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Preparing for Grandparenthood

On Tuesday's post about not having borne children and therefore having an old age without grandchildren, Karen Swift mentioned this in her comment:

”My first grandchild will arrive in November...I have been thinking a lot about exactly what kind of grandmother I want to be. Did any of you think about that ahead of time? I don't think I want to leave it up to my instincts!”

What an interesting question. Enough so that it was rolling around in my head when I woke way too early Wednesday morning (2:30AM) unable to go back to sleep. It has never occurred to me before that one might plan grandparenthood.

As I tried to wonder what kind of grandmother I might have become, the first image that popped into my head was Auntie Mame.

Or, maybe, something like my great Aunt Edith who was the closest thing I had to a grandmother.

She was 15 years old when she left home to join a traveling dance troupe, became a successful business woman, dressed oh-so elegantly, took me to fancy restaurants – just the two of us – listened when I talked and made me feel like I could grow up to be anything I wanted.

Then I realized she had some crucial experience I lacked: although she never married, she raised my father, her nephew, from the time he was 10 years old.

I suspect to be any good at grandparenting, one needs to have had some reasonably close knowledge of what kids are like and my experience is, essentially, zero.

So today, I am leaving Karen Swift's question up to you, dear readers, who are grandparents (that means men too). Soon-to-be parents make all kinds of preparations for the birth of their babies. Does grandparenthood need planning too?

Did you think about what style you'd take on? Or did you just follow your instincts? Did your children lay down any rules for you?

Our world has changed so much in the past two, three, four decades; does that make relating to young children today different from when you were raising your own? If so, how?

Let us know along with anything else that comes to mind that you think would help out Karen Swift.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Marcy Belson: Dear Dairy


Interesting question. I have two grown children, but am not yet a grandparent. I guess I figure I'd be a grandparent kind of like my own parents were grandparents to my children ... only I'd be better at it!

From what I've learned and am still learning (I have 9 grands)you feel your way along. There are too many factors involved to present a fixed attitude or method or whatever. As they have grown, my grandchildren are the greatest surprise of my life! Mostly? Relax and enjoy!

The question is, does one learn how to be a good grandparent from ones own grandparents or from ones own parents.
Both of my grandparents were quite old when I was born. One Grandma was disabled as a result of a stroke and never was able to speak to me. The other spent most of her time in the kitchen cooking for a load of her own kids, some of whom were still living at home. This is all very different from grandparents today who seem to be younger, and more "hip". Although I'll never be a grandpa, I'd like to think I would be one of the hip ones. BTW; does using the word "hip" make me un-hip?

I didn't plan anything. I fell in love with each one as they came, and enjoy being calmer and more sensible than I was as a parent, as they experience their triumphs and tragedies.

I agree with Arby. The relationship you have with your grands depends in part on who their parents are. In my opinion, it is easier to have a close relationship with the children of your daughter than it is with those of your son and his wife. But distance and frequency of visits have a part in it too. I adore my grands (6 bio and 2 step) and count them among my blessings.

I like Celia's answer. I have 6 grands and 5 great-grands, and my relationships with them all depends on how accessible they are, and have been, to me--some way more than others. So it runs the gamut from being almost a mother to one (according to him--now 35 and the father of 3 of my great-grands)to, sadly, not knowing some at all. How did/do I see myself? As the old matriarch sitting on her walker in the corner, camera clicking rapidly, and a proud benevolent smile aimed at them all. Family gatherings are infrequent, but treasured, and now with my present state of disability, my image is spot-on.

I don't have any grandchildren--- but what I have noticed over the years---grandparents tend to talk about grandchildren--which is good I guess.

If you don't have grandchildren --the subject is not all that interesting --

I am not a sour puss -- and just have to smile at their pride and joy once it happens.

I personally think instinct is very important in raising grandchildren. What works for one does not work for the other and the age you are will change with each new grandchild. Go with the flow.

I have 5 grandchildren, from college age down to 10, and I just plain enjoy them. Only one bit of advice - when their parents tell them something, DO NOT override them or tell them what you did differently. They're not your children. Especially important where food is concerned!

