How to be the best grandparent for your grandchild’s and adult children’s mental health

Last month, we gathered to hear an engaging and relevant topic from Shanna Donhauser, a clinically trained social worker and psychotherapist and infant mental health expert. PEPS Grandparents learned how best to support their adult children when they become parents.

Parenting changes all the time, and today’s parents experience different demands and expectations. Today there are high expectations for parenting skills. There is a lot of information about every aspect of baby care, health, early learning, temperament, limit setting, social-emotional development, and much more. Parents may expect themselves to “know it all” before they even begin.

Plan for February! Join us for the Grandparent/Grandchild Playgroup on Saturday, February 9, from 9:30-11:30 a.m. Have fun with your toddler or preschool aged grandchild with other PEPS Grandparents!
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PEPS Grandparent Events are designed to be enjoyable and informative, as well as to make meaningful connections with other engaged grandparents. You can find all the upcoming Grandparent events here.

In addition to books, studies, articles and other sources of expert information, parents have expectations from social media. They see friends and acquaintances and their photos and experiences of parenting online and may compare themselves or feel compared.

Parents also have different demands professionally, with uneven policies for leave for each parent, juggling daycare drop off and pick up times, long commutes, and competing – sometimes conflicting – desires for achievement both as parents and as professionals.

All of these can contribute to how a new parent copes with the stresses of having a new baby.

Add to that the isolation that comes from caring for a newborn: loss of routine, loss of sleep, recovery from birth, and more.

1 in 5 new parents experience mental health issues during the first year of their child’s life. These can include postpartum mood disorders, trauma from birth and PTSD, existing mental health issues, and/or attachment. In 2018, a study of new mothers reported that 90% feel lonelier after having children.

So, as a grandparent, what can you do?

In a survey, new parents were asked how important are grandparents in your child’s life. The answer? 72% of new parents report that they care “a lot” about whether their own parents view them as good parents.

That means your adult children want your support. Here are some things that grandparents may do that hurt, and some things that really help.


Things that hurt new parents

  • “My parents only want to hold the baby. Yes, that helps. But I also need help with the laundry, and the dishes, and the cooking…”
  • “My mom wants to just pop in any time. I don’t know how to tell her that, while I need her help, I also need some space and notice.”
  • “I feel like my mom doesn’t believe that my partner is a good dad.”
  • “I feel so criticized by my mother-in-law. I just don’t want her to come around.”
  • “My dad doesn’t follow our rules. It’s so frustrating.”


Things that help

  • Focus less on the baby; instead, focus on the new parents
  • Ask your children what they need and how you can help
    • Ask your children about what you should read or learn about to be informed about their parenting approach
  • Be a resource
    • Help with shopping, dishes, meal preparation, walking
  • Financially creative gifts – rather than giving stuff, consider giving gifts that help the parents
    • Offer to pay for housecleaning services for a few months
    • Offer to pay for a postpartum doula for a short time
    • Give a gift of prepared and delivered meals
    • Offer to pay for a babysitting service of the parents’ choosing
  • Recognize and praise; share affirmations when you see them being successful
  • Support the partners of your children too
  • Check in on how they are doing; ask them how it’s going and how they are feeling
  • Examples
    • bring dinner, but don’t stay to eat; or stay (and then clean up)
    • tidy the kitchen/do the dishes as you chat
    • bring healthy snacks like cut vegetables in containers for the fridge
    • plan your visit around a load of wash – start when you get there, transfer to the dryer, fold and put it away
    • if the parents need a nap or a shower or to run to the store, offer to stay with the baby while they do
    • offer to go on a walk with the parent and the baby, or suggest that the parents go on a walk while you are with the baby

Having grandchildren is a wonderful opportunity for grandparents to rekindle/re-do their relationship with their adult children. And remember, when you are grandparents who are not primary caregivers, you are parenting your children and are in relationship with your grandchildren. You are not parenting your grandchildren.

Shanna summed it up: “New parents often experience so much stress during the first few years of parenthood. Grandparents play an important role in supporting their adult children and building a unique relationship with their grandchildren. The greatest gift you can give to your children is attunement: being curious about their experiences, providing support, and unconditional acceptance of who they are (and who they are becoming). Becoming a grandparent gives you an opportunity to rebuild your attachment with your adult children. And that love is something that new parents need as much as their new babies.”

“I always enjoy the information, discussions, and camaraderie at the PEPS Grandparent get-togethers. I was especially inspired by the speaker at the December meeting. In her talk, Shanna quoted Dr. Terry Brazelton and it rings true to me: “A grandchild is a miracle, but a renewed relationship with your own children is even a greater one,” shared a grandparent after the event.

In 2019, we hope you feel inspired to check in with your adult children about their needs, recognize, affirm and praise them, and be or become a resource for them.


Resources mentioned at event


Things to do with your grandchildren:

Ready to invest your time in helping new parents transition into parenthood? Learn more about what it takes to lead a PEPS Group and if you are ready, attend one of our upcoming monthly trainings.

About the Author

Laura has been writing copy around town, editing even more words and thinking about how we tell our stories to each other. Laura knows her commas, mostly – and admires good writing everywhere. She is an MLIS with a deep interest in books for adults and children. At home, she is the mother of 3 inspiring kids.

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