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.
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
- 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
- The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman
- Blog: 10 Things Only The Best Grandparents Do During The Holidays
- Book: Hold on to your kids
- Book: How to raise an adult
- NY Times Article: Singing with my grandbaby
- Find current book lists for children that focus on diversity and heritage at the KCLS website
Things to do with your grandchildren:
- 10 Ideas for Playing Outside in the Dark – Flashlights, headlamps, glow in the dark paint, eerie mist, and pretending to be cave explorers – read all the fun ways to play in the dark in this piece from ParentMap
- Environmental Science Center – Moonlight Beach Walks – Toddler Time
- Seattle Children’s Playgarden– inclusive playground and garden for children of all abilities
- Imagine Children’s Museum – Everett
- Kids Discovery Museum (Kididmu), Bainbridge Island – great ferry ride and short walk from ferry to museum
- Kid’s Quest Children’s Museum – Bellevue
- Gates Foundation Visitor Center
- Pacific Science Center – Tinker Tank- Wetland Waddlers
- Seattle Children’s Theatre
- Swanson’s Nursery – This is not just a wonderful ‘playground’ for adult gardeners, but a great place to bring your grandkids
- The outdoor playground close to the Space Needle
- Take the Monorail from Seattle Center to downtown!
- The Woodland Park Zoo is a ‘must’ to explore
- The Museum Pass – use your Seattle Public Library card to reserve and print out an admission pass to participating Seattle museums at no charge
- Library story times: King County Library System
- Discover the Sculpture Park and Myrtle Edwards Park
- The go-to local area parenting magazines and online resources including great event calendars filled with kid friendly outings: ParentMap; Seattle’s Child; Red Tricycle
- See tons more ideas, more story times, more animals, more gardens, more fun destinations and activities from PEPS:
- Seattle Activities
- Eastside Activities
- Snohomish County Activities
- South Sound Activities – Kent, Auburn, Burien and neighborhoods south of Seattle
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.