So Now You Are Going To Be A Grandparent!


“Dad, you’re going to be a grandfather.” My son was calling from his Naval base. He could have told me anything else on earth and I would not have been more surprised. At first I thought he was joking. I waited for the punch line. It was no joke.

He had come home on leave a few weeks earlier. He had met a girl. We knew very little about her. They had dated while he was home. It turns out they had kept contact, calling, writing and e-mailing to each one another. Soon after he had gone back to his base she discovered she was pregnant. They were, of course, not married.

It took a few moments for what he was saying to sink in. How could this happen? (Stupid question.) What was he going to do about it? (We are Catholic. Another stupid question.) How could he let this happen? (My first sensible question.) Surprise rolled over into anger. We ended up slamming down the phones in anger.

A jillion things raced through my mind. I was barely in my 40’s. I was too young to be a grandparent. What were our friends going to think? What was our pastor going to think? How were these two kids going to get along raising a baby? What was the mother really like? After all, we barely knew her. How were they going to be able to build a marriage relationship with a baby in the middle of all of that adjustment? How were they going to start a family with him in the Navy and away at sea part of the time?

Sure, I wanted to be a grandparent someday. Just not yet and not this way.

The next few months were a period of change and adjustment for all of us. It wasn’t easy.

One of the toughest adjustments was accepting that my son was stepping into both adulthood and fatherhood. He was barely out of high school. He still had two years remaining on his Navy enlistment. Suddenly he was no longer the boy, who it seemed like only yesterday I had been scolding for not cleaning his room, taking out the garbage and for denting a fender on the car.

A girl we barely knew was suddenly part of the family. We had to quickly develop a relationship with her. Like my son, she seemed so young. Was this girl really going to be the mother of my grandchild?

And then he was born. He was so tiny. I had forgotten how small a new baby is. The first time I held him I swear he smiled at me. I knew we were going to be buddies. They tell me he was too young to really smile. I know better. In that moment I caught a glimpse, in my mind’s eye, of all of the fishing trips, ball games and camp outs we were going to share.

Suddenly none of the would’ve, could’ve, should have’s counted for a thing. A new little innocent person, who had no say at all in the matter, had just been born. The only thing that mattered from that day forward was giving him everything that family love and support can possibly provide.

That is what we have been learning to do. Along the way I have picked up a few tips to share.

1. It is your child’s home, your child’s rules. A role reversal takes place. When your child establishes a home, you are a guest. The rules change. You are no longer in charge’ and you are sharing your child’s life in a new way. Respect that and be grateful for the opportunity.

2. Offer to give the parents a break. Babies and small children demand constant attention. This level of attention day after day and week after week is wearing on anyone. Offer to give your child and his or her spouse a break. Even a break of a few hours can be a very welcome gift.

3. Do not criticize. Your child and his or her partner are going to do things and say things that you wouldn’t do or say. They are going to make mistakes. Don’t criticize them for those mistakes. Your criticism will not be received well and will get in the way of your relationship. Besides, you’ve made plenty of mistakes of your own. They are entitled to theirs.

4. Offer advice only when asked. It is a funny thing about advice. The more you offer it, the less it is appreciated. The less you offer advice, the more it’s sought. That truism has never been more valid than dealing with an adult child.

5. The world has changed. The parenting styles and discipline techniques your children use may be different than those you employed. Most likely the techniques you used were different than those of your parents. You may not always agree with your children, but as long as everyone is safe from harm, with food and shelter, accept them. If you did a good job teaching your children your basic values, they will not stray far from them, regardless the techniques used.

6. Make time to be a grandparent. Most people I know that are my age live very hectic, busy lives. We are at the height of our careers. Most of us are healthy and very active. Time is a precious commodity. Most of us also spent so much time developing careers and supporting our lifestyles that we found our children were grown almost before we knew it. Arrange your life with time to be a grandparent. The rewards are greater than work and personal activities will ever be.

7. Share your grandchild’s world. Suddenly you are looking at a whole new round of ball games, school plays, scout meetings, graduations and the other events in your grandchild’s life. They are even more fun now than they were with your own children. Your grandchildren grow and change every day. There is a special pride in watching a grandchild develop and perform. These events are an excellent way to stay in touch with his or her developing personality.

8. Ask how you can help. Do not assume you know. Your child’s life, like yours has been, will be a series of challenges, success and failures. Let you child know that you are always there, willing to help. Don’t assume you know when and how to help. Your child will let you know when he or she needs your help.

9. Establish limits of help. Being a grandparent is special. It does not mean giving up your own life. If a parent is willing to provide unlimited assistance, it may become too easy for the child to take advantage of that. There should be limits of financial and personal assistance. Occasional babysitting is fun, for example. Providing a free daycare service may not be. Determine limits that are reasonable and comfortable for you and then discuss them with your child.

Becoming a grandparent is a very special time in life. In many ways it is more fun than being a parent. It is part-time. It is a second chance to do all of the things you meant to do or should have done with your children. The relationship with my grandchildren is more relaxed and easier than with my children. I may not have been ready when it happened, but I’m glad it did.

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