Who knew you would ever be as old as your grandparents seemed to you! But now it’s happened. You’re going to be a grandma or grandpa.
Amid all the joy and excitement when you hear that an addition to your family is on its way, you may have questions and feel trepidation. You may wonder how involved you’ll be in your grandchild’s life, and how the baby will change your relationship with your adult child.
To have a healthy and happy relationship with your child and grandchild, you need to set healthy boundaries with them and they with you. Healthy boundaries are necessary for every type of relationship, and they may change as people change.
Think of boundaries like the “rules of the road” in a relationship. Just like with driving, rules aren’t meant to hurt you but to keep you and everyone around you healthy, happy, and safe. For example, your spouse may know you need thirty minutes of quiet when you first get home from work to shake off the day in order to be a good partner to them. Or you may know that your partner needs a weekly “boy’s night” or “girl’s night” with just their friends. You need to set these same kinds of rules when grandchildren first arrive in your family.
Here are five “rules” to follow when a pregnancy is announced, or a baby arrives:
1. Give space and ask for space
Your child once needed constant supervision and could do little on their own. Your adult child still needs you, but in a different way. They need your emotional support and encouragement as they take on new responsibilities and cope with challenges. And pregnancy, childbirth, and child-rearing can be life’s greatest challenges.
Your child and son- or daughter-in-law need the space to figure out what kind of parents they want to be. If you’re hovering over them all the time, they can’t do that. They may not make the same child-rearing decisions you did, and that’s okay. There is no one right way to raise a child.
You need space, too. You may be excited to babysit the new addition to your family, and your child may frequently ask you to help out. But you may not want to do as much care-taking as your child wants. And, no matter how much you love your grandchild, you’ll need a break from time to time. It’s okay to set boundaries with your child even if it seems they need you all the time. You can’t be a good parent or grandparent if you’re physically and emotionally exhausted.
2. Listen more than you talk
You may be itching to give your child lots of parenting advice. You have opinions about everything: their birth plan, baby names, breastfeeding versus formula, sleep training, potty training. It’s great that you’re so enthusiastic, but what your child needs from you is to listen. Your child needs to know that you’re there for them, that you believe in them and trust them. If they want your advice, they’ll ask for it. If you bombard them with too many opinions, eventually they’ll tune you out and won’t hear any of it, no matter how vital it is.
3. Continue traditions and favorite family activities
Just because a grandchild has joined the family doesn’t mean all the activities you enjoyed with your adult child pre-baby have to end. Maybe you loved going to baseball games with your son or daughter and went several times a year. You might have to wait a little while before you can go to a game together—until the baby is fully vaccinated and can be in a crowd, or until they’re old enough to stay with a caretaker for a few hours—but you can watch games at home together while the baby naps or nurses.
Somethings will change when the baby arrives, but not everything has to—or should.
4. Make room for their significant other
If you make your child choose between you and their partner, you’re probably headed for disappointment. Don’t try to wedge yourself between the new parents or treat your son- or daughter-in-law poorly. Whether you’re thrilled with your child’s choice of partner or not, you have to treat your in-law with respect. For instance, when your daughter and son-in-law arrive with the baby, don’t shove your son-in-law aside to get to your grandchild. You may be excited to see the little one, but you shouldn’t treat your in-law like they are nothing more than a babysitter. If you treat your son- or daughter-in-law well, they’ll be more inclined to welcome you into their new child’s life.
5. Build a life for yourself outside of your family
The quickest way to overwhelm your child is to treat your grandchild like they’re the only important thing in your life. Your new grandchild might be the most important thing, but they shouldn’t be the only important thing. If you like the feeling of someone depending on you and like being around kids, volunteer at a library or children’s museum, or if you enjoy taking care of someone, adopt a pet. Studies have shown that owning a cat or dog can reduce heart disease and cholesterol levels, and also increase positive emotions.
Having a pet while growing older is like having a contract to grow old together. Pets offer love and affection, and the responsibility for the well-being of the pet—especially a dog—makes you get up and out no matter what. The added love is an emotional, physical, and spiritual advantage to anyone who can manage a pet’s care.
Something you can do between visits with your grandchild is to write. Many people turn to memoir writing as a way to record the memories they’ve accumulated over a rich Instead of bombarding your child with your parenting opinions, write your advice down along with why you’re giving it–what experience did you have in the past made you want to give that advice today.
As a place to start, choose a time that was especially meaningful and memorable to you, or one that was challenging and taught you many hard-earned lessons. For example, what were you doing in 1968? Who was in your social circle? What did you eat and drink? What were your favorite things to do? What were your hopes and dreams? What did you learn?
Your written memories will entertain, enlighten, and inform your children, grandchildren, and many future generations.