Otherwise, following your instincts is just fine. Trying to model yourself into the kind of grandparent you think you ought or want to be will make you a phony -- and kids smell a phony a mile away.

One thing I know, what kind of relationship you have with your grandkids depends to a great degree on how close you live to them. If you live close enough to have weekly if not daily contact it will be completely different than if you are hours away and see them only occasionally. I so envy the "other grandparents" who up and moved to the town where our grandkids live. They can choose to be so much more present in their lives than I have been able to be.

I think the main thing is to relax about being a grandparent. Each grandchild will be different and enjoy different things. We have 3 grandchildren and 3 great grandchildren with a 4th on the way. We follow any of the parents wishes but we are still able to relax and enjoy. We try to stay current with TV programs and movies, computer skills and definitely taking our hints from the personalities of the grandchildren and the great grandchildren. They are all individuals and some enjoy quiet things and some enjoy activity. We do have to limit our visits due to health and stamina but we hear comments that the children make to their parents about enjoying our visits. So I would say relax and enjoy. Don't try to fit any certain mold, it will all come to you along with so many blessings.

I am a new grandparent this year (times two) and I have given grandparenting some thought. I want to be a good example of someone willing to learn new things and try new experiences. I will do my best to love and encourage my grandchildren in their endeavors. I will read books, stories, and poetry to them and tell them the family stories.

I will, to the best of my ability, love and encourage my children and their spouses as they take the lead in raising my grandchildren. If I do these things, then I will have been a good grandparent.

I retired about the time our first grandchild was born with the hope of spending lots of time with her. Then two years later, her brother came along, adding more joy to our life. We make ourselves available whenever our daughter calls us. All other tasks fall by the wayside so that we can spend time with these two cuties.

Yes, I talk a lot about my grandchildren, and I write about them on my blog, and I post pictures on Facebook. I will pull out my phone, without hesitation, to show videos and pictures to those who are interested (or show a modicum of interest) in my grandchildren. Many of our friends knew our daughter as she grew up, so they are interested in her children.

I had no grandparents, to speak of, as I came along late in my parent's life. I had one grandmother who lived far away but sent me packages. I try to do likewise with my grandchildren even though they only live 3 hours away and we usually see them once a month. I have lots of fun with my grandchildren and we do lots of activities together.

Did I plan this grandma business? You bet I did, and still do. I want my grandchildren to some day look back and say, "I had the best grandparents."

My eight year old granddaughter while doing a recently accomplished move on her bike over and over as I sat watching with her eleven year old brother asked me to rate her each time from 1 to 10.

Andrew, her brother, asked why was I giving her all 10’s? I told him it was because I’m her grandmother.

I never had grandparents in my life but my mother had friends who made me feel rated a 10 growing up and I remember them well.

I was lucky to have all four grandparents and two great grandmothers and a great grandfather when I was born. My grandparents were a source of joy for me, I loved them very much and really got to know them. I wanted that kind of relationship with my grandchildren.

I have a granddaughter and a grandson. They love hearing stories of when I was a little girl, especially if I was naughty. I have kept up with technology and play computer games with them.

Their parents limit their TV time and their sugar intake. When they come to our home, they get to eat Cocoa Puffs on a little table in front of the TV! We get to spoil them.

I also want to have my grandchildren say, "I had the best grandparents."

I was a step-grandmother one month after I had my daughter. I didn't give a moment's thought to how to be a grandmother then. Two more step-grandchildren were born, but as we never lived in the same state after their births I did not develop a close relationship with them and seldom saw them as they were growing up.

Then the daughter born to me when my oldest step-grandchild was born grew up and had her first baby late. By that time I was 68 years old and when the baby was born I was besotted. Her sister was born 3 years later.

So did I prepare to be a grandmother? No, no and no.
You just love them and let them know you are there for them. The rest will come naturally. And as Jean Gogolin so wisely put it, do not override the parents.

I see being a grandparent as being a safe haven in a child's life. If they know there is someplace where they are loved unconditionally it is the greatest gift a grandparent can give them whether you live next door or across the ocean. And you can do that no matter the distance.

