The cornerstone of being a good grandparent

26 Feb 2018

It is not easy to be a truly loving grandparent. You need a lot of love combined with wisdom and long-patience. Buta hundredfold true love of your grandchildren will pay offyour efforts. Here some pieces of advice which may helpyou achieve it.

  1. Don’t admit your fears

Your beloved adult child is about to embark on a lifelong commitment about which they understand nothing. So it’s not surprising you’re as alarmed for them as you would be if they were sailing the Northwest Passage in flip-flops. Whichever phrase of warning or concern springs to your lips, however, hold it in. Your child needs support, not dread.

So if you can’t pretend you’re thrilled, find something supportive to say. It will be appreciated.

  1. Don’t project

Perhaps you had a nightmarish birth, featuring forceps, hallucinations and seven junior doctors loitering like women of the bedchamber. Maybe your baby was a shocking sleeper, or refused to eat anything but peas for the first three years. None of this, however, means that your children will have the same experience of parenthood. So while empathy and practical support are useful, constantly referring back to your own parental traumas is not.


Equally, you may have deep-seated fears about certain issues but be aware that these are your issues. Projecting your own terrors is unhelpful at best and damaging at worst. The parents will have enough fears of their own, and your job is to calmly reassure.

  1. Avoid jealousy

“I really don’t understand why she buys our grandson those terrible clothes …” If you’re not careful, your brewing jealousy of the Other Grandma could turn you into a superannuated Mrs de Winter in Rebecca, constantly haunted by your counterpart, living with the building paranoia that she’s somehow better, more loved, and more of a gran than you’ll ever be.

This is often the case when you’re the paternal grandmother because, on the whole, women are better at involving their mums, while plenty of men think a bi-monthly text is the pinnacle of communication. And it can be horribly frustrating when the Other Gran is popping round every 10 minutes, while you’re still navigating a demanding career and live 200 miles away.

But nobody wants to be juggling a new baby and your easily bruised feelings, so barbed remarks about the tastes or childcare practices of the Other Gran are unacceptable. It’s not a competition – it’s a family. Albeit there’s often a fine line.

  1. Only offer what you can give

The general assumption is that grandparents are selfless. But even if you’re retired, you’re used to owning your time and offering flexible childcare can fast become a very long piece of string indeed. So it’s vital to consider how much time you can offer – and make the arrangement as formal as possible. Nobody wants to be sitting round the table with a lawyer; equally, you don’t want your loving offer of two afternoons a week turning into three days, two evenings and a Saturday morning, unless you’re willing.

Be realistic about how much time you have, your levels of tiredness and confidence when it comes to baby-wrangling. It’s easier for everyone when you all know where you stand.

  1. Brush up on your skills

While you may have been able to change a nappy with one hand and puree a cauliflower with the other 30 years ago, it’s likely that you have forgotten more than you ever knew.

Although some of it will return, there are some areas where times have changed. What babies can eat, for example (fish, soya and dairy aren’t recommended for under ones.) Where they sleep – sharing the parental/grandparental bed is seriously out – and how pushchairs work. So don’t go in unprepared – do some research before the baby arrives. Then you can be the competent gran, a steady liner in a sea of wavering parental tugboats.

  1. Be clear about cash

After sweets and bedtimes, perhaps the thorniest issue of grandmother-hood is money. Nobody wants to quote a babycare price to their nearest and dearest, but with almost half of families with children reliant on grandparents for at least part-time childcare, if you spend between three and six days a week at the coalface, is it reasonable to do it all gratis or should you be demanding some recompense for your labour? There’s no rule, though many grandparents find the whole idea of charging distasteful. Plus if you take a wage, you need to be a registered childminder and then it becomes complicated. Some avert the issue by accepting expenses, others just view their costs as part of the grandparental lot. What you must do is clarify your position at the outset.

  1. Break the rules – a bit

As a child, one of the joys of staying with my grandparents was knowing that I could stay up to watch Terry and June, and that my grandma would bring me breakfast in bed. The danger comes when the spoiling isn’t just a little mild indulgence – you’re actively breaking clear rules set by the parents.

So if they have a “no sweets before meals” policy and you’re sneaking your grandchild contraband, you may need to ask yourself why. Do you think their rules are unfair or are they just different from yours? Maybe it’s simply that you can’t bear to refuse your delightful toddler granddaughter anything she asks for. But while 15 minutes tacked on to bedtime won’t hurt, undermining dietary rules or allowing her to watch forbidden TV, is straying into fighting talk. And as soon as she can speak she’ll say “me and granny have got a secret” and you’ll be bang to rights. Remember, a little rule breaking goes a long way.

  1. Don’t spend a fortune

Spoiling, of course, is often just another word for spending. And as a new grandparent, watching your adult children struggle to afford the raft of baby equipment and clothes and toys required can trigger an itchy credit-card finger. Not only will this drain your resources, it may also make your children feel inadequate.

Few parents like to feel that they can’t manage so if you want to buy a gift, consult them first. When it comes to birthdays and Christmas, again, resist the temptation to deliver a pink pony gift-wrapped in a box. If the parents can’t afford much, it’s nothing but show-boating. Keep presents appropriate and affordable.

  1. Manage long distance

There’s a good chance your son or daughter will be living a good few hours’ drive away, if not abroad. Luckily, it’s possible to have a happy ongoing relationship with far-away family nowadays, thanks to Skype and Facetime. Speaking to them in real time, even if it’s a casual chat while you wait for the bus, means you never have to feel far away. Supplementing this is Facebook, email, texting and if your grandchildren are older, Snapchat. So if you pride yourself on being a luddite, the arrival of grandchildren is a good time to wake up and smell the virtual coffee.

  1. Accept that you have no control

The hardest thing about parenting is being responsible for everything. And the hardest thing about grandparenting is accepting that you’re not. You may hate the ironic Velvet Underground T-shirts your baby granddaughter is dressed in, or have severe moral objections to the amount of CBeebies she’s allowed to watch, but saying so is a fool’s errand. The only exceptions to this rule are if you truly believe your grandchild is in danger, or are privy to facts that the parents aren’t, regarding what is and isn’t safe to eat.

The cornerstone of being a good grandparent is respect – for your own time, for the parents’ wishes and, of course, for your grandchild. Before you speak, always ask yourself: Is this helpful to anyone? Unless the answer is a resounding yes; don’t say it. That way, you’ll never go wrong.


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