A New Grandbaby!
"With our first I tied a ribbon around my waist on Christmas Day. For my in-laws we put a box under their tree with a pink and blue ribbon on it saying, 'See you in August. Princeton Class of 2011."--D & J, Boxborough, Massachusetts
What a wonderful moment to hear that a new grandbaby is on the way! If the news is of your first grandbaby, the announcement has probably brought back memories of the joy and uncertainty you felt when you first learned you were going to be a parent. Just like that ultrasound of your developing grandbaby on the fridge, your role in your new grandchild's life might seem a little fuzzy. You might feel unsure about whether -- and how -- this new little person might change your life. Maybe you're even having trouble matching up your outdated ideas about stodgy, passive grandparents with your hopes for an active, creative relationship with your own grandchild.
If you're experiencing many of these feelings now, don't worry. Your healthy anticipation of the changes to come is simply your way of preparing for a wonderful new perspective on life. In fact, we like to think of this ambiguous prenatal period as Grandma Nature's way of encouraging grandparents to reframe their family relationships and to offer their support more directly and simply. Be reassured that your role in your growing family's life is as important now as it will be when your little grandchild is born. Like a mother's private conversation with her baby-to-be, your loving reassurance and nurturing attention during this time can be your gift to your grown child and developing grandbaby.
For this post-holiday edition, we've assembled some valuable tips on how you can support and become closer to a young and growing family, whether you're a first-time grandparent or an experienced Grammy or Gramps.
> Click on the topics below that interest you! (The first one is already open, so click on the title to close it, or scroll down for more.)
Some of the best ideas for gifts and love messages cost very little and can help you to connect with your grandbaby even before you can rock and cuddle. You might want to sing or hum your favorite lullaby into a tape or send your music cassette with a request that the mom-to-be put headphones on her tummy. After all, it's never too early to influence your grandbaby's tastes and make a personal connection. When the baby can fall asleep only to Glen Miller or J. S. Bach, you'll know you've done your part to counteract whatever musical mush is popular when she turns teen.
For a first-time Mom, encouraging words can be a perfect gift. As you might remember from your own expectant days, moms — and sometimes dads, too — have an insatiable appetite for absolutely everything, including books on prenatal and child care, breastfeeding (if this is an interest), and labor and delivery. Or send your own thoughts about these issues and a box of clippings you've saved from newspapers and magazines. One of our friends in upstate New York collects sayings and advice about childrearing over the years and offers it as a wonderful gift to families when they are expecting.
Moms-to-be will appreciate maternity clothes at any point in their pregnancies, although timing clothing to arrive right before they'll fit best is a good idea. Julie was incredulous and a bit horrified when she saw the maternity bathing suit Rick and I sent at the four-month mark; it wasn't until she called and said enthusiastically, "You'll never believe it, but that huge suit fits everywhere now!" that we knew we'd sent something useful. It's also nice to notice what style of maternity clothing she's choosing for herself before you package up that wild safari print dress or — even more controversial — that top with the pink and blue teddy bears.
For the dad-to-be, you might send a tiny, battery-operated reading light so that he can read in bed without disturbing his partner's sleep, or letters and articles about being a father. Even purchased books about becoming a dad can be meaningful if you take the time to add an inscription inside.
Yet another way to show your daughter or son how much you care during the pregnancy is to save communications from them during this period. You might try to hold on to the notes and emails they send — or even to tape-record their phone calls home with an answering machine. Several grandmothers with whom we talked kept their own diaries during their daughter's pregnancy, and each became a priceless gift to the family after the birth (see the activity "Capturing Daydreams and New Discoveries" below). Delta Fuller from Kennebunk, Maine, said, "I kept a journal from the first we knew of the baby called 'The Year You Were Born.' Seth was born in September and I kept the journal until Christmas. Christmas Eve was the last entry and the journal was a gift to the new Mom and Dad on Christmas Day." In our own family, e-mail messages from Mom to Grandma were secretly saved and presented at the first prenatal visit. It was a gift no one else could give, and for Julie receiving it was one of the many emotional highlights of becoming a new mother.