Wow, after raising 7 children over a period of 34 years, I was not too excited about being a grandparent at first. Now, 27 years later we have 22 grandchildren (19 grandsons!!) and I find that I enjoy being with them on a limited basis. I do very little babysitting, but when I do spend extended times with them, I find that I grandparent exactly the same way that I parented, and I was surprised by that revelation. I had no plans about what kind of grandparent that I would be and never really thought about being a grandparent. I have little time for sibling rivalry and am task oriented...I am not exactly a fun grandparent, although I have their best interests at heart and see that they are well taken care of. Each family has their own dynamics and I find the current permissive style of raising children with all the amenities, instant gratification and technology available a hindrance in raising children to be responsible adults. Our children were raised with a strong work ethic, encouraged to be independent and get a good education. They are all independent, hard working, interesting, caring, well educated individuals who are giving their children every advantage. I did my job. Having said that, I have interests that I would like to pursue at this time in my life and have had my years of being tied down by child care.

I don't know about Grandchildren from daughters (and I think it might be different as mentioned above). To prepare, be sensitive to your relationship with the daughter-in-law. You can be sure she has analyzed your parenting tactics from living with your son and is nervous about how you will interact with her children. I suggest standing back a lot in the beginning and asking for permission from the mother for any interaction until she gets used to your presence in the child's life. Approach your Grandparent status like a team member. It will probably be appreciated and as she gets used to her new role, she will relax about the small stuff. Good luck! And congratulations, Karen!

Yes, dear. Of course, dear.

I repeated those phrases over and over during the 3 weeks I spent with my daughter and SIL and their newborn - my first grandchild.

I did what they didn't want to do. I listened. I agreed. I drove and laundered and went up and down the steps. I tried to stifle most of my advice... altho plastic under the changing blanket on the couch was one I made moe forcefully after the baby soaked the cushion.

I know what is easy and right and simple and I bite my tongue. I'm rewarded with smiles and thank you's and "please come back soon".

The love is overwhelming; the roles are developing. Respect and encouragement are the two ideals I return to, over and over again.

I became a step-grandmother to 8 children between the ages of 4 and 19 instantly when I got married at age 62. But because of the recent loss of their "real" grandmother, my husband's deceased wife, it took a while for them to get to know and trust me. The younger ones now call me "Grandma", but the older ones just use my name.

Two weeks ago my husband's daughter was expecting her third child (after 8 years) and we were so excited. The due date came and went, we were on pins and needles. Then we got the news that the baby had stopped moving and had died before birth.My poor stepdaughter had to go through giving birth and although the cord was around the baby's neck, the doctor still did not know exactly what caused him to die. She had had ultrasounds and checkups every week, this was just a very sad accident. The family has chosen to go on with life as usual, but it is very hard for all of us.

I felt differently about this new grandchild, since I would have been "Grandma" from the beginning. But now I want to be a more loving Grandma to the others I am lucky enough to have.

Our first grandchild came as part of the package when our oldest child married. Now we have 2 more. They're all precious, each very different, and we look forward to spending time with each of them. Wish they were closer, though.

My advice would be to not give advice except when asked. And if giving advice, say it once, and don't take it personally if it's ignored.

We never had kids, but I've always wondered if I would have like to been a grandpa - dealing with a kid on Sundays afternoons. Actually, I sort of wished I could have had grown children. I see films, like The Family Stone, where grown children come home for holidays and that's appealing. We don't even spend that much time with our nephews and nieces, so I guess we're just not kid people.

We're a multi-blended family with adult children, grandkids and great-grandkids from several former relationships. (As I've mentioned before, I'm child-free so I'm a step-grandparent to all.) It's different with each "family" but, fortunately, for the most part everyone gets along. We see them 2-3X/year at family gatherings and some of them more frequently on other occasions.

We're not typical grandparents, which everyone understands and accepts. The families all meet each other wherever we are in life at the time, and it seems to work. We try to encourage all our grandkids to pursue education as far as they can, and help them out financially in small ways when we're able; however, that will be more limited when I retire fully.)

I waited a long time to be a grandma, and I treasure every minute. I think we learn how to be grandparents by being grandparented. Even if our own grandparents were lacking, we know what we would have liked, so we are that grand parent we would have liked.

