birth are not without their stresses, especially for first time parents. We spoke to expectant mum Emma to find out how grandparents can stay on the right side of helpful and avoid crossing into overbearing territory. Here, she gives us her top tips:
1. Don’t expect the expectant parents to be able to answer all of your questions immediately
From the moment we saw those two lines on the test, we had a million questions – and we’re still working through a lot of them! From sleeping arrangements to middle names, we have a lot to process and decide. Please don’t get frustrated if many of our answers are “I’m not sure” or “We haven’t decided yet”. I can promise you that from car seats to colic treatment, we have spent several hours on Google trails or reading threads on the many mother and baby groups there are on Facebook. Give us chance to weigh up the options and please be respectful of our final choices.
2. Shop smart
I’ve noticed that everyone around us seems to be so much more readily accepting of the fact we’re having a baby and this seems to trigger shopping mode! My mum has been stockpiling nappies and baby wipes since December last year while it took us until I was 25 weeks pregnant to pick a travel system (that’s what they call the car seat and pram package these days.)
Shopping for little person things is actually quite fun and is a really good way for everyone to get used to the idea of welcoming a baby into the world. It’s important to bear in mind that some mums-to-be might be a little bit precious about what they are responsible for purchasing, so it’s always best to check before filling a bottom drawer.
We had a discussion quite early on with our parents about what we’re happy for them to get for us and what we’d like to buy ourselves, and this was initiated by my mother in law. Suggestions are always welcome, but we made it clear that we want to pick the big things like nursery furniture and his coming home outfit. As for cotton wool and nappy sacks – knock yourselves out!
3. Don’t pass off our parenting fears as a result of the ‘nanny state’ we now live in
Feed them, change them, cuddle them. We’ve got that bit sorted but there is so much more we’ve been exposed to that makes us worry. The internet is a blessing and a curse. Yes, we can find out what hundreds of other parents think about the latest heartrate sensor cot pad alert system, but we are also bombarded with horror stories of asthma-causing mould growing in bottle sterilisers and babies almost losing their limbs because some thread in a bootie got caught round a tiny, perfect toe. We might seem over dramatic, and in time we’ll likely realise how crazy some of these fears are, but you’ll know as a parent yourself – you never really stop worrying! Please don’t tell us we’re being ridiculous, just squeeze our arm and tell us we’ll be OK.
4. Support our decisions around revealing the sex or name of the baby
Despite being firmly on ‘team surprise’ for my entire adult life, as soon as I found out I was pregnant, I wanted to know the sex! I’m still not 100% convinced my partner wanted to find out, but we did. I think our families were also quite excited. Even though she was joking, I remember my partner’s grandma saying “We’ll love it whatever it is, as long as it’s a boy!” Guess we got lucky in that respect. However, not everyone wants to find out and whether you think it should remain a secret or you want to find out yourselves, it really is the parent’s decision and they should be supported either way.
The same goes for names. Some of my friends committed to the names of their children before they conceived, picking the monikers of loved ones that have passed or honouring family traditions. My own mum said I was always going to be Emma Louise – Emma after her grandmother and Louise after her great grandma. Also, it was the mid-80s and is possibly one of the most common names for English women my age!
Naming a child is very personal, it’s something the baby will have to live with forever and can really shape who they are. With 10 weeks to go, we still haven’t decided on a name for our son and I don’t want to commit to anything until I’ve seen his face. Another reason for keeping quiet is that I don’t want to hear anybody else’s opinion! Too many times I’ve seen people crushed when a family member or friend says something like “I went to school with an Alfie, he was a horrible bully” or “My neighbour has a dog called Skye”.
5. Give the new parents some alone time
My best friend is about to have her fourth child and this advice comes from her: give the parents some alone time with the baby.
New mums are sore, sleep deprived and emotional. Dads are tired and bewildered. There is a tiny person yelling demands in a language nobody understands and the housework will have taken a backseat. In this situation, the last thing new parents need is an influx of guests wanting cups of tea and cuddles with the new love of their life. Bonding with the baby takes priority and you should always be respectful of this precious time.
While you’re understandably desperate to get to know your grandchild, please don’t turn up unannounced, and if you can, help the new parents to manage visits from eager family and friends in the first couple of weeks. Unless you’re looking after the baby while the parents try to get some sleep, try to limit visiting time to an hour too. It will take quite a while for a routine to be established and you never know when household nap time will strike!
In contrast, you could end up with 18 phone-calls a day as your desperate son or daughter seeks advice on swaddling, green poo and clipping teeny tiny fingernails. Take the rough with the smooth – a routine will soon be established and it’ll feel like the latest addition to your family has always been there.