If you can afford it, one way to help bridge the long-distance gap is to give your child a video camera to capture the images of new parenthood before and after the birth (some families even film during the delivery). Lois and Jack Perlowski of Sanibel, Florida, sent their daughter a camcorder during her pregnancy. "Our hope is that they will faithfully send videos of the various stages and fun times which we miss due to distance." We guarantee that no other audience will appreciate the footage of the mom-to-be's growing belly as much as you will. (In fact, that's one video probably to leave unlabelled on the shelf!)
If both parents and grandparents happen to own a home computer, email is another way to speed messages back and forth. With a modem and a membership in Compuserve, America OnLine, Prodigy, or another communications service, you can shoot short notes or long letters to each other for little continuing cost (about ten dollars a month). We found this method a super way to keep in touch during the pregnancy and an invaluable service when the newborn arrived. Email messages are less intrusive than a phone call (the message waits in your electronic mailbox) but are nearly as immediate. In addition, we tended to type along much as we speak rather than labor over words as we might have in a letter.
If you are not yet computer literate, don't be daunted; there's no time like the present to learn a truly easy new skill and rekindle your relationships at the same time. Put your turn signal on and merge onto that information superhighway — it's easy and fun!
"UPS!" hollers the delivery person, confirming the low drone of the truck outside and the thunk of package on package on the front steps. Our heroine, nearly nine months pregnant, waddles to the door and gives her electronic signature. While she considers how she's going to get these things inside without lifting more than ten pounds (her doctor's limit for this stage of the pregnancy), her eyes scan the labels. She discovers, with a half-smile, that her loving parents and parents-in-law have gone berserk again.
We know. Those miniature pajamas and T-shirts are irresistible. And somehow each new baby product you see seems like the perfect solution to some terribly important baby-care need (though, come to think of it, you seemed to do fine without many of them in your day). Furthermore, your children seem so grateful for all the things you send. But one way to make sure you're not overdoing when sending baby things is to ask what's needed or anticipate only with gifts that have sentimental meaning. Wrap up that special baby blanket of your son's for his first born to use, perhaps, or start sifting through your collection of books for young children for an old favorite of your daughter's. New clothing with a bit of embroidery added by you, or a purchased wooden toy car with a "Grampa" license plate brushed on with childsafe paints are just two examples of how purchased gifts can take on new significance. The parents-to-be will be sincerely moved by your efforts, and you will have fulfilled your hopes of giving them something they'll cherish.
Start this project as soon as you can after learning you're going to have a grandchild. This is a wonderful way to provide lasting memories for the parents and new baby.
Age: Conception - Newborn
* A folder in which you save letters, emails, or any correspondence from the new parents-to-be
* Keep a notebook jotting down notes from any verbal "baby" discussions you have with the new parents-to-be.
* Add this to the collection of saved letters, emails, or cards.
* Present it to the new parents when the baby arrives as a diary and remembrance of the pregnancy.
Showers are often given for the mom-to-be, and if you live close to each other the possibilities for themes and fun are endless. In our case, though, it was difficult to imagine how Julie was going to make it to the East Coast for a baby shower, given her work schedule and the prohibitive cost of plane fares. Luckily, friends in upstate New York thought of a way to have some fun, even long-distance. At Sue Miller's "long-distance baby shower" in Fairport, New York, each guest brought their baby gift unwrapped for all to see — then everyone spent the afternoon tasting desserts, swapping stories about their own pregnancies and grandchildren, and wrapping their gift. Photos of the event made Julie feel a little more like she had been there, too, when she opened the big box of presents at her home in California.
We also put a twist on an old superstition. When Julie was just a few weeks pregnant, we gave her a little "good luck charm" — a simple, old-fashioned paper cutout of a woman with a baby inside (see "One Lucky Baby" below). It was a copy of one that I had hanging around during my pregnancies. Something about it was reassuring to Julie — possibly just the fact that I had had one, too. And it was a subtly comforting reminder that her own mother and mother-in-law had been through the same experience and were thinking of her especially during these months.
* Poster board or similar stiff paper
* Scissors or a knife
* Draw your own growing baby, along with a circle that it can float inside, or use our design on p. 17 of Grandloving.