We are ones who moved to be with our families, and we are glad we did. We get to be part of their lives and this gives us much joy.

I loved my grands from the start. My feelings for them were just as strong as my feelings for my newborn children. It is literally love at first sight, even if first sight is a sonogram.

Hello everyone!

Thanks for all the helpful, kind and interesting viewpoints about being a grandparent. I was exceptionally close to my own paternal grandparents. It's a high standard to match.

I have vivid memories at age five of my Gram teaching me to do the Charleston while vacuuming the carpet at her house. The radio was always on when we did chores, which I thought were lovely games we played together. There was no time we shared which I didn't enjoy. (Per Sulymo.) I adored her.

I took my first airplane flight with her when we went to New Orleans during Spring Break. She'd always wanted to go there, and we were perfect companions. When she was in her fifties, I remember quizzing her before she took the real estate agent's exam. (She passed.) She was the best true friend I ever had.

She shaped my life in so many ways.

I am trying to sort out how I can be that person for my own granddaughter, who will always be so very far away from me.

As for advice, (per Nan and Ashleigh) I am certain I won't be an advisor to our daughter on parenting - she will have to do it her own way. I do remember my own Mom being there for me and doing lots of things without being asked, but never being intrusive. I hope I can do the same. And I am practicing saying, "...whatever you say, dear."

I want to be that person to whom our granddaughter can always turn and know she is accepted and understood. (Per Darlene) I want to bring her a view of life which encourages her own individuality; who lets her know that she must be true to the person she really is at heart. Per DKZody: I want my grandchildren to some day look back and say, "I had the best grandparents."

How to do all these things is a question. But I will try.

Kathleen, I am so sorry for your loss. How incredibly sad for all of you!

Thank you, Ronnie, for bringing all these wonderful "advisors" to my task. And thank you, every one of you, for responding to the question.


I too thought about grand parenting before the event. Picture a crib in my home, my grandchild coming over at any time, me being patient and kind - an available grandma with lots of time and support. Surprise! What evolved was quite different - my daughter and SIL moved to distant regions for jobs. I am a long distance grandma with little opportunity to influence the day-to-day. Rather nice perhaps because I don't have to 'be available'. Also, I can be creative in how I 'do' grandma. This exchange has given me the idea of making small story books to share family history with my grandchildren.

Shortly before the birth of my daughter's first child in l998, she invited me to be with her during childbirth. There are absolutely no words to describe the experience of holding my daughter's hand and to witness the birth and then be the third in line to hold my new grandbaby in my arms. She (Nadia) will be 16 years old next Tuesday. My gift to her will be the Sweet Sixteen 14K gold necklace that my parents gave to me on my 16th birthday,58 years ago. I was also beside my daughter when she gave birth to Samia and Laila, Nadia's sisters. The Sweet Sixteen necklace will be passed down to each of them on their 16th birthdays. Our relationship has been closer than I could ever have imagined. I really believe that holding them just minutes after they were born formed a bond that will be there until the day I die. I have been one lucky grandma watching them grow into sweet young ladies!

I never thought about what kind of a grandparent I would like to be. I went by instinct and used what I was given by my 2 grandmothers and my parents.....unconditional love and acceptance. I share my memories of childhood with them. I encourage them to be hard workers, to help others in need. I also feel consistency is important.

Dear Kathleen...I did not read all these responses before I entered mine, and I wish I would have. I am so sorry for your loss...I can't even begin to imagine the hurt, emptiness,and sadness that your entire family must have felt and is still feeling. Sincerely, Maureen

