Becoming a Grandparent
When I became a grandma seven years ago, I had no idea how complicated it would be. I had watched my own two grandmas for nearly four decades, and they made it seem like a piece of cake—something I got a lot of when I visited. Today, if you want to serve your grandchildren cake, better clear it with their parents first.
It didn’t take me long to decide that I wanted to be a “Go-to Grandma” like my own grandmas. A GTG is the one your children can count on to be there when they call; the one they feel safe leaving with their children; and the one who respects the parents’ choices and validates their hard work.
Growing into Grandparenthood
After witnessing my granddaughter’s birth, I went completely “gaga!” When I came back down to earth, I knew I wanted to be a regular part of her life. But living 130 miles away from our daughter and son-in-law meant figuring out a visiting schedule that would work for all of us. My husband and I proposed driving up to their house twice a month and staying for two nights - we’ve kept that commitment for the past seven years.
Our visits have provided a multitude of experiences, not only for bonding with our two granddaughters, but also for building a foundation of trust and respect with their parents. Watching our children grow into their roles as parents has given us much to discuss on our drives back home. We’d never heard of “attachment parenting,” but once we became familiar with the principles and witnessed the wonderful results, we were “on board” with this new philosophy.
We’ve had many late-night conversations about new situations that arise during our visits when we’ve made a blunder and had to apologize. But in the process we’ve learned how to handle it on the next visit. Our daughter has learned to relax the rules when we’re there so we don’t feel like we’re disrupting their routines. We’ve learned to step out of the picture when things get tense.
It takes time and patience to know when to come forward and offer help, and when to step back and say and do nothing. We’ve learned to talk to our children about how they would like us to help them. We acknowledge their great parenting as often as possible because we know how challenging it can be.
Today’s young parents are so exhausted they sometimes get defensive. We may offer to do something as benign as wash the dishes, and they bristle because they think we’re judging them for not doing their job. When we listen to them and respect their choices, they relax and feel safer expressing their insecurities. A whole new level of trust develops.
Over the years I’ve found it reassuring to talk to other grandmothers about their experiences. In the GaGa Sisterhood, a social network for grandmas, we inspire each other to continue evolving with our children and grandchildren, so we can have lifelong meaningful relationships with them. In our Sisterhood we share resources and learn creative ways to stay connected with our grandchildren. Through our meetings and conversations I’ve come up with some advice for ensuring your place as a Go-to Grandma.
- Commit to being there. Discuss expectations with the new parents.
- Get on board with the parents’ program. Be receptive to their parenting philosophy.
- Respect the parents’ rules. You’re about to experience role reversal. Your children make the rules. You follow them.
- Don’t give unsolicited advice. Think but don’t speak. This is the simplest suggestion and hardest to follow.
- Create rituals for bonding with your grandchild. Rituals provide comfort, security and create the glue in your relationships.
- Connect with other grandmas. Your emotions won’t be as scary if you check them out with other grandmas.
Susan Adcox, Grandparents Guide, says:
There is room in the grandparenting realm for lots of grandparenting styles. Not every grandparent wants to be a Go-to Grandparent, but for those who do, Donne's advice is invaluable.
Donne Davis and her husband live in Menlo Park. They have two grown children and two grandchildren. Read more of Donne's story in The Art of Grandparenting, a collection of essays and advice for grandparents edited by Valerie Connelly. Also be sure to check out the GaGa Sisterhood blog and website, or email Donne at: firstname.lastname@example.org.