* Cut out the pieces.
* With a heavy needle, sew a strand of thread through the top of the tiny baby's head and attach it directly above the circle. This will create the free-swinging "baby in the womb."
* Sew thread at the top for hanging.
* Suspended over a kitchen sink, it'll be a reminder that your good thoughts are constantly with the new parents-to-be!
Grandparents worldwide think of grandbabies with a warm glow in their hearts. Some, too, can't help but get an anticipatory flare in their backs and feet. If you're one of the latter Grandpas or Grandmas, let your grandchild's upcoming arrival be the excuse you've been waiting for to get healthy and improve your flexibility. After all, in just a few months you'll want to be able to push a diaper-bag-laden stroller, sit on the floor as your newborn grandchild takes a "sunshine bath" on the carpet, and wear a baby carrier around the house, complete with your newborn grandchild inside. Let the fact that a new generation is on the way encourage you to exercise and eat right so that you can enjoy the fun for many years to come.
A Word from Your Lower Back
Although curling up with a seven-pound infant probably won't throw your back out, now's the time to start thinking about ways to ease the strain that every grandbaby can eventually bring. Resolve now to lift from your knees, to stand fully upright when pushing that stroller, to lift young ones carefully from car seats, and to make sure that baby carrier is properly adjusted for you. Many thanks from your lower back — and your loving family.
Watch out — Grandma's in Training!
You can also set about improving your own skills during this expectant time. Many local hospitals now have courses for grandparents that teach infant and child CPR (heart massage and lifesaving), give tours of the labor and delivery services, and provide remedial training in how to diaper. Although with the advent of diaper covers and disposables you may feel overqualified for the job, remember that there are special considerations for the littlest ones, such as keeping the umbilical area clean.
You could also check out of the library a video that describes techniques for bathing a baby, giving a bottle, holding the baby in special "calming" positions, and other baby-care skills. Or challenge your spouse — the other grandparent-to-be — to a "remember how?" game that gets you reminiscing about this kind of hands-on loving with a baby. This playful competition is especially nice if you can follow up by babysitting for another young child together. That way you'll see how your memories match up with the even nicer realities.
For most families, thankfully, miscarriage is a rare occurrence — a tragedy that is unlikely to be repeated. But anytime a miscarriage happens, the hopes and dreams of parents are torn. If you felt, as did P.C. of Ontario, New York, that the idea of becoming a grandparent gave you "feelings of immortality — of having a future life through grandchildren," you too may feel crushed by the news. Or your heart may simply go out to the parents and their sorrow.
Regardless of your feelings, you are likely to find yourself in a position of being able to offer sympathy and support to the parents. If you can, you'll want to reach out to them with simple, compassionate expressions of love. You're probably aware that comments about having another "replacement" baby are not appropriate because each baby is so unique to its parents, but try to hold back from giving other advice as well. As with the joyful parts of grandparenting, if you can keep your focus on the emotional and physical well-being of your loved ones in a nonjudgmental way, you'll be the most help and you will all feel best about your relationship.
J. and R., grandparents from Pittsford, New York, endured an anxious few months with their daughter's pregnancy. Throughout, however, they worked hard to encourage the worried mother and father-to-be. J. stayed with her daughter and "just mothered my little girl so she didn't have to be hospitalized. I was so sure she would lose her baby." When the situation seemed to be getting better, J. also made a point of taking her daughter out to a baby store one day. There "she became animated just looking at baby clothes. From that point on she felt better and started planning for her little one's arrival. Each day after that outing, she improved — it seemed like a miracle." We hope we can all be as attuned to the needs of our children and grandchildren during a trying time such as this. Through their devoted support of their daughter and son-in-law, J. and R. played an important part in the healthy delivery of their grandchild.
After navigating the confusing waters of new grandparenthood with a first grandchild, you'll probably feel like an experienced sailor waiting for the thrill of more high seas — or an announcement that more grandchildren are on the way. This news, if it does come, can be your call to deepen your involvement and help everyone in the growing family nurture a new pregnancy. Luckily, you've been a parent as well as a grandparent before, so you know how to give of yourself in many ways all at once. Strap on your running shoes and warm up your creative half (whether that means for you charming your spouse or reviving your right brain). You're going to rely on all of your combined energy, generosity, and resourcefulness in the months and years to come.
