Tuesday, January 12, 2010

What Kind of Grandma Will I Be

I’m going to be a grandma for the first time next month and just like lots of advice is received from friends and family when you are pregnant, I’ve received my fair share of advice about how to be a better grandma. Some of the suggestions have been good, some I have ignored (or rather placed aside until I see for myself what works for me), but recently a good friend* kindly shared poignant thoughts with me about what she will do when she becomes a grandma. Being in the midst of mothering herself and experiencing the different grandma styles her children receive, I appreciated her perspective and thought you might, too. You see, we choose early on what kind of grandparents we will be for our grandchildren. It is often in the beginning of this grand experience that we set precedents and weed out the unnecessary distractions in our lives so grandparenting can be a fruitful field. So here are some of Jamie’s thoughts with the addition of my own goals.

Make grandma’s home safe. This means putting all poisons, sharp objects, and potential dangers up and out of the way until all your grandchildren are older. For me this will mean a complete rearranging of my current lifestyle and my décor. However, I can see that not worrying about whether your grandchild might get into something dangerous, might swallow something poisonous, or might get hurt while in your care is worth the trouble. I believe I will choose to have our home be a safer haven for our grandchildren’s visits.

Make play a social activity. This means focusing on having games and toys that will encourage children to play together and also play with me. For example, blocks can be shared and playing with them can be a group activity. A video game usually involves one or two and is not so easily shared. A stuffed animal is carried and loved alone. A puppet can be used to have fun group interactions. I will also consider building toys like Legos and Fisher Price people so I can construct and act out scenarios together with my grandchildren. Indeed, I will choose games and toys that will allow me to love these children even as I play with them.

I will choose to visit with other adults where I can also enjoy the company of the grandkids. I don’t want them to feel like they “are in the way,” but instead that they are “the way” for me to have a good time when they come. If I’m going to be involved with other adults, I will choose to provide a way for the grandchildren to be near me even if they will be involved in another activity. How well I treasured my own grandmother trusting me enough to listen to her conversation with my mother and her other daughters while they canned beans and quilted together. Even as I played, I was learning about what being grown up was all about. I will choose to include my grandchildren whenever I can.

I will respect the methods and skills of the new parents. This means trusting they have educated themselves in all ways possible about how to bathe a baby, which way to lay them for sleeping, what kind of pacifier to use, and how to transport them. As much as possible, I will not offer advice unless asked about my own experience. So much has changed. When I was a mother we used cloth diapers. Now a diaper pin is rarely on the scene. I can appreciate these many changes and will choose to trust my own son and daughter-in-law’s instincts and preferences over my own for I can learn from them, too.

Grandma’s foods will usually be good and sometimes sweet. I will respect the wishes of my grandchildren’s parents about food choices and try to serve wholesome foods at meals, even as I desire to share treats and sweets with the grandchildren when they visit. I will have accommodations for a high chair (with a shower curtain underneath to make cleaning up easy), taller chairs for youngsters, and bibs galore. I’ll have wipes everywhere and extra diapers, just in case. I'll ignore fingerprints until later and sometimes even leave them put, on purpose. This will make it easier for me and nicer for them to be regularly at my home. In other words, I will spoil them thoroughly, but try not to do it enough to irritate their parents.

I’ll try to be a wise gift giver. I can do this by asking their parents about preferences and needs before purchasing gifts for the children on their birthday, special occasions, Christmas, and just for fun. This will make it a joint effort to purchase gifts that will be useful, helpful, and will send a message that “I care enough to want to know you better and am interested in what you are interested in.” Whenever possible, I will try to choose gifts that can help my grandchildren grow, learn, and become skilled. Often I will choose gifts that I can participate in just as my grandmother helped me be excited about knitting and crocheting.

The best of children’s books will be on our shelves. I will continue to increase my library of good children’s books and will choose to read often and at length to my grandchildren so the legacy of my own joy in reading can be passed to them. I will relax as the books are used, so I can freely let my younger grandchildren chew, touch, and slobber their way through a book without regret or fretting.

My friend’s current list of great children’s books include:

Officer Buckle and Gloria by Peggy Rathman
Waking Beauty by Leah Wilcox
Duke, the Dairy Delight Dog by Lisa Campbell Ernst
Ginger Jumps by Lisa Campbell Ernst
The Pinkish, Purplish, Bluish Egg and Cyrus, the Unsinkable Sea Serpent by Bill Peet

Saving Sweetness and Raising Sweetness by Diane Stanley
The Wolf Who Cried Boy by Bob Hartman
The Princess and the Pizza by MaryJane Hermtuck
The Old Woman Who Named Things by Cynthia Rylant
King Bidgood’s in the Bathtub by Don and Audrey Wood

Paperbag Princess, Love You Forever, Alligator Baby, and More Pies by Robert Munch

I will call if I can't visit. Because it is likely that I will be away from my grandchildren as they grow older, I will make it a practice to call them on a regular basis just to get them talking and then to listen well. I will choose to know them, to understand them, and especially to know what their favorite color is, where they like to go on a picnic, and who their favorite friend is this year. I will choose to care.

I'll plan for special alone time with my grandchildren. My friend likes the idea of "Rent-A-Kid." Grandma takes a grandchild to “help” her for a day. They usually do something helpful and then spend the rest of the time playing and eating a treat together. I’m not sure just how I will incorporate one-on-one time with my own grandchildren, but I do know that having time alone with grandparents is treasured time. I wasn’t even close to being alone with my own grandmother until I was sixteen years old, and even then I was sharing the weekend with a cousin my own age.

And so this grandmother in waiting waits. I’m sure I will change my mind about some items, may include more and discard others as I transit into this new season, but always I will listen and learn from other wise women around me about how to be a better grandma, waiting or not!

*Jamie Fietkau kindly shared her thoughts and experiences with me.
©2010 Marie Calder Ricks/www.houseoforder.com


wendy said...

Congratulations! What wonderful advice. Your efforts will make your grandbaby's Mommy much more able to relax when she comes to visit, especially when the little one is tasting everything, and crawling and toddling and eager to inspect cupboards, drawers and open doors. Good luck!!

greener side said...

Great tips for the new Grandma. I'm going to pass this along to my sister since she is a fairly new grandma and I know she wonders sometimes about her role. Thanks!