Parents and Grandparents Navigating New Relationships
Christine Sweeney, LICSW Program Manager, Parent Connection, BIDMC
NOVEMBER 29, 2019
Excitement abounds as you await the arrival of the newest member of your family. Your days are busy preparing for the delivery, obtaining the necessary gear for the baby and getting ready for your new roles as parents.
Just as you are starting to consider how you will adjust to your new roles so are other members in your family, in particular, the expectant grandparents. Whether it is their first grandchild or their tenth they are no doubt filled with happiness and excitement. They may have a specific vision about how they will be involved in your lives once the baby arrives. This is where things can get tricky, especially if you don't share the same vision.
The whole generational relationship can be complicated once the baby arrives. Your parents are not used to seeing you as parents and may need some time to adapt. While they may know how they would like to be involved as grandparents they may be hesitant to overstep their bounds. Or they may feel that it would be wrong for them not to offer frequent advice and assistance knowing that they have experience as parents. Either way can be challenging and this time period can be tense as you figure out how to navigate these sometimes choppy waters.
Communicate Your New Knowledge
Communication is one of the best ways to make this time period smooth. Keep your parents updated about the things you are doing to prepare. Let them know about things you learn from your doctor and in any classes you have taken. Practices around pregnancy, delivery, and infant care have changed since your parents raised you so keeping them up to date about the reasons why things have changed will help them to accept the changes. Sharing this knowledge with them also helps them to see you as educated expectant parents and not just as their children. Share research you've done about the products you plan to purchase for the baby. By doing this you help your parents to understand what things are important to you and why, and may help to eliminate some stress when they are offering to help with purchasing some of these items and have opinions about what you need.
Set Up Clear Boundaries
Continue good communication once that baby arrives as well. Be upfront and honest about what time you need alone to get to know your little one and when it will be appropriate for them to visit. Set up clear boundaries for when they can call and come over and offer specific things that they can do to be helpful. This will help to give them guidance and help them to feel included.
Hear the Love Behind the Advice
Responding to advice, especially unsolicited advice, can be even more of a challenge. Try to hear the love behind the advice. Grandparents often are so motivated to help that they sometimes lose sight of the fact that advice can often feel like criticism. Let them know that while you respect and value their experience that you are very confident and comfortable with how you are doing things. Being confident yourself will help them to see you in that light as well. Remember also that often times when grandparents are giving advice they may be looking for an opportunity to talk about their own experiences. It can be insightful and heartwarming to hear details about your partner and in-laws that you might not have otherwise known.
Change the Subject
If plentiful advice continues to be an issue, try some distraction. Change the subject and try not to engage any negative conversation. It can be challenging at times but continue that confidence and that will translate to them as well.
Be Kind and Respectful
Remember above all else be kind and respectful. You will get that back in multitudes as you help to set the stage for an amazing relationship between not only you and your parents but between them and their new grandchild.
Submitted by Deb Harvey, a BIDMC Registered Nurse since 1988. Deb is an experienced mom of 4 children.