One member of the family who will definitely appreciate extra loving during a second pregnancy is your older grandchild. With humor and guidance, you are possibly the best person to give him the tender, loving care he craves. If he's younger than two, the whole concept of pregnancy is too abstract and long-term to handle; but if he is a bit older, the whole process might be confusing or distressing to him.
Before you talk to your preschooler grandchild about the pregnancy, however, it might be a good idea to ask the parents how they handled telling the "facts of life" — mostly so you won't fall off your armchair to hear the anatomically correct terms trip off his tongue. In general, however, don't worry about talking too much about the pregnancy unless it comes up. Just resolve to give your grandchild more of your time and love than ever.
"My Baby Sister Is a Barnacle?"
You'll want to be careful how you explain this little metaphor to your grandchildren, but we can't help but include it. One of our favorite authors, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, in her Gift from the Sea, likens the widening circle of human relationships to seashells that roughen up and take on appendages as they grow and mature. Here are her thoughts about the jump from being an intimate twosome to a larger family — an analogy we think is perfect for recasting in a more positive way the dread many children have about the arrival of a new brother or sister:
It is true, of course, the original relationship is very beautiful. Its self-enclosed perfection wears the freshness of a spring morning. Forgetting about the summer to come, one often feels one would like to prolong the spring of early love, when two people stand as individuals, without past or future, facing each other. . . . [But] the early ecstatic stage of a relationship cannot continue always at the same pitch of intensity. It moves to another phase of growth which one should not dread, but welcome as one welcomes summer after spring. . . .
Woman refinds in a limited form with each new child, something resembling, at least in its absorption, the early pure relationship. In the sheltered simplicity of the first days after a baby is born, one sees again the magical closed circle, the miraculous sense of two people existing only for each other. . . . It is, however, only a brief interlude and not a substitute for the original more complete relationship."
For your grandchild, as you probably realize, there is both something lost and something gained from having a brother or sister arrive. Gained is a playmate sometime much later on, and lost is some of the intimacy she enjoyed with her parents. Your grandchild will love knowing ahead of time that the two of you will always have the same special closeness no matter how many brothers and sisters follow. You and your little one can always have the occasional "brief interlude" of an intensive one-on-one adventure, as well as more ordinary moments, regardless of other family members' responsibilities. And communicating this message now will make your older grandchild feel that much more secure as "B-day" approaches.
Helping Your Little Ones Welcome the New Baby
One surefire way to give the upcoming event a positive cast is to get the soon-to-be big brother or big sister involved in making a special gift. You might try creating something that a newborn will enjoy soon, such as a mobile of tiny clay creatures (see "Suspended Imagination" below) — or a flannel crib sheet or blanket that your grandchild can color with permanent fabric markers. One enterprising family we know even decorated tiny socks with faces that could entertain the new baby when she waved her feet. Simple and love-inspired, these thoughtful, easy-to-do gifts will help the older child feel more involved in the big event to come.
Grandloving Activity Idea: Suspended Imagination
The whole family will enjoy making their handmade creatures into a unique mobile for the new baby.
* Colored modeling clay
* Wire hangers
* Ask each family member to mold an object when they come to visit.
* Using the hangers for mobile "arms", tie and string the objects so they balance.
* Try a theme! You might try animals, nursery rhymes, or toys.
Be sure to hang well out of the way of an infant's grasp.
We have developed a list of picture books and other resources that we know you'll enjoy because we've loved using them in our classrooms and within our family.
> Visit our bookshelf page.
If you have a book that is not listed here but you think grandparents should know about, please e-mail us and we'll be happy to check it out!
Looking for a super catalog for children's clothing? Searching for a great resource for new moms? On the lookout for some super classic toys for little ones? Our Web Resources section provides some links to other resources that might interest you. Let us know your favorites, too!
The 5th edition of our book can help you learn to support and become closer to a young and growing family, even if you're a first-time grandparent.
Visit our home page for more details and how to order a copy.