I have two grandchildren, ages three and one. By the time they arrived, I very much wanted to be a grandparent; hadn't been so important before their mother got married. Then I began to "want" and let my daughter know, although except for a time when I was (mis) diagnosed with a terminal condition, I didn't make a specific plea.
The "kind" of grandparent has been less important than the children coming to know me through their experience, and being a familiar presence in their lives. In that way, I suppose, I am not just a face on Skype, nor someone who shows up occasionally, each time more or less a stranger. Because the family lives halfway across the country, and because I am able, financially and timewise, I spend a considerable amount of time at their home. I go every six to eight weeks, usually spend about two weeks, and regularly help with their care when I am there. There is a full time (though not live-in) nanny, and when I am in town I can relieve some of her very long hours. I stay at the house, so can be part of the daily life of the family, and that is the grandparent I want to be. The other "rule" I have for myself, one that has been challenging at times, is to remember that there are many ok ways to raise children, and the way I did it, or would do it now, is neither the "best" nor the only way.
There is a wonderful degree of freedom in being a grandparent, not having to worry quite as much about every instance of (behavior, development, etc) --as I did with my children..and in forming a relationship with the girls, delighting in their development, sharing that with their parents (and with my other children, for whom these are their only nieces and objects of great affection).
Having the grandchildren has strengthened my relationship not only with their mother, my daughter, but also with my other children. I attribute the strengthening of the relationship to my s-i-l's welcoming attitude and the great importance he places on family relationships.
Another aspect of being a grandmother is reinforcement, occasionally with some resistance, of what I know but do not always believe-- that having many people love you does not diminish the love of one person. The girls have a grandfather (my ex) and his wife, who love the girls very much, and although they are not around on a regular basis, they also are becoming "known" to the girls. Their grandparents on their dad's side are also loving, though their presence is mostly via Skype.

I was the 'Aunt'. When my brother and his wife dievorced
I knew my ex sister in law was over whelmed. So I told her I would trade places with her one weekend a month. She came to my apartment and I went to her house. 3 kids and I got well aqainted. I worked at a school so kid were not new to me. Listen to kids. You'll find a special with them if you listen to them.

My husband and I are in the category of ‘older’ grandparents as we are in our late 60’s and late 70’s respectively. We see our grand daughter at least once a week, and help with child care when asked. We are happy to be past of her extended family but are very clear that we are not in the parenting roles. Having a grand daughter has inspired me to write the family stories for her as I’m sure neither of us will be around to tell the stories once she is old enough to want to know.

I became a grandma at the age of 53, and it was an unanticipated, out of the blue experience. My son came home and said his girlfriend was pregnant. We hadn't met her yet! So grandparenting started out a bit differently than I had planned... They got married before Hannah was born and have developed a pretty tight family unit with a bit of drama thrown in! I do my best to be available when needed. They are 30 minutes away, which I love - most of the time!

Almost ten years ago they were pregnant again and had a little boy who was born with tracheal stenosis (he couldn't breathe unassisted). He lived for three months in the PICU and it was a very intense time. We cared for Hannah often, and I went and held Alex when I could. The evening he died, both our families were in the room and the kids gave him to me to hold after he died. I will treasure that memory forever, and it still breaks my heart.

They have another little girl now who has been a pistol and fills their lives with drama, laughter and joy. Mine too.

Our daughter had a little boy at the age of 35 after being told there would be no children. He is a treasure, too, and is well loved.

I want to be the grandma who is remembered with love and good memories. My daughter says I have "good arms" for hugging. That makes me smile.

I adored my paternal grandparents, the only ones, since my mother was an orphan. There was never any lap sitting or story reading or even special foods. I was simply welcome to follow them around or sit with them while they were going about their lives. They were always patient and answered my questions, which were many. My grandpa had a fully sustaining farm, with crops and chickens and a cow and a hog, on his suburban 2 acres, so there was much to learn about. These two people were endlessly interesting to me until their deaths, in tandem, just before I had my first child.

My mother became a grandmother in her 30's and took to it with gusto. She was a story reading, nurturing cookie-baker who was dearly loved by her grandchildren and great grandchildren. She never hesitated to give advice or interfere with child rearing, but any resentment was assuaged by the fact that she was always ready to take care of the grandchildren for a day or a week when we had more important things to do.

There couldn't be more contrast in these two ways of grandparenting, but both served the purpose. Even my own hands-off, less than nurturing way has its benefits. My grandchildren came in batches---the oldest is 32, then two who are 21 and 23, then the youngest at 6 and 9. Little ones are adorable, of course, but I do a lot better as the grandmother of young people who are old enough to have an adult conversation or participate in grown-up email exchanges, and sometimes that kind of grandmother can be just what is needed.

Such interesting advice and insight from everyone who responded here. Thank you all!

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