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Inviting Grandpa and Grandma In

by Jan Faull, M.Ed.

JennacaBowkerMost grandparents are eager to be part of their grandchildren’s lives. Even if they live across the country or across the world and can only see their grandchildren once a year and on Skype once a week, it takes an invitation on the part of the parents to involve grandparents; by doing so, parents support the relationship between grandparents and their grandchildren. Most grandparents provide an added source of love to children, which certainly benefits youngsters.

With some parents and grandparents, familial involvement occurs with ease and grace; they just know how to establish respectful emotional and physical boundaries. With others, stumbling blocks occur. To sidestep such hurdles, it’s best if parents, who ultimately hold the controls, welcome the grandparents in to their newly formed nuclear family. Bringing grandparents in is uniquely designed to each familial situation, and will likely change over time. 

What does it mean to be invited in?

One mom offered this example: The paternal grandmother came for her first visit. She looked at the baby, sat close when her daughter-in-law or son held the baby, cooked dinner, cleaned up the dishes, but didn’t pick up the baby. Why? She was waiting to be invited to hold the baby. She didn’t want to overstep her bounds. When the mother offered the baby to the grandmother, Grandma was thrilled; she now knew she was invited in.

Inviting the grandparents in can be overt or subtle, but grandparents know when they’re welcome and when they’re not. While parents need to set boundaries and clear expectations for grandparent involvement, there are a few approaches to inviting grandparents in that are universal to most baby-parent-grandparent relationships.

Here are some ways to invite grandparents in and keep them involved:

Listen to their advice

It’s difficult for grandparents to not give advice. Most know they should hold their grandparenting tongues, but sometimes they just can’t help offering unsolicited advice. After all, they’re experienced, wise and knowledgeable; they’re only trying to help. Nevertheless, it’s annoying to the newbee parent to be bombarded with care-giving suggestions, no matter how delicately and lovingly delivered.

Rather than snapping back at Grandma or Grandpa, accept the advice, listen, voice your appreciation, and then decide whether you’ll put the advice into action.

Lay out your expectations

When your parents or parents-in-law are coming to take care of your baby, lay out clearly your expectations for care, but only the basics: feeding, diapering, sleeping, and health and safety procedures. Give grandparents credit for knowing how to look after the baby; they raised you, didn’t they? If you micromanage, it will take away from the experience for Grandma and Grandpa, and they may feel uninvited and reluctant to babysit again. 

Therefore, ignore childrearing differences unless it’s a health or safety issue.
For instance, when Grandma is babysitting, she might not swaddle your baby in exactly the same way you do. Or you may notice Grandpa gives the pacifier more often than you do. These approaches to child care are important, but they’re not issues that will have a long-term negative effect if not adhered to by the grandparents. Therefore, let it go. No biggie.

If, on the other hand, Grandma or Grandpa doesn’t follow the rules for car seats or puts baby to sleep on her tummy rather than her back, these are issues that you must address.

Resist taking advantage of grandparents

Some grandparents are easy to take advantage of. They may be retired with not much pressing in their lives; grandparenting fills a void. But then, with too many grandparenting responsibilities, resentment can build between grandparents and parents.

Each family culture will be different in this regard. Again, open communication and clear expectations are key to success. When grandparents feel they are being taken advantage of, it’s time for them to say “no” and talk things over. While most grandparents are perfectly willing to step in when parents are sick or stressed, to burden them with child care responsibilities day after day doesn’t feel right.

Some like scheduled weekly involvement, others monthly or occasional. In time, involvement with grandparents settles into a stable, predictable routine. But keep in mind that being taken advantage of never feels right.

Voice appreciation

It’s important to voice your appreciation to grandparents for their positive involvement with your children. It’s easy:

  • “Thanks for taking care of Tanya while I went to the doctor today.”
  • “I really appreciate that you come once a week so I have some time to myself and can catch up with family business.”
  • “Thanks for doing the dishes and laundry. That’s definitely over and above the call of duty.”

It also helps if grandparents voice their appreciation for the parenting job their son or daughter and his or her spouse are doing:

  • “I’m amazed how well you looked after Wilson when he was ill.”
  • “I know you must be tired after working all day, but you still have time to read to Sam each night before bed; it’s lovely to watch.”

Grandparents can also tell parents a funny story about their child, of something new the child accomplished (rolling over, picking up a Cheerio, or pointing to an object) or of a relationship breakthrough, such as the baby only crying for 10 seconds after the parents walked out the door.

These appreciations and anecdotes build rapport between grandparents and their adult child and partner, and are best said in front of the child … in time, the child will understand what’s being said and then his or her self-esteem builds. Plus, by doing so, familial bonds strengthen, which is a big bonus for inviting grandparents in to your nuclear family.


About The Author

JanFaullesizedJan Faull, M.Ed., has taught Parent Education for more than twenty-seven years. Jan's weekly column Parenting for The Seattle Times ran for ten years.

She is a recognized speaker to a wide variety of local and national organizations. Jan is the author of five books: Mommy, I Have to Go Potty (Raefield & Roberts, 1996); Unplugging Parent-Child Power Struggles: Resolving Emotional Battles with Your Kids Ages 2-10 (Parenting Press, 2000); Darn Good Advice-Parenting (Barrons, 2005); and Darn Good Advice-Baby (Barrons, 2005). Her latest book: Amazing Minds: The Science of Nurturing Your Child's Developing Mind was published in August 2010 by Berkley Books a subsidiary of Penguin.

Jan was a board member for PEPS (Program for Early Parent Support) and currently serves on the PEPS Advisory Board. The mother of three adults and grandmother to three granddaughters, Emilia, Flora and Violet and one grandson, George, she resides in Seattle.


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