It is a grand moment when you learn you are going to be a grandparent. Hopefully this is good news (thought sometimes the circumstances make it a difficult moment to celebrate). But for most of us, the news of pending grandparenthood is very emotional and thrilling.
I remember the first time we heard this news. It was February, and our daughter and son-in-law came by to give us Valentines, which were actually baby announcements—one for Grandpa and one for Grandma! We were thrilled—and momentarily shocked—at the idea of becoming grandparents! We just looked at each other with huge smiles and some tears. Immediately I went to my daughter to hug her and ask how she was feeling. My baby was going to have a baby! It was truly a grand moment.
Amazingly, just two months later my other daughter surprised us with a gift of two baby picture frames, one for both grandchildren on the way. This one was due in November! We were overflowing with joy and gratitude. We wanted the whole world to know, and I’m sure we bored our very patient and loving friends with how much we gushed about our happy news. It was similar with each of my ten grandchildren. Each announcement, and each child, was as special as the first one.
If you’re a first-time grandparent-to-be, you will likely get past that initial rush of emotions and soon begin to ask, “Now what do I do?” You’re going to be a grandparent, but you still have many months to wait for the blessed event. How can you prepare for grandchildren? Do you need special training? There are books on how to be a grandparent, but little material on how to prepare for this role.
In today’s world, many of us can expect to be grandparents and even great-grandparents. Our health may be better than our own grandparents, and we will have the opportunity to play a significant and influential role in the lives of our grandchildren.
Being the organizer I am, I really took this waiting time seriously and had a lot of fun being creative in the planning. Here are my suggestions for how to make this time meaningful, productive, and fun.
Strengthen Family Bonds
When a new life in the family is being formed, it is a unique time to consider your family relationships and the heritage of this child, since family relationships do not occur in isolation but are imbedded within a family system. A study by Mueller and Elder on “Family Contingencies Across the Generations” found that grandparents’ involvement is deeply influenced by their relationship with their own grandparents, as well as nuances in the relationship with their own children who are becoming parents.
It is important at this time to strive for strengthening family bonds, clearing up strained relationships, asking forgiveness, and communicating on a positive level. Establishing or re-establishing a healthy relationship with your own children will do nothing but benefit a future relationship with their children, your grandchildren! Do what is needed, as much as possible, to make peace in your family or get the help necessary to achieve it. Those strengthened family bonds will bless the new life that will soon be added to your family.
Things to Do While You Wait
Now that I have become a grandmother ten precious times, I would like to share with you some things I enjoyed doing to prepare for these new lives. Perhaps these ideas might inspire you during your grandparent waiting period, which is a great time for grandparents to express their creativity.
- One of our first conversations was about what we would be called. For me, I loved my maternal grandmother and preferred to call her “Grandma.” My fraternal grandmother was a fine woman, but more distant to me and she remained “Grandmother.” So, I was hoping to be called Grandma. However, there would be two sets of grandparents, and my daughter’s preferences were important too. Now is the time to talk about this issue, if it is important to you.
- Being a child development teacher, I was very aware of the new life that was forming prenatally. I was quickly growing attached to this beginning life and wanted its reality to be more tangible. So I copied a prenatal chart that illustrates each month of growth and put it on my kitchen wall. I used a post-it note that said “Grandbaby #1” and moved it along as the baby grew, and then soon added one for “Grandbaby #2.” My guests and students enjoyed watching this progression, and I took a picture of it for the baby’s scrapbook.
- Part of becoming a grandparent is realizing that your own child is going to be a parent. I became nostalgic about my daughters’ early lives and wondered if their children would be like them. So I put together a scrapbook about each one’s early years so I’d be ready to tell my grandchildren those stories someday. I selected pictures that highlighted my daughters’ lives and interests, and wrote comments for my grandbabies, wondering about how they might become like mommy or daddy.
- As I was becoming attached to each unborn grandchild, I wrote a letter to him or her describing how excited we were to have him/her join the family and the preparations being made. I described what the parents were experiencing, how mommy was looking, how the siblings were preparing, and what the nursery was looked like. I also told the baby something special about his/her unique position in the family, how I was excited for this new family member, and that I was looking forward to watching him/her grow and develop unique talents and interests. Prior to the birth, I gave these letters to the parents to put in the child’s baby book to be part of the child’s history and to be read whenever desired.
- Naturally, we were eager to start buying things for the child. I find it important to communicate with the expectant parents about their needs and desires before going too far with purchasing. I enjoyed shopping for a maternity outfit with them and also selecting a crib of their choice as our main purchase, which would last for all the children they would have. I enjoyed making a quilt that matched the selected color scheme. For the second child I might buy a double stroller or make a quilt for the older child as it moves into a big bed. But again, grandparents need to make sure this is about what they want and not our own dreams or desires.
As the Birth Approaches …
As the big day grows near, it is important to keep communicating with the expectant parents about their desires and needs. Some might want you in the birthing room, and some won’t. Some will want you to help at their home after the birth, and some won’t. Respect their wishes and do not have your own personal agenda—they are the main players in this drama. Be a welcome help and not an unwelcome intrusion. Remember that birthing procedures and methods change, so be ready to be flexible.
As you prepare for your role during and after the birth, you might consider:
- Getting directions to the hospital, compiling a list of whom to call and the phone numbers, and having the camera ready.
- If you are going to stay with them, have your bags packed and clear your schedule as much as possible. I also liked to tuck in my favorite recipes and some non-perishable food ingredients.
If it is not the first child, be sure to take something to do with the other children. They will need your attention most of all, and loving and entertaining them may be the greatest way you can help during this time.
- Remember that your role is to be a support and encouragement to the new parents. It’s good to allow them to enjoy focused time on the new baby and let them be the parents—not you. Your role, assuming they want your help, is to keep the home, food, laundry, and activities running smoothly so they can rest as much as possible and bond with the baby. Give advice only when it’s asked for, and be a source of unconditional love and faith in their ability to be parents. Have a resilient spirit.
- This is a good time to start journaling about the child’s life. I have ten separate journals, one for each grandchild. Periodically I write things the grandchildren have said or done, or about events we have experienced together, and I often include their art work or pictures. Sometimes I have the children draw or write in their journal to help record their development. I hope these journals will be a source of fun memories and delight when the grandchildren are older.
- During the first year of each new grandchild’s life, my husband started a savings account for their future education, and I have enjoyed keeping that tradition since he died. There may be other creative ways you can help support the child’s future.
- My children gave me a grandmother necklace with charms for each grandchild, and that very full necklace is my treasure. Find ways to celebrate the joy that comes with your new role.
For some, becoming a grandparent may be stressful. Maybe the circumstances are not what you desired. Special situations such as single parenting, illness, fragmented relationships, or distance may dampen the joy. But even then, please stay positive. You can find courage, wisdom, and love beyond what was thought possible in these special circumstances. A grandchild is a new life, a new beginning, a new hope. Some have found good friends, wise elders, and helpful resources to be extremely valuable during the transition to grandparenthood.
Enjoy this magical time and anticipate all the delightful years ahead as a grandparent. There is nothing quite so special as driving up to your grandchild’s home and having them run out and say, “Yea, Grandma is here!” You feel like a celebrity. And to them, you are!
Susan Giboney retired as Professor of Education and Human Development at Pepperdine University. She is the mother of three and grandmother of 10. Susan serves on several boards, including the Boone Center for the Family and the Associated Women for Pepperdine. She enjoys teaching a premarital class and a class in a women’s prison. She is a speaker, author and teacher, and lives in Malibu, California.